One night, while on bike patrol in Mission Hills, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman and her partner were trying to stop a man suspected of drug-related activity from loitering in the street.
“He’s just standing there refusing to leave, and then my partner goes, ‘You know, my partner here was in the Israeli army before she came on,’ and he starts running in the opposite direction,” recalled Herman, 47, a Beverlywood Jewish mother of four. “It was the funniest thing.”
But perhaps there was reason to be intimidated. Herman — a petite woman whose tough New Jersey accent clashes with a friendly demeanor — was both the national 10K track champion of Israel and three-time winner of the Tel-Aviv half Marathon in the early 1990s.
A former combat fitness trainer in the Israeli Defense Forces, she earned the nickname “The Herminator” from her LAPD peers after receiving the physical fitness award for her recruitment training. And once, on a dare, she cropped her hair to a “super crew cut” when her fellow male police recruits had to shave their heads upon induction, which is not required of women.
Herman, who now does educational research for the LAPD’s recruitment curriculum, says that joining the department was her calling. But it’s not a common one for observant Jewish women — Herman says she has yet to meet another one in the LAPD.
Originally from Wayne, N.J., Herman attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and moved to Israel in 1989, working as a sports psychology researcher for the Wingate Institute in Netanya.
She settled down in Los Angeles in 1998, where, after being a stay-at-home mom, she wanted to find a job “worth my while.” Herman began her recruitment training while in her late 30s in 2006, upon the suggestion of her sister’s friend who worked in the New York Police Department.
“It fit my lifestyle and way of thinking,” Herman said. “A lot of what being a police officer is, despite what you see on television, is helping people, figuring out their problems. Whether it’s a burglary or a rape problem, it’s all about reaching out, seeing what needs to be done.
“You never know what hashem has planned for you,” she said. “I know hashem had planned for me to do this.”
Following the 18-month recruitment training and probationary period, Herman did about 26 months of patrol work, mostly in the San Fernando Valley. She spent 12-hour days car patrolling for the Safer Cities Initiative in Mission Hills and 10-hour days on patrol with the LAPD bicycle unit.
“I loved the bike team, because it was a small unit,” she said. “We got to know each other, our habits, and worked well together. You got to do your exercise because we rode around the city a lot — that was fun too.”
Herman has apprehended burglars and once tackled a man fleeing into the Beverly Grove shopping center after he swung his fist at her. But stories like this one generally stay at work — her husband only found out about it a year and a half later.
“Ninety percent of the time, it’s social work and people are cooperative and the guy puts down the gun when you tell him to,” she said. “And the other 10 percent you don’t talk about.”
Her job and its demanding schedule have required other sacrifices. Herman frequently worked on Friday nights and Saturdays during her recruitment training at the police academy and time on patrol. During that time, friends in the Pico Happy Minyan community “fed my family for like two years,” Herman said, going grocery shopping for her and inviting them to Shabbat meals.
“Once I was on duty I did everything I needed to do,” she said. “I wasn’t keeping Shabbat because it was pikuach nefesh,” she further explained, referring to the Jewish principle that saving a human life overrides any other religious law, such as the prohibition of working on Shabbat.
“I asked for every Friday and Saturday off, but they’re not going to give it to me because if I didn’t work and they don’t have someone to replace me, that could cost somebody’s life. We might not have a perimeter. That means the bad guy gets away because I didn’t show up for work.”
According to Rabbi Shmuel Newman, a chaplain for the LAPD West Bureau and Air Support Division, the department tries its best to accommodate observant Jews, but trainings and patrols on Shabbat make it difficult.
“It can become a problem because at the end of the day, there are many different people from many different faiths that have needs they would like met,” Newman said. “If everyone is on alert and has to be deployed, it’s not like you can pull the Shabbos card out — if they need you, they need you.”
He added that he has only met a handful of observant Jewish officers, and he would not expect there to be more than 200 or 300 Jewish officers out of the LAPD’s approximate 10,000 officers.
“I hate to be stereotypical, but I don’t think Jewish moms push their kids to be Jewish policemen — doctors or lawyers maybe,” he said. “It’s not an easy job.”
There are everyday elements of her Judaic practice that Herman decided to forgo as well in order to be a police officer. While she normally keeps her hair covered and wears skirts, at work she decided to abide by the LAPD dress code, which requires pants and prohibits head coverings.
“Other women might have chosen not to do that,” she said. “This isn’t for everyone. This is how I believe is the way to do things.”
But Herman said her Jewish upbringing has helped her with her job.
“Whether they’re the suspect or the victim, you still have to treat each person with respect. The Torah teaches that,” she said.
Knowing Hebrew has proven useful, too. She once stopped an Israeli driving with a suspended license on Melrose Avenue and was going to tow his car.
“He started crying, and I said, ‘Don’t be a bachyan [cry baby], be a gever [man].’ He was shocked … because when I’m talking like this — in English — you wouldn’t think at all that I spoke Hebrew.”
Herman started a community menorah lighting ceremony at the LAPD four years ago, which has since turned into an annual Chanukah festival held at the Ahmanson Recruit Training Center. It comes complete with K-9 unit dogs, a helicopter fly-by and LAPD horses.
She also fundraised in 2011 to bring two officers from Israel’s Northern Command for the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a three-day, 300-mile cross country bicycle ride commemorating the chief of the Haifa police department who died in a wildfire earlier that year.
Although she moved from patrol to administrative work after two years because it was a struggle for her family, Herman said she misses it “all the time” — especially the bicycle team — and would like to become a sergeant one day.
“I was loving what I was doing, but my family has to come first,” said Herman, whose second oldest daughter, Leora, is a junior at Mira Costa High School and plans on applying to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
One of the hardest things Herman said she has learned at the LAPD is “how to shut my mouth.”
“You’re going into a paramilitary environment, and you have to lower yourself, got to let go of your ego and be like, OK, you can’t have it your way. You have to have it their way,” she said. “And, you know, I’m a Jewish mother. I was used to having it my way.”