Columbus leaders are taking a new approach to getting a more diverse police and fire department. They recently hired what they call "community evaluators," who will help in selecting applicants.
There are nine evaluators. Each of them will join a panel with two others who are either police officers or firefighters to review the applicants.
WOSU's Debbie Holmes spoke with Janara Alfano, a North Linden resident who'll serve as one of the evaluators.
Below is an automated transcript of their conversation. Please excuse any minor typos.
Debbie Holmes: What do you do as a community evaluator?
Janara Alfano: As a community evaluator, our role is to join a police officer and a firefighter in grading the FOAM (Firefighter Oral Assessment Mechanism) portion of the firefighter exam.
A candidate is given six scenarios, real-life scenarios. They watch them and then they have 40 seconds to respond. We are given a scale to grade their response to each of the scenarios.
Debbie Holmes: And so you have to evaluate that and you're in the middle of doing that right now.
Janara Alfano: Yes we are. We are on I think this is our third full day of grading and that lasts for eight hours a day. And we are currently working through I believe 1,800 candidates.
Debbie Holmes: What exactly are you examining then to differentiate the candidates? What is a good response in the scenario?
Janara Alfano: We're looking for well-rounded responses. Responses that demonstrate integrity, honesty and interpersonal skills as well as excellent problem solving and resolution skills.
Debbie Holmes: How do you think your opinion will help?
Janara Alfano: Well as a fellow community member in the North Linden area, I care deeply about my community, how my community perceives our civil service servants, firefighters police officers, and I believe that being involved in this process learning everything I can, getting to talk with fellow officers and firefighters will allow me then to go back to my community, report to my community and help bridge trust between the two.
Debbie Holmes: Have you seen a lot of bad communication between police and fire and your community members?
Janara Alfano: Overall I think it's a fractured system that we have. You know I think am a little bit young for this but I do recall reading that years ago firefighters and police officers would routinely be riding bicycles through neighborhoods. And by doing that community members could get to know them.
That doesn't happen any more unless there's a crisis situation. So therefore there is that break of trust and that is heard amongst chatter, social media platforms that there's there is that lack of trust there.
Debbie Holmes: Is that why you wanted to get involved with this hiring process?
Janara Alfano: That is one of the reasons I wanted to get involved is to be a peacemaker in my community. I don't wish to elevate the violence and the lack of trust between my community and these two departments.
I really wish to be a peacemaker and bring accurate information to my community to get them to think about what's really going on.
Debbie Holmes: Describe yourself and your background as to why you think you're going to help bring about diversity?
Janara Alfano: I've lived in Columbus all my life in multiple neighborhoods and my husband and I just happened to land in North Linden which at this time is currently fractured.
So first of all I see that and I can identify with many of the members within my community. The differences is my background. I mean as a peacemaker I lived in Israel and I worked for a nonprofit that wanted to bridge peace between Palestinians and Israelis. It's in my heart to not stop and accuse and that be the end of things.
Debbie Holmes: Do you feel also that being a minority woman helps you also to bring a certain element that may not be always a part of this hiring process?
Janara Alfano: Yes a woman, minority in her 30s, and all of those things help me to be a good evaluator. And so I believe that diversifying both the fire department, the police department it's going to allow them to better serve their overall communities.
Debbie Holmes: I've been talking with Janiero Alfano a community evaluator for hiring Columbus police and firefighters. Thanks for your time.
Janara Alfano: Thank you for having me today.