For the past several weeks, the number one rumor in the District of Columbia police department, according to numerous sources, is that a recent promotion test was leaked in advance to selected officers.
City Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson who was asked about these rumors in an interview three weeks ago, said then that he was aware of the rumors but that such a leak was "an impossibility."
He said that he believed the test was fairly administered, and he would counter the rumors with a full explanation of test safeguards in a forthcoming "Operation Candor" videotape message he would make to his troops at roll calls.
"The rumors are baseless, period, and you can quote me on that," he said in the interview. He attributed the rumors to "misinformation and sour grapes."
Now, after considerable research into test procedures, Jefferson has decided not to make a statement, according to his spokesmen. Two high-ranking police department sources said the chief has canceled the "candor" message because he wants to contribute nothing to further publicizing the rumors.
"The chief is hoping the whole thing will blow over," said one of the sources. "This is a very sensitive thing. If it [the rumors] goes on, it could wind up pitting blacks against whites like in the old days."
The rumors, which have many forms, allege that high ranking black police officials, or their aides, leaked copies of the test to ensure the promotion of blacks in a department dominated by white officials.
Those rumors allege that black police officers got virtually all the top scores on the tests for advancement to sergeant, lieutenant and captain that were administered March 18.
"There are a lot of rumors, a lot of questions whether we are filing any court actions to stop the promotions," said Larry Simons, president of the local police union, when asked about the situation yesterday.
"I've received more calls on the test than anything else," Simons said. "I've made it clear we have nothing on them [department officials] and we're not planning any action."
Simons and others say the rumors have been fueled by the intense competition for promotion. The test is offered only once every two years, and the number of promotions available is small because the department is faced with budget cuts and already is swollen with sergeants, lieutenants and captains from the manpower buildup of the 1960s.
About 2,000 officers, almost half the force, took the March examinations.
The exact ranking on the test will not be known until the end of June, according to a police spokesman, but the officers have been able to learn their individual scores, and through comparisons, many believe they have figured out the rankings.
Goldie Johnson, head of the predominately black D.C. Police Wives Association, said she believes the rumors are racist. "Some of them (black officers) have been studying hard since last June," she said.
In the past, rumors have drifted around the department after every promotion test, but these rumors usually had white officials leaking the test to their favorites. Evidence has never surfaced to support these allegations.
In the April 27 interview with Post reporters, Jefferson said that "the only thing I'm concerned with is putting the rumors to rest," and that if officers "have information on how the test is structured, if (the rumors) will stop."
He said he will not undertake an investigation of the rumors, but he will be "compiling information" to disseminate to the troops.
Jefferson canceled the "candor" message after one of his spokesmen, Gary Hankins, spent two weeks researching test procedures and working up a draft. "It becomes like trying to prove a negative," said one high ranking source. Jefferson "had to prove nothing happened, and that's impossible."
Jefferson has refused to allow any officials responsible for test procedures to be interviewed. Hankins said this was done because the chief may yet release his "candor" videotape, and he would want his officers to hear the facts from him before they read about it in newspapers.