LAPD Pays Tribute To Josephine Serrano Collier, A Latina Pioneer

The Los Angeles Police Department is recognizing Women's History Month by honoring the first Mexican-American woman to join their force as a police officer: Josephine Serrano Collier.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A moment now to remember a woman who broke new ground on the LAPD. Josephine Serrano Collier was the first Mexican-American woman on the force. She's now died at age 91. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji tells us more.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Josephine Serrano Collier grew up in a Los Angeles when it was perfectly fine to put a sign in the business window that read: Sorry, no Mexicans. She was raised on the mostly Mexican east side of LA and witnessed young men getting roughed up by beat cops, and street fights between Mexican zuit suiters and soldiers on leave from World War II.

Serrano Collier wanted to be a liaison between the Mexican-American community and the LAPD.

SUZANNE COLLIER: My mom was always one that stuck up for the underdog.

MERAJI: That's her oldest daughter, Suzanne Collier.

COLLIER: And I'm very proud of what my mother did.

MERAJI: Her mom joined the LAPD in 1946 with the very first group of women admitted to the force, and she was the only Latina. They didn't get a graduation ceremony, uniforms or a gun. Now, Latinas make up 20 percent of the Los Angeles Police Department, and they get all that.

LILLIAN GARANCA: We've come a long way, baby, like they say.

MERAJI: Lillian Garanca(ph) is a patrol captain for LAPD's 77th division, in South Central LA. Garanca says she can't imagine what it was like to join the LAPD as a Latina at a time when tensions between the department and the Mexican-American community were at a boiling point - and far fewer women were in the workforce, let alone the police force.

GARANCA: I cannot imagine the heartache she had to go through not only with her family, but friends as well as the community members. And - extremely brave woman.

MERAJI: Serrano Collier's daughter Suzanne says her mom loved the work long after she left the force.

GARANCA: She liked to watch "Cops" or some of those programs. She would say, well, that's not the right way to do it. So even toward the end, it was still part of her being.

MERAJI: Josephine Serrano Collier died on Feb. 25 in Tucson, Ariz., surrounded by her family. She was 91 years old.

Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

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