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Campbell questions city’s Civil Service hiring

Push comes on heels of damning report on lack of diversity, sexual harassment in Fire Department

Trea Lavery
Campbell questions city’s Civil Service hiring
Andrea Campbell. COURTESY PHOTO

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell has called for a series of measures to increase diversity among the city’s public safety departments, including an overhaul of the Civil Service system, which gives hiring priority to veterans.

Campbell released a report Thursday which outlined 10 recommendations for improving racial and gender diversity in the city’s police department, fire department and emergency medical services.

“Increasing diversity in our public safety agencies is important for us to better serve our increasingly multilingual and multicultural  city, to build greater trust between community and law enforcement, and because these are great paying jobs and opportunities that we want to ensure are available to everybody,” Campbell said in a statement.

The report showed that the three departments are lacking in both women and people of color, with the fire department as the worst offender: out of 1,511 Boston firefighters, 72 percent are white, and only 1 percent are female. Sixty-seven percent of the police department and 68 percent of EMS workers are white.

The report recommends conducting an independent study of the Civil Service system and its effects on hiring and promotional processes. The system favors veterans, especially disabled veterans, for jobs in the police and fire departments. Campbell says that the problem with this is that most of these veterans are white men, making it more difficult for women and people of color to gain access to jobs.

“Even if we were to proactively reach out to and hire all women veterans and veterans of color from Massachusetts, respectively 5.7 percent and 5 percent of the total Massachusetts veteran population of approximately 341,000, our police and fire departments would still not be reflective of the demographics of the City of Boston,” the report states.

Opting out

Some towns in the state have already opted out of Civil Service, including Burlington, which the report notes has applicants take an entrance exam, and veterans who achieve a certain score move forward in the hiring process automatically, but are not given priority over other applicants.

The report also suggests simply reforming parts of Civil Service to make the hiring process more inclusive instead of opting out entirely.

“This conversation is not about pitting veterans against non-veterans or taking away opportunities from our veterans, but rather taking a look at whether Boston residents, including veterans, veterans of color and female veterans, have fair access to public safety jobs,” Campbell told the Banner. “We need to first study the Civil Service process to determine if reforms are needed in order to open up opportunities for more women and people of color.”

Campbell has also asked that the city’s bypass policy be reviewed and made more transparent. The policy allows departments to skip over candidates on the hiring list for reasons including “arrests that have occurred decades ago, juvenile arrest records, and non-convictions including continuances without a finding,” according to the report. The report notes that these policies disproportionately affect communities of color, and do not align with current state CORI laws, which allow for the sealing of convictions after a certain amount of time.

Other recommendations include making personnel data available to the public, establishing a consistent definition for diversity, providing adequate resources to diversity and inclusion efforts, creating a fire cadet program similar to the police department’s, increasing a language preference for hiring, prioritizing promotion of women and people of color currently on the promotion list, extending residency requirements, and working with department leaders to create a more inclusive internal culture.

Most of these recommendations could be completed at the city level; others would require working with the state Legislature.

Campbell’s report came out just two days after a city-commissioned report found that female firefighters were experiencing hostile and unwelcoming conditions from their majority-male coworkers.

We all have a role to play in moving this conversation forward and that Departments cannot continue to work in silos with respect to increasing diversity,” Campbell’s report said. “Now is the time to exercise the political will to change these numbers.”

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