The successor to departing Police Chief William J. Bratton could set a new city precedent, given that at least two women, two Latinos and an Asian are among the 13 candidates for the job.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to make history," said Arturo Placencia, former president of the Latin American Law Enforcement Association, an organization of Los Angeles Hispanic officers.
"To get a Latino police chief or a woman chief would be as important as when Antonio Villaraigosa was elected the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles."
Jan Tucker, co-president of the National Organization for Women's San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles chapter, said the selection of a woman would be unheard of a generation ago.
"It would be tremendous, especially given the LAPD's culture, which has undergone serious change," said Tucker. "It would be a sea change to have a woman who has come up through the ranks of the department and at the top of the heap.
"It's been a long time coming. We've already seen an attitude in the city of Los Angeles over women in uniform."
But Latinos and women activists aren't holding their breath.
At best, the two women candidates - Assistant Chief Sharon Papa, the first woman in the LAPD to hold that position, and Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, commander of the Incident Management and Training Bureau - are seen as dark horses by some observers.
Meanwhile, the Latino and Asian candidates - Deputy Chief Mark Perez, commander of the Professional Standards Bureau; Deputy Chief Sergio G. Diaz, who oversees the LAPD's Central Bureau; and Deputy Chief Terry S. Hara, commanding officer of operations West Bureau - have not registered high in the handicapping among bloggers and in news reports.
In recent weeks, Asian-Americans have rallied around Hara's candidacy, with several supporters appearing on his behalf at each of the community meetings held by the Police Commission for citizen input on the next chief.
The LAPD has had two African-American police chiefs in recent history - Willie Williams and Bernard Parks. Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, director and commanding officer of the office of operations, is among the contenders for Bratton's replacement.
In talking to reporters after their formal interviews with the Los Angeles Police Commission last week, neither of the two Latino candidates pressed their ethnicity. Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who says he is of Spanish descent, could not be reached for comment.
"I don't know that there's been a Latino chief (in Los Angeles) ever, but I think that being Latino is just one of the things in the panoply that should be considered," said Perez. "I don't think of being a Hispanic chief as being the key aspect to this."
"It really is about who is going to lead the LAPD into the 21st century and pick up where Bratton left off."
In an interview, Diaz did not address the issue of being a Latino candidate.
Papa and MacArthur declined interviews with reporters.
Hara said his candidacy as an Asian-American reflects the cultural diversity of Los Angeles.
"I think the fact that there's such a diverse group of candidates says a lot about how much the city has changed and the opportunity for all groups within the organization to compete in the process," he said. "That is so much different than 30 years ago."
James Acevedo, a longtime San Fernando Valley Latino activist, said many Hispanics feel that there is a more pressing issue in selecting Bratton's successor than a candidate's ethnicity.
"Policing is such an intricate process, we've learned, that I'm hoping the person they select - and hopefully it's one of the 11 from inside the department - knows the streets and the problems that are besetting our neighborhoods," said Acevedo.
"That's of uppermost importance, I think, in who the next chief is - that it's the best man or woman for the job."