Garcetti laments lack of diversity among L.A. firefighter recruits

Garcetti laments lack of diversity among L.A. firefighter recruits
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti bemoaned the lack of diversity in new Fire Department recruits after celebrating a reported rise in local tourism at an event at the California Science Center. (Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)

Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledged Monday that Los Angeles was continuing to have trouble diversifying its ranks of firefighters, saying he did not expect much progress with the first class of recruits on his watch.

"I haven't seen all of the stats, but what I've heard initially, I'm not satisfied with," Garcetti said. "I think we need to have greater diversity in the recruit classes."

Later this month, Garcetti plans to welcome the city's first class of new Fire Department recruits in years.

The department, which has been fighting court battles over racial and sexual discrimination for decades, remains a long way from reflecting the city it serves.

Half of the city's 3,200 firefighters are white, 31% are Latino, 12% are black, and 7% are Asian. Census Bureau figures show the city's population is 29% white, 49% Latino, 11% Asian and 10% black.

Also, just 3% of the city's firefighters are female, a figure that hasn't budged over the last two decades, even as other large cities have increased their share of women. In San Diego, 8% of firefighters are women; in Seattle, 9%.

Last month, Interim Fire Chief James G. Featherstone called LAFD's recruitment efforts "embarrassing" and said it must be "a lot more aggressive" in appealing to a diverse set of applicants.


For Garcetti, the makeup of the new recruit class marks a test of his pledge to change the culture of the department. On Monday, the mayor said part of the problem was that "certain people know how to game the system" in the firefighter application process, although "not in a bad way."

"There's a short window of time to go online, or to call," he said. "In the first hour, if you're the first in line -- those are the ones who are usually at the top of the list. I want to make sure that we're educating all communities … to be able to get there and in a fair way apply to be a firefighter."

Garcetti's remarks came in response to a question at a news conference at the California Science Center, where he -- with the Endeavour space shuttle display towering over him -- announced that local tourism had ticked upward last year.

It was Garcetti's first public appearance in nearly three weeks, following a family vacation in Australia.


Twitter: @finneganlatimes