Michael Finnegan et al., Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2014
The first new Los Angeles Fire Department recruit class in five years is nearly all male and mostly white despite repeated promises by the agency to diversify its ranks, according to figures released Monday evening by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.
The class of 70 firefighters, which is scheduled to begin training Monday, has just one woman and is 60% white. Twenty-three percent of the recruits are Latino, 11% are Asian American and 6% are African American, according to the figures.
“Mayor Garcetti thinks these numbers are unacceptable and wants the Fire Department to reflect the city it serves,” spokesman Yusef Robb said Monday evening. Los Angeles is 29% white, 49% Latino, 11% Asian and 10% black, according to the Census Bureau.
Robb said the mayor’s office is committed to working with the department to improve recruiting and ensure future classes include more women and minorities.
Robb noted that recruiting for the class starting next week took place before Garcetti took office. Another class of trainees could begin later this year.
For years, the LAFD has struggled with racial discrimination and sexual harassment, allegations that have cost taxpayers nearly $20 million since 2005, city records show.
In November, a Superior Court jury awarded $1.1 million to a black firefighter who said he had endured three decades of discrimination. The verdict followed payouts totaling $1.5 million in other bias cases for the budget year that ended in June.
The department, which has 3,200 sworn personnel, has diversified its ranks over the last two decades, city officials say, noting that the last four fire chiefs have been African American.
But the agency is still 50% white, 31% Latino, 12% black and 7% Asian.
The new recruit class drew early criticism from the president of the Stentorians, a group representing African American firefighters on the department.
“What’s troubling to us is that the city, as well as the Fire Department, say they embrace diversity,” Nande Kalenga told the Fire Commission last month. At the same commission meeting, interim Fire Chief James G. Featherstone called LAFD’s recruitment efforts “embarrassing.”
Featherstone said the agency must be “a lot more aggressive” in appealing to a diverse set of applicants.