July 31--The Los Angeles Fire Department needs new rules to prevent conflicts of interest and reform a firefighter hiring process "tainted" by concerns of nepotism, according to a new study by the department's top watchdog.
The 55-page report released Thursday is the result of a probe triggered in March when Mayor Eric Garcetti suspended LAFD hiring, calling the system "fatally flawed" because it potentially favored department insiders and failed to increase the number of women and minorities in the department's ranks.
The report's recommendations, expected to be presented to the Fire Commission on Tuesday by Independent Assessor Sue Stengel, call for policy changes that would ensure the reassignment of all fire officials involved in the selection process when they have a relative in the applicant pool. Several high-ranking fire officials were moved to different positions due to conflicts of interest following the last round of hiring.
Of the 70 recruits named to a new training class in January, 21 had a family member active in LAFD during the hiring process, the report found. That is more than previously tallied by city officials and equals 30% of the total hires.
The report did not address internal LAFD emails published by The Times that showed a fire captain helped organize special recruitment workshops for relatives of LAFD insiders. That matter is being investigated by the department's internal disciplinary unit.
The LAFD's hiring process also drew criticism after thousands of candidates were excluded from consideration for the January class because some of their paperwork wasn't received in the first 60 seconds of a filing period. Many applicants said they had no idea mere seconds could determine which candidates would advance.
Garcetti initially vowed to freeze firefighter hiring until a $270,000 report by outside experts was completed on recommendations to improve LAFD hiring. But the mayor later backed a quick reboot of the process to fill three new classes funded in the current city budget.
The reworked application process began last week, with more than 10,000 people signing up for a lottery that randomly selected 300 winners to take a written exam Saturday. Those who pass will advance to scored interviews and compete for 60 openings in a fire academy class expected to start training in December.
Speeding up hiring has been welcomed by the influential union representing rank-and-file firefighters, which has made rebuilding the LAFD force one of its top priorities. However, the fast-tracked restart of hiring and new lottery system have drawn criticism, including from Nande Kalenga, president of a group representing black firefighters.
"If the department is looking for diversity they will not get what they are looking for this way," he said.
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