Mass. FD released from 1970s-era diverse hiring consent decree

The court will reconvene on July 13 to determine which departments may be released next


Tristan Smith
masslive.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The Springfield Fire Department and Brockton Police Departments have been released from a nearly half-a-century-old consent decree that prioritizes the hiring of Black and Hispanic candidates in Massachusetts police and fire departments.

U.S. District Court Judge Patti. B. Saris released the two departments from the state-mandated decree on Wednesday afternoon, court documents stated. The consent decree was originally installed during the 1970s after several lawsuits alleged that Boston police and fire departments discriminated against Black and Hispanic candidates while hiring incoming officers, according to court documents.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said diverse entry-level hiring for the city’s police and fire departments has risen above the state-required parity with Springfield’s residency requirement.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said diverse entry-level hiring for the city’s police and fire departments has risen above the state-required parity with Springfield’s residency requirement. (Photo/Springfield (Mass.) Fire Department)

The decree, which has been revised over recent years, states that city and town officials must follow hiring ratios intended to prioritize Black and Latino entry-level candidates. These set diverse ratios — or “parity goals” as stated in court records — vary by municipality and are based on population demographics.

There are only six Massachusetts municipalities that still have departments bound to the consent decree: Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Randolph, Lawrence, Chelsea and Brockton.

Court documents state that police departments in Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Randolph, Lawrence and Chelsea and fire departments in Holyoke, Chelsea and Lawrence are still bound by the decree.

The court will reconvene on July 13 to determine which departments may be released next, court documents read.

“The consent decrees in this case have been enormously beneficial in undoing past discrimination by diversifying Massachusetts’s police and fire departments,” court documents stated. “All but a few departments in the Commonwealth have achieved the parity goal set forth in the decrees and are no longer subject to the decrees as a result.”.

The Massachusetts Human Resource Division asked the federal court to slowly phase out the consent decree by the end of 2024.

“It is time for the consent decrees to end, at the proposed termination dates, so that all municipalities in Massachusetts may resume hiring entry-level police officers and firefighters in accordance with state law,” according to a report obtained by NEPM.

Attorney General Maura Healey argued that municipalities still under the consent decree have made significant progress in diversifying their fire and police departments, the report stated.

Court documents show that between 2016 and 2021, all but one department under the consent decree have improved in their hiring of entry-level Black and Hispanic employees — Black and Latino hiring in the Lawrence Fire Department saw a 3% decline.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said diverse entry-level hiring for the city’s police and fire departments has risen above the state-required parity with Springfield’s residency requirement.

“That means officers come from the city, they’re part of the community, they live in our neighborhoods, they know that community,” Sarno said.


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The Springfield Fire Department staff is currently 56% minority, past the state’s parity requirement.

2021 U.S. Census estimates show that Black residents make up nearly 21% of Springfield while about 46% identify is Hispanic or Latino. Nearly 70% of Springfield residents identify as nonwhite and/or Hispanic or Latino.

Sarno said the city’s police officers and firefighters are “reflective” of the people who reside in Springfield and that the latest class of cadets for the Springfield Police Department — which is still bound by the consent decree — is one of the most diverse academy classes yet.

Springfield’s latest police academy class graduated on June 17 and 58% of the newly-hired officers are Asian/Black/Hispanic. Out of the 401 sworn-in patrol officers in the Springfield Police Department, 168 are white, 164 are Hispanic, 66 are black and 3 are Asian, according to city officials.

Holyoke’s fire and police departments are still under the consent decree, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said both departments have made great strides in hiring Black and Hispanic entry-level firefighters and police officers since the consent decree was written half a century ago.

“As it related to the fire and police departments, in 2022, 43.75% of our firefighters are minorities. Our police patrolmen reflect a percentage of 32% who identify as a minority,” Mayor Garcia said.

Around 4% of Holyoke’s population identifies as Black with nearly 55% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census data.

In terms of the supervisory positions in both departments, Garcia said two captains in the Holyoke Police Department are Hispanic, and a few months ago, the city appointed its first Hispanic Fire Department Captain.

“This tells me we are taking these departments in the direction they need to go in but we still have so much more work to do,” Garcia said. “We will continue to endeavor to have our departments reflect the population they serve.”

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