Often as police officers, we forget the impact some of the laws we are charged with enforcing, can have a significant impact on people. For Lilian Shaw, fleeing her country of El Salvador to the peace and security of the United States was one of the most significant events in her life.
Sierra Madre Police Officer Lilian Shaw has a story not entirely told too often in law enforcement. At least not publicly, and what you are about to read, is usually spoken about only among family and close friends.
For a newcomer to the profession, this 39-year-old police officer brings a wealth of experience and mentorship for those younger women looking to embark on a career in policing.
Lilian was born in El Salvador in 1979, at the start of the Salvadoran Civil War. The Salvadoran Government Army had blacklisted her father. This was the same army which was responsible for murdering her oldest brother, Wilson.
Lilian's parents soon fled the country to seek sanctuary in the United States. Not wanting to risk Lilian's safety, and for fear she wouldn't survive the trek, her parents left Lilian with her maternal grandparents. Although they did a great job, her grandparents couldn't shelter Lilian from all the evil around her in El Salvador.
Lilian remembers how her grandparents had prepared food for 15-20 soldiers who were fighting the government's oppression. These soldiers had shown up in her neighborhood seeking temporary food and shelter. Lilian carried plates of food to these soldiers, who were very grateful. This was her first encounter with men and women holding rifles, fighting for a cause they believed would help their fellow countrymen.
On one occasion, Lilian was laying in a hammock inside their house when a soldier from the Salvadoran Army spoke to Lilian's grandfather on the front porch. The soldier was looking for Lilian's uncle, to drag him away and force him into military service physically. The soldier peered in through the front door and looked at a terrified Lilian, then left. Uncle Manuel, who had been hiding behind the door, was saved.
Lilian later learned that anyone who resisted was eventually killed and the bodies then dumped back in his or her respective neighborhoods as an example for others who would contemplate not joining the government's army.
Listen To Lilian's Story On The BOLO Podcast
Coming To The United States
Lilian's parents sent for her when she was five years old. She was disguised to look like her cousin Lucy, who was a white, red-headed, short-haired, little girl. Lilian had been given a sleeping pill to make her drowsy, in case the authorities had questioned her. Fortunately for her, she made it through customs and went home from the airport with her father.
When she arrived at her new home in South Central Los Angeles, she reunited with her mother and older brother, Jose. She also met for the first time her two younger siblings, Patricia and William. Her parents and siblings were mostly strangers, which led her to become a shy girl.
Lilian eventually broke through this shyness by learning to speak, read, and write English in an ESL program, as well as making new friends and breaking through social barriers not uncommon to a diverse culture in her neighborhood.
In 1998, Lilian graduated from Crenshaw High School in 1998. She went on to earn a BA degree in Broadcast Communications from Cal State LA.
Her First Appreciation For Law Enforcement
At age 12, Lilian watched her neighborhood endure the events of the 1992 riots which occurred following the trial of several LAPD officers for their involvement in the arrest of Rodney King. She was living in the area of 57th Street and S. Broadway, and there was no police presence in her neighborhood, during the civil unrest. Her family had to ration food for days because the local grocery stores had burned down. Her parents, like most, were afraid to drive anywhere because of the random attacks that were occurring on the streets. They woke up to clouds of smoke and blankets of ash as far as the eye could see. Lilian saw area residents pushing shopping carts with stolen TVs and other electronics down her street.
Lilian realized and appreciated what is so often taken for granted by many in our country; the presence of law enforcement.
The Struggle For The Shield
For 14 years of Lilian's adult life, she was a dispatcher for three law enforcement agencies in Southern California. Her career ambition was to wear the coveted shield of a police officer eventually.
Unfortunately, Lilian became an unjustifiable victim, in what is often too familiar in the law enforcement profession, after she spoke up after witnessing unprofessional conduct by a law enforcement officer. She was quickly blackballed and isolated by her colleagues. These same colleagues, who were supposed to stand up for others when transgressions were made against those they serve, could not keep from being evil themselves. Lilian quickly learned what a hostile work environment for a female is like, first hand.
Lilian continued to pursue after her dream of becoming a police officer. Although she tested with several departments, making it all the way to the chief's interview portion, she was consistently rejected. All of this, for doing the right thing.
A Lesson For Others Enduring Struggles
Lilian never gave up. She had the education, life experience, determination, bravery, and maturity required to do the job of a police officer.
With the support and encouragement of so many of her friends and family and former supervisors who believed in Lilian, she continued on the path to becoming a police officer.
Lilian wants other women, or anyone pursuing a path in law enforcement, to maintain your focus and shy away from those wishing to deter you, due to their insecurities.
Although men still dominate the profession, Lilian encourages females to stay true to their femininity and not overtly try to "fit in with the boys." Keep an open mind to change and allow yourself to grow throughout your career. Don't lose your humanity.
Never forget the little milestones you encounter in your career. Everything is a win, from the day you receive a job offer, graduate the police academy, or receive that particular promotion.
Savor The Wins In The Career
Never forget the little milestones you encounter in your career. Everything is a win, from the day you receive a job offer, graduate the police academy, or receive that particular promotion. You'll share that excitement at the moment when those life events happen, but always make sure to revisit those moments in your head to keep you focused.
The Future Is Bright For Lilian
Lilian plans on working special assignments in her department, such as detectives, and public information officer. She wants to take an active part in the growth of her agency, and her community as well.
Lilian recognizes there are challenges the law enforcement profession is facing in the upcoming years. From legislation which seems to benefit the criminals more than the police, to the shortage of qualified law enforcement applicants, the policing profession has its work cut out for it.
However, then again, haven't we always?