Why Test Scores Aren't Enough

In his July 15 letter, "Greater Diversity at TJ Won't Breed Respect," Richard Calvert of Annandale makes several assumptions about people with high test scores.

He is not alone in his belief that a high test score is enough to qualify someone for admission to Thomas Jefferson. He even labels the folks who do not have the highest test scores "less-qualified minorities." He fails to recognize that, with the use of test scores alone, the difference between the "highest" and the rest is at some point just a single point.

There will also be groupings where many applicants will be within 10 points of each other. When those situations happen, other factors are considered. It is not always true that the applicants with the highest scores on a test are the ones who can write well, are involved in extracurricular activities or will receive good recommendations from teachers.

That is why those factors have become an important part of college admissions and should be an important part of the consideration for acceptance to Thomas Jefferson.

Ed Grady


Police Response Falls Short

It's great that, when in need, the Fairfax County police found some friends to help them catch a suspect in a carjacking ["Fairfax Police Find Some Good Buddies," Metro, July 8].

But perhaps it wouldn't be unusual if the county police appreciated the intent of criminologist James Q. Wilson's "broken window" scenario, enforced the so-called nuisance laws that the average citizen cares about, equitably and consistently enforced parking and traffic law, and made the department more accessible to helpful citizens.

Wilson and other criminal justice experts said that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken, contributing to an overall sense of disorder.

As a former law enforcement professional, I was accustomed to calling in complaints or observances to police to address, but that's well-nigh impossible with the department's dilapidated communications systems. If I spy an apparent drunk driver, I am hesitant to call 911 because the police are busy and the possible offense is but a suspicion. So I call the non-emergency number -- which during busy hours is woefully understaffed -- and I get a very long-winded evasion -- first in English, then in Spanish -- after which I am put on hold forever.

I do not fault the police department for this; our county supervisors should act on it, because, on the one hand -- in this post-9/11 era -- we are told to be alert for suspicious activities, and on the other hand, the police department is insulated from even considering citizen input.

The communications center has lots of room for improvement. Not only are more telephone responders with police moxie badly needed, but there needs to be a serious upgrading of such personnel. At their fingertips, communications responders should have immediate information about location in Fairfax County (and juxtaposed jurisdictions) with a large, computer-enhanced map so trouble sites can be instantly identified.

In a fast-growing county, such information must be updated daily. Knowledge of county sites and roads and a modicum of knowledge of police procedures should be integral to the job description.

The non-emergency telephone response system must be expanded and greatly upgraded.

If a telephone responder is not a badged officer and is lacking in the knowledge of police procedures, a knowledgeable officer must be instantly at hand.

The police should welcome citizen input from credible callers. Moreover, the possibility of terrorists using the system to confuse the police or mislead the department cannot be overlooked. Perhaps a list of credible callers could be developed. Exploration of this must be pursued.

Often problems are related to Virginia Department of Transportation oversights such as confusing signs. VDOT has a well-deserved history on incompetence that simply cannot continue; some of its misadventures have an impact on the police department's ability to conduct sensible traffic enforcement. Sometimes I will report a traffic light out and count the days until it is repaired.

On the Dulles Toll Road connector road to Interstate 66, southeast of the exits to Route 123 but before the bus exit to the West Falls Church Metro, there has been a log on the inside left shoulder of the eastbound connector. It's 2-3 feet long, about 6 inches in diameter, and after being there for more than a month, someone finally ran over it and pushed it a little farther away from the traffic lane, but it's still in the narrow shoulder and is a traffic hazard. If there was good communication between state and local police and VDOT, that hazard would have been eliminated months ago. (It would be dangerous for a citizen without emergency lights to remove it.)

The great police success in New York City in lowering serious felony crime is attributed not to some new PR scam (such as "team policing," which can mean many different things to PR spinners) but to attending to those "broken window" concerns of Wilson's that affect all citizens at some time or other.

While special efforts can be made to assist non-English speakers, it is demeaning to suppose those residents cannot be expected to conduct themselves with the same fealty to the law as any other citizen.

Deterioration of many neighborhoods is -- in great measure -- a result of the lack of police presence and enforcement. All police personnel, command and beat officers, ought to be keenly aware of the "broken window syndrome" concerns and conduct their enforcement accordingly.

But the county police must be assigned resources commensurate with their mission. Educational activists at budget meetings argue that "education is the most important thing government does."

That is false. Education is among the most important things that governments do. On the local level, police and fire missions -- like national defense at the national level -- are central to public safety, without which little else matters.

Police departments should welcome the input of concerned, helpful citizens, not place barriers in the way.

John D. Shepard