Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bias in the FDNY?

The NY Times, among others, is reporting today that the Justice Department has filed a suit against the FDNY because of the low percentage of Blacks and Hispanics on the job. Mayor Bloomberg, to his credit, basically told Alberto Gonzales to "take this job and shove it!" The mayor said, "The Justice Department is not going to tell us what to do."

So what are we to make of the low percentages? Is the relative paucity of minority firefighter an example of blatant discrimination, or are other factors at work? Clearly, no one, at least no one other than the mismanaged DOJ, would allege that the firefighter who are eventually hired are not the best and the bravest in the world. And finally, does the scant number of minority firefighters by itself indicate a discriminatory evaluation process?

If one is going to argue this point than it is incumbent in the accusers to point to the way in which the testing process itself weeds out otherwise qualified minority firefighters. After all, white children are scoring better on all of the tests given in the NYC school system. Preparation for the exam and a proper outreach effort, something that the FDNY is now doing, seems like the best approach to raising the number of qualified minority applicants.

When the court's overruled the tests in the early eighties, a number of unqualified women were forced into the city's firehouses and created a chaotic situation. Firefighting is a life and death situation, not only for the people who may be trapped inside of a burning building but also for those brave firefighters who put their lives on the lines. Watering down the tests, or the selection methodology, is a recipe for disaster-for both the FDNY and the citizens of NYC that depend on the bravery of the personnel in the department. 9/11 proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.