Community Evaluators Helped Columbus Diversify Police And Fire Recruits

Apr 11, 2019

The city of Columbus is hiring more minoriy candidates as Columbus Police officers and firefighters. Officials give part of the credit to a two-year-old effort that includes residents in the hiring process as communitiy evaluators.

“I think what the community evaluators bring in is a better breadth of understanding of the community and how different community members may respond,” says Elizabeth Reed, public safety test team manager with the Columbus Civil Service Commission.

Reed says that since the new evaluation process began in 2017, the city has hired 33 minority recruits. Nineteen of them now work as police officers, while 14 work as firefighters.

Before the program, the city hired just 19 minority candidates in 2017.

“I can’t say that the reason for that significant change—which is a 57 percent increase—is just because of the community evaluator program, but there’s a lot of different things for getting the ball rolling and trying to increase that,” Reed says.

Overall, there are 228 minority Columbus Police officers out of 1,620 total. Columbus Fire boasts 125 minority firefighters out of 1,268 total.

During the evaluation process, police and fire candidates watch video vignettes of workplace scenarios and decide how they would respond to each. Community evaluators, along with fire and police personnel, rate the effectiveness of the candidates’ respond.

The scenarios focus on interpersonal skills and problem solving. The evaluators and department officials also talk about the biases that can happen when rating a candidate, and if possible, how to reduce them. That's all before the grading process begins.

“When the assessors do not agree—or the community evaluators and the fire personnel involved do not agree on how they’re going to score a candidate—then they’ll have a discussion,” Reed says. “And then, from that discussion, they’ll be more informed in terms of giving a final score for the candidates.”

Reed says the evaluators have examined two classes of police recruits and one class of firefighters.

“The process in and of itself hasn’t changed, but what has changed is that, again, that background, the influences that those community evaluators bring in and the perspectives they bring from their backgrounds,” Reed says.

A new team of evaluators will begin examining fire candidates on April 23.

“Those discussions are very rich discussions and I think have gone a long way in terms of improving morale as well as community relations,” Reed says.