Fairfax Probes Police Exam Cheating Case, Suspends Two
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Three Fairfax County police officials have been temporarily removed from their duties after a police officer studying for a promotional exam said he was leaked questions to the test, law-enforcement sources said yesterday.
Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer sent an e-mail to his department Tuesday confirming an investigation into a cheating scandal, saying that the breach was limited and that the test had been scrapped. Numerous law-enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said that a sergeant on the testing committee is believed to have provided the test questions to a lieutenant, and that the lieutenant in turn offered them to at least one officer.
That officer, instead, notified the police internal affairs unit last week, sparking the investigation. A police lieutenant and sergeant have been suspended, both with pay, and another sergeant has been placed on administrative duty.
No criminal or internal charges have been filed, and police declined to release the names of those involved.
Sources said the suspended lieutenant is Susan Lamar, 44, an assistant commander in the organized crime and narcotics unit and former assistant commander of the McLean district station. The suspended sergeant is Keela M. Lowry, 39, who was on the testing committee and became the Fairfax department's first black female supervisor when she was promoted in 2006. The identity of the sergeant placed on administrative duties could not be learned yesterday.
Lamar and Lowry did not respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
"This has shocked the whole department," said Officer Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax police officers' union. Thielen said the investigation needed to be complete because "it is our integrity that qualifies us for the special position of trust that we hold."
Rohrer declined to comment. He wrote in his e-mail that the allegations were reported Feb. 4 and that by the next day it had been confirmed "that test materials had been inappropriately compromised and 'leaked.' "
The police chief noted that "initial indications are that the scope of this breach is limited." He said new tests were being developed in time for the scheduled testing date of March 21 for promotion to the ranks of sergeant and master police officer, the highest of three levels within the rank of officer.
Police also are investigating the 2006 sergeant's test that led to Lowry's promotion, police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said. She could not say why the investigation includes that test, but said officers can be compelled to provide truthful answers about that process or face termination.
Some officers and supervisors said the Fairfax police testing process had a long history of problems, but Jennings denied that. "Absolutely not," she said. "These allegations are definitely an anomaly for the Fairfax County Police Department. The people around here pride themselves on the core values of honesty and integrity. I think that's why we're seeing so many officers angry about this, because cheating is not part of this culture."
One officer, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions for speaking publicly, said he and others have been frustrated with the promotion process for years.
The testing involves a written exam, an executive in-box exercise, and then an oral "assessment center," in which candidates are given a problem and must explain how they would handle it. Fairfax, like most departments, uses commanders from other departments to critique the assessment center but handles the other stages itself.
The sergeant's test is given every three years, and a ranked list of candidates is then devised. Officers are promoted off that list until another test is given.
One officer said he once watched a sergeant who was involved in the test preparation convene study groups for officers preparing for the test. Fairfax once had a policy prohibiting supervisors and commanders from assisting officers, but that had been relaxed in recent years, Thielen said.
Thielen said the union had asked Rohrer to investigate the 2006 exam "to clear the cloud over any officers there may be some doubt about, and determine if there is a bigger problem," as well as to help any who remain on the existing promotional list who might have been passed over in favor of an officer who cheated.