After a 14-month investigation into the D.C. police training academy, the General Accouting Office concluded in a report released yesterday that the academy's records are so poor and incomplete that the agency cannot even begin to evaluate whether D.C. police are being properly trained.
While the GAO report did not name former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. by name, it focused most of its criticism of the police academy on the period from 1982 to 1989, during the years when he was chief. At the same time, it said that improvements had been made at the academy under the current chief, Isaac Fulwood Jr.
From what it could find, the GAO, Congress's investigative arm, said that requirements for graduation from the District's academy in Southwest Washington have varied widely from year to year.
In some years, instruction lasted for seven weeks, and in other years it lasted 24 weeks, although it now goes 16. And the comprehensive examination required for graduation was ended in 1988 without explanation after 39 percent of the previous class failed it.
The report comes at a time when the academy, which instructors say is packed to capacity with recruits, is graduating people at a faster rate than at any time in memory. The department is bringing about 110 new recruits into the academy each month, officials said.
The report said that in September 1988 the academy's director recommended that five recruits be fired, but Turner -- who is now running for mayor as a Republican -- allowed them to graduate onto the streets.
Each had failed five or more exams. At that time, recruits who failed five were expelled. Fulwood has tightened the limit, saying recurits who fail three exams are expelled.
The report bolsters complaints made in recent years by the Fraternal Order of Police that there has been a serious decline in standards of performance among the 1,500 police recruits who have graduated from the academy since 1982 and who are still with the department.
"We're not saying that all 1,500 people are bad apples," said Gary Hankins, chairman of the FOP's labor committee. "Most are fine officers. But in that group are some people who should not have been police officers and got on the force because the standards have been gutted."
Critics of the department, such as the FOP, say one reason the force periodically has lowered graduation standards is that police officials have felt pressure from the wave of drugs and violence to get officers on the street.
Rep. Dean Gallo (R-N.J.), who requested the GAO audit, called yesterday for accreditation of the department by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a private group that has accredited 117 police departments around the country. Some of the departments accredited are those in Fairfax and Arlington counties, Alexandria and Houston.
"I frankly see no other way that the department can lay to rest the significant questions raised in this report," Gallo said. Promoters of accreditation say it brings some conformity to police forces in areas like recruiting and training.
Fulwood could not be reached yesterday. But in an earlier letter to Mayor Marion Barry in response to the GAO report, Fulwood indicated concern about certain aspects of the academy, such as its lack of records.
Since he became chief in August, Fulwood has fired several recruits from the academy for academic deficiencies. But Fulwood does not want the force to seek national accreditation because he believes the three-year process is time-consuming and won't address criticisms of urban police departments.
Instead, Fulwood favors establishment of a regional standards and training certification program, and affiliation with a local university to provide a continuing education program for officers.
Turner said yesterday that he had not seen the GAO report, but that he does not believe there was any lowering of standards for the department while he was chief, starting in 1981.
Turner would not discuss with GAO officials his decision to graduate the five recruits who had failed more exams than allowed. But he said in an interview yesterday that he made the decision because the instructors had given the exam unfairly. Turner pointed out that the GAO didn't try to find out how the five have performed on the street since graduation.
The GAO also questioned the exam that potential recruits must take before they enter the academy. Only six questions have been changed -- and only slightly -- since the department began using this exam in the early 1980s. GAO investigators could not find out how many times applicants were allowed to take the exam, leading them to say that "multiple testing could allow applicants to pass by trial and error."
The GAO report said that the academy has long recognized the problems accompanying changes in academy requirements. A 1985 memo from the academy's then director of training said that "the inconsistency with which we have employed such standards has led to operational confusion and places the department in an indefensible position should we be called upon to defend our practices."