LOS ANGELES — Instructors for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Candidate Assistance Program lay on the ground, head-to-head, palms down, feet together, shoulders up — with no slumping in the middle.
They were demonstrating the way recruits do push-ups at the LAPD’s Training Academy.
Minutes later, one of them shouted, ‘Stop. On your feet. ‘Ten-Hut.’ Most of the 64 Academy hopefuls jumped to attention ramrod straight and began practicing squad formation and pivoting like Marines.
One of the participants, Elaine Brumley, said her dream to become a police officer is rooted in childhood “when I took up for my younger brother who wasn’t strong enough to defend himself.”
Last year, the Long Beach resident, single mother and empty nester, left her position caring for veterans at a West L.A. rehabilitation and treatment center.
Now, her full-time occupation is looking after her father, a South L.A. resident, and becoming a police officer — ranked the 15th most dangerous job in the country in 2014 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Brumley is aware that police around the country have been attacked and killed. In Southern California, a sheriff’s deputy and two Palm Springs Police Department officers were slain this month alone.
She also realizes that community-police relations are strained by a string of questionable shootings of African Americans and Latinos, that police face charges of biased policing and community and civil rights leaders constantly advocate reform.
Meanwhile, overall crime in Los Angeles increased for the second year in a row; violent crime surged 15.9 percent from July 2015 to July 2016.
At 49, Brumley appears troubled less by the conditions of policing than by the physical hurdles she must cross.
“My spiritual side says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I am always looking to improve myself,’” she said.
“But the flesh part of me asks, ‘can I really do this?’ My biggest fear is not living up to expectations.”
Twice weekly, after traveling two hours by train, bus and on foot, Brumley joins a diverse group of candidates at LAPD’s Westchester facility. Otherwise, she trains independently.
“I need to stay focused and lose 100 pounds— and I’m not a dieter,” Brumley said. “Something you’ve been doing for 50 years is sometimes difficult to change. … I don’t want to fail.”
In early October, she narrowly failed her Physical Abilities Test [PAT part one], step four of LAPD’s seven-step hiring process.
“I am turning up my exercise routines a notch,” she said.
“Academy recruits have to be on their game, have a clear mind, whether it’s weight or issues at home,” CAP instructor Sgt. Cassandra Britt-Nickerson said. “They have to get their affairs in order because this will dominate six months of their lives at the Academy.”
The native Angeleno and 26-year veteran officer said, “the oldest candidate I know who made the Academy was 56 years old. He’s in the field now.”
“There’s no [upper] age limit or mandatory retirement age. If you can do the physical part and get used to ‘20-somethings’ telling you what to do, you’ll be OK.”
LAPD Recruitment and Education Division Capt. Alan Hamilton said, “For hiring purposes, the city sets a body-fat standard for women and men.”
“Currently, sworn officers are 46 percent male and female Hispanic,” he added. “Blacks make up 10.4 percent. We are sincerely trying to hire from the African-American community.”
Brumley has completed LAPD’s preliminary background application and questionnaire; prepared essays; and passed a polygraph test. Her panel interview is in November.
“After that, I’ll be eligible for the background investigation; and medical-psychological evaluations and PAT Part two,” Brumley said.
CAP’s four-month regimen challenges participants to improve their fitness, performing 75-to-90 push-ups and running a nine-to-10 minute mile, for example. Participation is voluntary and free to candidates in the hiring process. Instructors teach at three locations.
“CAP is a way to cheat on the physical test legally. We give you the answers,” Hamilton said. “If you don’t have them before starting the Academy, you are that much farther behind. We teach you form and technique.”
“For every 100 applicants to LAPD, three have a chance of making it to the Academy.”
“Of 100 recruits who start the Academy — on average — only 60 will become a police officers after graduation and one year of probation,” he added.
Britt-Nickerson’s advice is: “Get here [to CAP]. I’ve got to see if you’re progressing. You won’t get to the Academy if you can’t meet standards.”
Certification and appointment to the Academy are the final steps. Brumley, a high school graduate with a few college units, hopes to be appointed in 2017 after completing all seven steps.
Dependent upon overall qualifications, recruits receive benefits and $59,717 annually. After graduation, a probationary Police Officer I earns $62,974.
Brumley, who turns 50 in December, recently updated her status.
“I try to walk at least three miles a day and have gotten up to 10 in one day.”
She sat in a Crenshaw District coffee shop wearing sweatpants, a hat with the letters ‘CAP,’ and a ‘Bebe’ T-shirt. She took care to avoid breaking her colorful, jeweled-encrusted, acrylic fingernails.
“Policing is a hard job,” she added, as if talking to herself. “A lot of people don’t respect LAPD. It’s unfriendly, officers automatically put up their guard. I believe I can transform the way officers interact with the public — how the public perceives them.”
She grabbed her gym bag, trashed a roasted-seaweed container, and left for her father’s house to prepare his meals and to work out in a park nearby.
Chasing her dream is a day-to-day process.