(The Root) — Although the New York City Police Department has battled allegations of racial bias for the manner in which it executes its stop-and-frisk program, the New York City Fire Department has faced criticism of its own from civil rights proponents.
In 2012 the city of New York was forced to pay $128 million to settle a lawsuit launched by black and Latino FDNY applicants. According to the lawsuit, which was was filed in 2007, although black residents made up 25.6 percent of New York City’s population at the time the suit was filed, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4 percent of the FDNY. Perhaps most disturbingly, these numbers were startlingly similar to the department of the 1960s.
But those numbers are poised to change.
Earlier this week, the FDNY swore in its most racially diverse class in department history. Of the 318 new firefighters, a whopping 27 percent are black and 37 percent are Latino. The uptick in diverse hires can be credited to the landmark lawsuit. A federal judge blocked the department from hiring until the case was resolved and, according to the Daily News, ultimately required the department “to hold 293 spots in upcoming classes for so-called priority hires — minority candidates who took the city’s firefighter hiring exams in 1999 and 2002, but for a variety of reasons, didn’t get hired.”
The new hires are not in the clear, however. They have to survive one final round of training to move from “probationary” firefighters to permanent ones. The training, which takes place on New York City’s Randall’s Island, lasts 18 weeks. The department is sure to face further scrutiny at the conclusion of this probationary period as critics evaluate how many members of this diverse recruiting class ultimately become permanent members of the force.
The FDNY is likely breathing a sigh of relief for the positive headlines. Earlier this year, the department was embarrassed when coverage of a racial controversy dominated headlines. Joe Cassano was dismissed when his racially inflammatory and anti-Semitic tweets became public. The story was particularly controversial because Cassano’s father is FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.
Commissioner Cassano said of the new class of recruits at the swearing-in ceremony, “This new class is a testament to the outstanding work by the department to meet our long-standing goal of diversifying our ranks and better representing the city we serve.”
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.