By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Fire Department should overhaul its hiring and recruitment to bring in more women and minorities, according to a report commissioned after the city's mayor found flaws in recruitment last year and for a time put hiring on hold.
The RAND Corporation report, released on Thursday, highlights the challenges facing the department in winnowing down a huge pool of applicants in ways that are fair and cost-effective, a problem other urban U.S. fire departments also encounter.
The Los Angeles Fire Department has for years been accused of racial and sexual discrimination within its ranks, resulting in millions of dollars in payments to settle legal claims, according to local media.
Mayor Eric Garcetti instituted a firefighter hiring freeze for a time last year and commissioned RAND to conduct a three-month study after the Los Angeles Times raised questions of nepotism in hiring.
The paper reported in February 2014 that over 20 percent of 70 recruits hired in 2013 were related to firefighters on the force, and critics complained the force's recruitment classes do not reflect the city's diversity.
Only 3 percent of the department's 3,200 firefighters are women and nearly half are white, department figures show.
The RAND report said that in 2013, more than 13,000 applicants competed for less than 100 positions at the fire department, where the starting pay is $59,000 a year.
As recruits moved through the process, a large share of women and minority candidates were eliminated, the study found. About 0.3 percent of recruits who identified themselves as black made it through all screening steps compared to about 2 percent for those listed as white.
The fire department should recruit more highly qualified minorities by reaching out to universities and colleges to find potential candidates of color there, said Chaitra Hardison, an author of the RAND study.
It should find more women who could pass the demanding physical screening process by recruiting from amateur sports teams, Hardison said.
The RAND report is based on figures from 2013, and a Garcetti spokesman said some reforms have been instituted since then.
"Mayor Garcetti is committed to a reform agenda for the Fire Department that lowers response times, modernizes operations and ensures we have the best possible recruits," Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said in a statement.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)