In a city that's 25 percent African American, 2 percent is just not enough.
That was the condensed version of a ruling by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Wednesday slamming the city for not doing its part to increase the percentage of black and Hispanic members of the New York Fire Department.
According to the New York Times, Garaufis called out the Bloomberg administration for "blame shifting" and "accountability-avoidance" in its diversity policy. The court ordered the appointment of a monitor to oversee the FDNY's hiring practices to ensure that more minority candidates made it to the force.
John Coombs, a member of Engine Company 250 in Flatbush and head of the Vulcan Society, a Brooklyn-based organization of black firefighters, applauded a court decision he called "long overdue."
Garaufis first ruled in favor of critics of the FDNY's recruitment and hiring policies in 2009. Since then, the city pledged to revise the test given to potential candidates every couple of years and embarked on a to reach out to black and Hispanic applicants.
But Coombs said the measures taken thus far to diversify the department had failed to dislodge a system he said was intrisically hostile to minority candidates, many of whom reside in inner city neighborhoods.
"We have a history of being 2 or 3 percent black for the last 30 years or so," Coombs said. "The department has never seen anything wrong with that. Obviously, there is something wrong here."
Coombs hailed the court's decision to appoint an independent monitor over the FDNY's hiring process—one he said was "hopelessly flawed."
According to Coombs, among the barriers to minority candidates getting hired was a testing system that favored applicants with experience at volunteer firefighting stations.
"There are no volunteer firehouses in the inner city—not in Fort Greene, Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy... so how are we going to have that knowledge?" he said.
However, there have been signs of some gains by minority and women candidates.
With the registration period for next year's crop of candidates just passed, Coombs said 15,000 of a total 61,000 applicants were African-American—up from 6,000 in FDNY's last hiring class. The number of black and Hispanic candidates is 30,000, or roughly half of the candidates scheduled to take the FDNY's test in January.
But the FDNY still had a long way to go before it resembed other city agencies like the Corrections Department and the New York Police Department, which have made great strides in terms of promoting diversity in its ranks.
"In order for change to come, we have to do things differently," Coombs said.