NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE SUPPORTS QUESTIONABLE POLICE EXAM

October 24, 1996

The Department of Justice is coming under fire for trying to force state and local governments to adopt a new police entrance examination that assures nearly equal percentages of black and white applicants will pass. Critics say it achieves this result by stripping the test of crucially important reading, reasoning and judgment skills.

After years of planning and millions of dollars in expenditures, the test was administered in Nassau County, New York. While the proportion of blacks who pass is nearly the same as for whites, many exceptionally qualified candidates (probation officers, cops from other jurisdictions) reportedly receive very low or failing scores. At the same time, a high proportion of top scorers have poor academic histories, as well as outstanding arrest warrants. Many are unable to account for years of their work history or refuse to take a drug test.

  • Consultants who designed the test were bound by orders in a 1990 consent decree in which the Justice Department and the Nassau County Police Department agreed to develop a test that "either does not have adverse impact upon blacks, Hispanics or females, or has been validated" -- shown to be job-related.
  • Critics say that what emerged was an examination designed to avoid testing for job-related skills.
  • The report begins by explaining the importance of reasoning, judgment and inferential thinking, then concludes by recommending a test that measures none of these skills.
  • Scores on reading tests were replaced by a pass/fail grade -- with a passing grade awarded if candidates simply read as well as the worst 1 percent of readers among incumbent police officers.

Critics say this test destroys merit hiring, removes competence as an advantage and denies job opportunities to talented individuals of all races.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department is putting the heat on other police jurisdictions to use it, despite the fact that it could pose a danger to public safety.

Source: Linda S. Gottfredson (University of Delaware), "Racially Gerrymandered Police Tests," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 1996.

 

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