U.S. Department of Labor Study Offers Promising Practices for Increasing Diversity Among First Responders

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A new study by Coffey Consulting and AIR identifies promising practices first responder agencies and organizations can use to increase the diversity of their workforces. The research team visited five agencies and first responder training providers that were selected on the basis of how well their staff represented the communities they serve, and the close alignment of their efforts with best practices for improving diversity.

The benefits of moving toward better representation could also provide more secure and rewarding employment opportunities to historically underrepresented populations, which could be a win for local economic and workforce development.

A new study by Coffey Consulting and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the U.S. Department of Labor identifies promising practices first responder agencies and organizations can use to increase the diversity of their workforces. The research team visited five agencies and first responder training providers that were selected on the basis of how well their staff represented the communities they serve, and the close alignment of their efforts with best practices for improving diversity.

“Public citizens and officials have a renewed interest to improve agencies’ relations with their communities by ensuring first responders reflect those they serve,” said report co-author and Coffey Consulting senior associate Abby Miller. “The benefits of moving toward better representation could also provide more secure and rewarding employment opportunities to historically underrepresented populations, which could be a win for local economic and workforce development.”

The study sites represented several different first responder fields. They include two police departments (Atlanta Police Department and Dallas Police Department), one fire department (San Francisco Fire Department), and two third-party training providers (Bay Area Youth EMT program and Camp Fully Involved in Concord, N.H.). Researchers identified and documented how they approached racial, ethnic and gender diversity in recruitment, training, hiring and retention of individuals and found four general promising practices:

Institutionalizing a culture of diversity. All five study sites had established and supported a diverse organizational culture: a diverse leadership (in terms of race/ethnicity and gender), an emphasis on diversity as a clearly articulated organizational objective, and open discussions among staff about the importance and meaning of diversity.

Using specialized and targeted recruitment approaches. Study sites used a variety of recruiting tactics to diversify their staff, including using population-specific liaisons and volunteers to reach out to members of the community and creating targeted marketing materials to appeal to different groups.

Taking a more equitable approach to screening and hiring. Some of the study sites implemented less restrictive hiring requirements to lessen the disproportionate impact that background checks and selection tests can have on hiring individuals from less advantaged backgrounds.

Engaging the community. The sites provided support for staff to interact with the public in positive ways, through partnerships with local schools and other community organizations, to foster interest in careers with the local police and fire service and to provide the public with opportunities to get to know their local police officers and firefighters.

The study’s police and fire departments were more representative of the local populations they serve than departments nationwide, and all sites displayed diversity practices cited in the human resource and first responder-specific literature as potentially promising. Additional research is needed to assess whether there is a causal relationship between these practices and improved diversity.

“To be successful, our research suggests that first responder agencies at minimum must work toward institutionalizing diversity and inclusion as an organizational priority,” said Stephanie Cronen, report co-author and AIR principal researcher. “To that end, we hope our findings are useful to the field and contribute to the growing body of research on the topic.”

Visit http://www.air.org to read the full the report, Promising Practices for Increasing Diversity Among First Responders. Also available are profiles for each site and a program brief.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit http://www.air.org.

About Coffey Consulting, LLC
Coffey Consulting is a professional services consulting firm founded in 1986 that has been successfully delivering effective solutions to government and private sector clients covering research, evaluations, quantitative studies, surveys, technical assistance and training, acquisition management, facilitation, program integration, financial management, performance management, information technology and administrative support. For more information, visit http://www.coffeyconsultingllc.com.

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