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Groups Want A Change In How Boston Fire And Police Hire Military Veterans

Minority firefighter and police officer associations say military veterans from outside of Boston are able to skirt residency requirements and get hired by the city's fire and police forces.

In a filing today, the groups asked the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission to launch an investigation into how the Massachusetts Human Resources Division, Boston fire and Boston police hire and rank potential recruits.

At issue is what's called the "residence preference" in the civil service law. Those who take the civil service exam get moved up the list if they've lived in Boston for at least a year before applying. But the minority groups say veterans are able to avoid that requirement.

Instead, according to the way the Civil Service Commission is enforcing the law — according to the complaint — a veteran from Massachusetts who has never lived in Boston can get the residence preference, so long as they move to the city within 90 days of leaving active duty.

Because Boston is more diverse than Massachusetts as a whole, that's contributing to the lack of diversity in the Boston fire and police forces, according to the filing from The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the request on behalf of 10 individuals, plus the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers and the Boston Society of Vulcans, a black and Latino firefighters group.

More than half of Boston residents are considered a minority, while Massachusetts as a whole is only a quarter minority.

People of color make up about a third of the police force; less in the fire department.

"Each hiring cycle there are true Boston veterans, many of them black and Hispanic and Asian, who should be getting hired onto the force," said Oren Sellstrom, an attorney with the Lawyer's Committee. "Instead, those veterans of color end up losing out to individuals who may have never lived in Boston and yet are being granted the residency preference. That's not fair to Boston veterans of color."

Sellstrom said they don't have a number of minority veterans who have tried to get hired but were unsuccessful.

"If you limit residency preference to actual residents of Boston we know that is going to result in a more diverse pool than if you're allowing individuals from around the state to try and get that residency preference in a way that's not allowed under the law," Sellstrom said.

Military veterans already get preference over civilians in civil service hiring.

Boston police and the Massachusetts Human Resources Division did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Boston fire spokesman said they hire according to the state's rules, but declined to comment further.

Sellstrom said the Lawyer's Committee doesn't know whether other cities in Massachusetts are treating hiring in the same way Boston is. He says they focused on Boston, because the diversity gap between police and the city they serve is more critical.

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