The District needs to hire a significant number of new police officers now to help implement the mayor's 13-point anti-crime program. The primary question is how the hiring of 200 officers can be accomplished in a manner that is 1) legal, 2) fair and 3) upholds the highest standards of the force.
Across America, cities are being sued for alleged discrimination in their hiring of police officers. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Cincinnati and, locally, Fairfax and Prince George's counties are but a few examples. These suits are expensive to defend, and when they are lost, they require substantial sums of back pay and attorney's fees.
New York City's police department has been under court order to carry out a quota system for the hiring of minority officers. Earlier this month, New York officials agreed to replace the court-mandated racial quota with a racially neutral plan that is very similar to the one implemented here. A pass/fail system on the written exam is used to determine those eligible to become officers, and a drawing is used to determine, after medical and background checks, who will be in the first group to enter the police academy. The rigors of the academy, including a battery of written and physical tests and intensive training, will determine who graduates.
In Washaington, the March 1981 police entrance exam was the first such exam administered by our local government. (Before we gained our independent personnel status, the entrance exam was administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel.) We used the traditional exam because it had survived earlier court challenges (although never under the standards of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act). However, the results of the exam were so drastically exclusionary that a change in the selection process was clearly needed to avoid the possiblity of court action.
By replacing the discriminatory selection[TEXT ILLEGIBLE] we have initiated a racially neutral selection method. The mayor chose voluntary and responsible compliance with what the law required, rather than waiting for charges of unlawful discrimination.
Legal questions aside, Mayor Barry has insisted that all of our city's actions must be fair. In my opinion, the entrance tgest, designed in 1948 by the U.S. Civil Service Commission, is clearly culturally biased. Some of my favorite examples of test questions are to explain "trademarks," define "perturbed," interpret hunting laws and comprehend the sayings "straight trees are the first to be felled" and "the fire in flint shows not till it is struck." Some of our city's youth would have better luck with such expressions as "what goes around and come around" and "babies cry but yet they come."
Certainly, this test must be redesigned. A new police exam should be ready in nine to 12 months. In the interim, we have chosen the public drawing, thereby avoiding racial quotas. This is the same method selected as the most racially neutral, fairest and most impartial process in determining who should be drafted into the military. By the way, this is a drawing, not a "lottery." A lottery implies one or two "winners." With this drawing, all persons are available to be selected, with the drawing deteriming only the order of selections. The chances are excellent that all those who pass the entrance exam will in the not-distant future have an opportunity to enter the police academy, after clearing physical and background checks.
In 1967, the U.S. Civil Service Commission suggested that one way to broaden the field of minority and women candidates would be to change the passing score from 40 to 35. We have made this change after full assurance that in no way will our police standards be lowered. Requiring applicants to exceed a certain minimum score to be eligible for the[TEXT ILLEGIBLE] We are using the pass/fail system -- as is used in determining which laywers pass the bar exam, for example.
I resent deeply the implication that a method that ensures a fair representation of minorities and women among new recruits will give the police department a "second class image."
The verbal test cannot predict solid police performance, beyond ensuring a certain minimum level of verbal skill. In other words, because someone knows his or her way around a dictionary does not mean that person will respond correctly on our city's streets.
The police academy will test the recurits frequently and thoroughly for their physical and verbal abilities, their crime prevention and detection skills, their ability to react in emergency situations and their community relations qualities. Officers must maintain an 80 percent grade through the 20-week recruit school and then pass a police panel's review after a one-year probationary period. Police officers, as protectors of the public safety, are too important to appoint without assurance that they meet all of these standards.
Our solution is legal, it is fair, and it upholds the highest police standards. Moreover, it enables us to strengthen our force, to help ensure that our streets are safe, our homes secure and our business protected.