The civil service exam. The problem that won’t go away?

When I ran for Mayor back in 1993, the City of Dayton was trying to get itself sued, so that it could hire more minorities into the public safety department. I suggested instead of the “consent decree”- we should implement a physical fitness standard for current employees- to thin the ranks and make more job openings. I did not make friends with the public service unions.

All these years later, and we’re still failing to hire minorities, and still getting sued- and it’s costing us real money ($950K for the last Department of Justice compromise). That’s money that isn’t going to go for real public safety.

Then we read that the tests weren’t validated:

The Dayton police and fire civil service exams subject of a federal lawsuit were never validated by the city’s Civil Service Board.

The revelation by City Manager Rashad Young comes after a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit claimed the testing and hiring practices for police and fire positions had a “disparate impact” on black applicants….

Validation is necessary to prove effectiveness of the exam questions, related to the necessary requirements of the job.

Dr. Rick Jacobs, professor of psychology at Penn State University and an expert in job performance and hiring practices, said the tests not being validated is “interesting” considering it is one of the “most important” steps in the process.

via Police, fire exams never validated by board.

This battle has been going on for at least 20 years without a change. Sort of like the State Supreme Courts ruling on school funding inequities. Doesn’t it make you wonder just a bit?

Hiring is an art form- I can tell you that from doing my share of it. I can also tell you that most small business owners struggle with it. I have a friend who swears by pre-employment testing- where they test your personality, to try to find if you fit a profile that is deemed a good fit for the job. It makes hiring an expensive process – and even though it’s been wrong more than right- my friend still spends the money.

My process has changed over the years. I used to hire based purely on talent. Looking at a portfolio was the number one test. Now, I hire on attitude more than aptitude. I find that keeping a good work atmosphere much more valuable than a stellar portfolio. I find people show more talent when happy, and can be coached better if they have the right attitude.

Either way, no hiring process is perfect. Even the military that has a huge pool of applicants, and a long track record to measure test to actual performance, doesn’t get it 100% right in its hiring.

So, my question is: Is the civil service test really a valid way to choose our candidates? We’ve had some wildly bad cops and firemen who have passed the test and made it through the academies, as well as a lot of really great ones. What we haven’t had is any success at hiring minorities.

Even if the test proved not to have cultural bias, after trying to solve the problem for 20 years and still failing, it’s got to be more than just the test at issue here.

I’d like to hear from members of Dayton’s public safety forces on what they think we can do to solve this issue, without having to wait for the DOJ to “solve” our problem for us?

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14 Responses

  1. Gene March 9, 2009 / 10:29 am

    Define minority?

    Maybe not cops and fire, but a lot , if not damn near a majority of County and City employees are A.American and/or woman – by larger portions than they represent. Woman, often called a minority, are certainly a majority in most every government agency with the exception of a few, like police and fire. It seems to me we have proportional representation ( with the exception maybe of cops and fire.) Have you ever thought that AA don’t want to become cops or fireman? I may ruin any street cred they have built for themselves.

    The question you ask can go BOFF way – be very careful not to trip over your own tongue.

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  2. David Esrati March 9, 2009 / 11:05 am

    @Gene-
    no clue what “BOFF” is- and you are a racist. “Street cred”
    give me a break.

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  3. Gene March 9, 2009 / 4:35 pm

    I thought street cred was for all URBAN folks, white or black or Hispanic. Sorry if it is not.

    You are a racist if you think I am a racist. You just throw things out there, so will I.

    Why have minority cops if minorities don’t want to be cops. same with fireman. And, btw, there are minorities in those jobs.

    again, define minority? Black, Blue, woman, kids?

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  4. David Lauri March 9, 2009 / 7:35 pm

    I think it’d be fun if Dayton’s public safety department did a campaign to recruit queer applicants. Other cities have done it.

    (And no, I wouldn’t apply. You couldn’t pay me to be a policeman or a fireman.)

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  5. Brad March 9, 2009 / 9:14 pm

    You can’t make someone apply for a job that doesn’t want the job… The applicant pool just isn’t there. Or, at least isn’t showing up to take the tests. The Dayton Fire Department, Dayton Police Department, IAFF, or FOP have NEVER opposed legitimate minority recruitment efforts (keyword: LEGITIMATE). Members of the DFD have sat on diversity recruitment committees, worked booths at job fairs, and volunteered their time to participate in diversity recruitment videos and other media. Personally, I don’t honestly know what the solution is. But hand-picking minorities for a job, or actually paying them backpay for a job they didn’t score well enough to get, is pure lunacy. In fact, if I were in their shoes, I’d probably consider the entire concept pretty insulting.

    To answer your question, I suppose maybe being involved earlier in the process in young people’s lives might help. We are always happy to show kids fire trucks and let them put on a fire coat if we see a group while we’re out around town or on a run. We have to inject public safety into their realm of thinking as they grow up. On a lesser scale, maybe billboards around town (primarily the west side obviously), promoting upcoming civil service tests, and the many benefits of a City of Dayton job.

    You see David, it’s not just a City of Dayton problem. It’s bigger than that. Guess how many African-Americans work for Kettering Fire?? zilch.. Xenia Fire?? zippo… Think those towns are all white?? obviously not… and of course we are showcased because we’re the “big city” in this area, but the problem with minority recruitment isn’t our fault. Stop in a Firefighter I class at Sinclair sometime and count the minorities… THEY DONT WANT THE JOB…. or at least don’t know they should want it… because let me tell ya, it’s great… there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do.. I really like my job, and I really like this City… I have a vested interest in this whole process…

    Is there a problem?? yes, it certainly seems that way…. But is this Dept of Justice BULL$H!t the way to fix it?? no way in hell… at least not without royally screwing up the Fire Department…

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  6. Gene March 9, 2009 / 9:56 pm

    Of course they don’t want those jobs, they don’t apply to these jobs (they being minorities.)

    They could go to school, get the training, and then apply. They don’t do this, for the most part. Who cares what color a fireman is, or a cop. I have never thought of it in terms of who was doing the job, rather if they are qualified. I thought we, as a country, were somewhat beyond this whole BS notion of proportional representation in jobs. It is a joke. It could be a never ending argument. Heck, the white man is minority in some areas yet they don’t get the proper representation in a lot of government jobs.

    Insulting? YES. We have applications and education and training open to all. GO APPLY if you want the job.

    They don’t (for the most part.)

    Best man or woman for the job? Where did that go? Oh, out with Clinton and Obama.

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  7. Allison March 10, 2009 / 8:40 am

    If my home was on fire, I would want someone who can operate the truck and hose to respond, I don’t care what color their skin is. Forcing the hire of unqualified applicants because they are members of a minority class is, as Brad said, lunacy.

    My son is a FF/EMT for a suburban FD that does not require a civil service exam. Minorities don’t apply there, either. I don’t know a single FF that doesn’t consider the fire service a calling, rather than a job.

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  8. David Esrati March 10, 2009 / 11:17 am

    I’m not an expert on civil service exams, but, it’s becoming apparent that the process is costing us money. If we did away with them- as has been done many other places, how would it change things?
    As far as I know, we’ve relaxed barriers to cross department transfer- and even tried to hire laid off Cleveland minority firefighters.
    I think Brad is onto something with starting recruiting earlier in life- working with kids. Maybe we should look at sponsoring first aid courses in the schools, and work with scouting- to help stimulate interest in the fields.
    I don’t think their is a racial predisposition against public safety jobs. I do know, that entering the Dayton Safety forces may seem a bit daunting after 20 years of negative publicity on this issue.
    We need to work together to solve it, now. Not later.

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  9. Joe March 10, 2009 / 12:17 pm

    Maybe the 800-pound gorilla in the room or in this case the Police and Fire departments is institutional racism. Minorities are represented in other large cities proportionate to the numbers in the population. Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, are cities that have many minorities. Dayton’s effort to bring minorities into their ranks has been tepid at best.

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  10. Gene March 10, 2009 / 4:07 pm

    Young people are lazy in Dayton. Most of our fire and police come from outside of Dayton, and most are white. And most people outside of Dayton in surrounding ‘burbs and other counties are white. Just a fact, Jack.

    When I say people in Dayton, I am referring to all races and in particular to young men. Not just AA, but white or Hispanic or Asian or whatever. Young men in Dayton are lazy. Not all people, but young men for sure. A lot of them don’t work in any capacity.

    Lazy people don’t like to work.

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  11. Mike March 10, 2009 / 6:05 pm

    Gene. Definite “alot” when stating “A lot of them don’t work in any capacity.” Seeing a person on the street in the middle of the day doesn’t mean they don’t have a night job or weekend job, or it just their day off. Not everyone works M-F 8am-5pm. Especially not firefighters.

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  12. Gene March 10, 2009 / 6:43 pm

    Reading various statistics, about 16-18% of those under the age of 25 (but at least 18) are unemployed (those NOT in school.) Simple logic suggest that urban areas are the worst. So I would say it is near double in urban areas – 32 to 36% – and much less in suburbia and rural area, bring that total to 16-18%. So in the city limits of Dayton I would say we are on the high side of that….. 35 to 40% of men ages 18-25 who are not in school are unemployed in the city of Dayton. Let’s say I am high on my prediction, 30% may be more like it – but I bet I am right. 30 to 40% is A LOT – not a majority, but A LOT. National statistics back me up, and I feel Dayton is worse off. So maybe that % is working underground with drugs and guns and woman and so on…….. at least they are enterprising at that point.

    WE ALL KNOW IT IS A LOT – exactly what percent, well I would say 35%. Over one in three.

    We have lazy people in this town, a lot of them. And a lot of these lazy people produce kids they don’t pay for, do not father, do not educate, do not feed, do not cloth, do not shelter. Those are the facts. We all know it – but most of you will not admit that they are just lazy people, men, ages 18-25, not in school. Lazy as a whole. Of course 65% of them do work, but as a percent that is terrible. TERRIBLE.

    It is not a matter of not having jobs – this percent has been consistent for 25 years, actually rising, and of course rising with the unmeployment rate rising. After the age of 25 people seem to find work, for whatever reason. After the age of 25 people don’t want to be police or fireman. for the most part.

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  13. former city employee March 27, 2009 / 11:21 pm

    Brad is right, the applicants simply are not there. DFD has tried to impliment youth programs in the past, I remember seeing them in the stations. Much like everything else in dayton it failed. Another great example was the apprentice program; where a select “diverse” group was supposed to attend Sinclairfull-time, work in the fire stations for 8.50/hr for only 20 hrs/week in exchange for points on the civil service exam. Again, the program was killed by the city and the fire union. Civil service has gone as far as having 3 months of study sessions preceeding an open book test for the fire dept, which resulted in an academy class of about 37 white males and 3 white females. It’s absurd how easy they try to make these tests to recruit “minorities”, they do this off the assumption that minorities are less educated than whites and therefor the test should be “dumbed down”.

    One thing the public may not be aware of is how much money is spent on training new recruits. At one time Dayton required firefighter and EMT certifications to even apply, which saved the city money in training. They have dropped those requirements, why, because they were not hiring enough “minorities”. The city has since lowered the hiring standard back to 18 years old, drivers license, no felonies, and a drug test. Now the city must pay thousands of dollars extra per candidate, just to get them to a basic functioning level of firefighter2/EMT-B. Following this is 18 months in paramedic school, which is somtimes payed at over time rates. To save time and money, all civil service has to do is require FF2 and paramedic certs.

    I could go on forever about residency, curruption, and hipocracy, but I’ll instead enjoy my new life outside the prison known as Dayton.

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