The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the hiring and promotion practices of minorities and women in Anne Arundel County's predominantly white male police and fire departments.

Justice Department spokesman John Wilson said investigators will determine if the county's employment practices "are in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Two department lawyers met with county attorneys Friday to pick up copies of the county charter and its police and fire personnel regulations.

Similar actions in the past by the department's Civil Rights Division have produced agreements with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore County to set hiring goals for women and blacks.

Those investigations determined that the two groups were insufficiently represented in the state police and the county work force.

County personnel records show the 448-member county police force had 18 blacks and 13 women; the 394-member fire department had two blacks and three women.

But the chief aide for County Executive James Lighthizer, who was recently criticized by the firefighters' union for efforts to recruit blacks, defended the county's minority hiring record.

"From our standpoint, there has been a significant improvement," said Robert Agee. "It has been nothing but a step forward."