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Problematic Los Angeles firefighter recruitment program suspended

Calling it "fatally flawed," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti suspended the Los Angeles Fire Department's recruitment program and cancelled a class for new recruits scheduled for later in the year. This action followed an investigation by the "Los Angeles Times" that found the program rife with nepotism and poor management. The mayor says he has ordered a complete review of LAFD hiring and recruitment practices.

The charges of nepotism include reports of workshops that focused on resume writing and interview techniques held for LAFD members' relatives. Almost a quarter of the 70 firefighter recruits chosen under the program had family members already in the LAFD. One e-mail obtained by the newspaper specifically said that a workshop was for "LAFD cadets and family members of the LAFD only."

The process of recruiting and choosing new firefighters has been criticized not only by those who didn't make the cut (some of whom were experienced firefighters and paramedics), but members of the Los Angeles City Council and the interim fire chief. The interim fire chief said that while the officials running the program may have been operating in good faith, "the result was a recruiting and hiring process that was less than fair and impartial."

Another issue discovered was a one-minute cutoff for candidates who successfully completed testing to submit their paperwork to be interviewed for the LAFD training class. Reportedly, after the department was swamped with submissions, officials chose to invite only those applicants whose documents were received either via computer or in person within the first 60 seconds after the application period opened last April.

On top of these issues, another concern regarding this new class of recruits, which was the first in five years, was that they have not improved the LAFD's diversity. Only one woman was hired, and 60 percent of the recruits are white. This is more than twice the percentage of the population of white people in the city. The LAFD has long been plagued with accusations of bias and discrimination that have resulted in millions of dollars in settlements at taxpayers' expense.

Government entities as well as private companies can benefit from working with legal and other employment professionals. They can help them make their hiring practices fairer and reduce the costs and negative publicity engendered by charges of harassment and bias while helping them get and retain a diverse, skilled workforce.

Source:  The Los Angeles Times, "LAFD recruit program is suspended" Robert J. Lopez and Ben Welsh, Mar. 20, 2014

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