Diversity or Safety? Justice Dept. Orders Lower Standards for Police Exam

On March 1, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee to answer charges that the DOJ improperly dismissed the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case. At the hearing, Mr. Holder took exception to earlier comments from noted civil rights attorney Bartle Bull: Bull had called it the worst act of voter intimidation he had seen in his long career.

In response to Bull's quote, Holder said that comparing this incident with the civil rights struggle "does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all, for my people.”

It now appears that an even more egregious example of the racial discrimination that has become policy in the Obama/Holder DOJ was already underway.

Due to dozens of retirements, the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department began a hiring cycle. Using an initial test developed by an outside company to eliminate racial bias, a passing score on one part of the test was set at 66% and a second part was set at 72%. However, despite Dayton’s pressing need for police officers, the DOJ forced Dayton to postpone the hiring process for months, and finally demanded that the passing scores be lowered to 58% and 63%.

Under the new lower standards, 258 additional applicants passed the test. The city of Dayton has declined to identify the racial make-up of those passing.

The DOJ is involved because of a consent decree with the city of Dayton announced on February 26, 2009 -- the DOJ filed a suit against Dayton under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that Dayton’s hiring practices for police officers and firefighters created a “disparate impact” on African-Americans. At the time, African-Americans comprised about 9% of Dayton's police force and only about 3% of their firefighters.

Dayton agreed to throw out its internally generated entrance examinations and other procedures objectionable to the DOJ.  The examination used in the most recent round of testing was a result of the consent decree, and was designed -- by a company specializing in such matters -- to eliminate any possibility of “disparate impact” or race-based discrimination. Yet this exam also failed to provide a quota of African-American applicants suitable to the DOJ, hence the dramatically lowered thresholds and damaging delays.

Unsurprisingly, the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police was not pleased with the DOJ’s actions. FOP President Randy Beane said:

It becomes a safety issue to have an incompetent officer next to you in a life-and-death situation.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dayton NAACP President Derrick Forward said:

If you lower the score for any group of people, you’re not getting the best qualified people for the job. ... The NAACP does not support individuals failing a test and then having the opportunity to be gainfully employed.

Mr. Forward deserves credit for understanding the insult inherent in lowering test scores for racial reasons so that the plainly unqualified may pass. The potential consequences for Dayton -- intended and unintended -- and for police forces and fire departments around the nation will be more severe than even Mr. Holder intends.

While I am not aware of exactly how the Dayton exam is used, such instruments are commonly used as initial screening examinations designed to detect the minimum level of common sense and basic human skills -- and I do mean minimum -- necessary to establish an eligibility list for further testing. Those who pass such initial tests do not immediately become police recruits. If a police agency has 50 openings, it will commonly accept only the top 50 scores -- scores which will always be substantially higher than the established minimums because those minimums are considered the bottom of the ability barrel (a barrel the bottom of which no sane police leader wants to scrape).

As a police officer, I often participated in the selection process for police recruits.

Anyone would be amazed at the “diversity” of those who walk through the door to take such tests, and I’m not referring to race. Many apparently have no idea that when applying for a job requiring great maturity and responsibility, it would be wise to shave and to wear clothing such that their lunch for the last few days can’t be identified at a glance. Some are unacquainted with bathing and other basic aspects of disease control and personal hygiene. Some wear sufficient piercings to set off airport metal detectors from the parking lot.

Many who take such tests are drawn by the romance and authority of the job, but are simply unqualified. In any such test, at least half won’t come close to passing, and some will pass but score so poorly as to be untouchables. As with any human endeavor, a few are exceptional, more are good, most are average, and the rest are simply not up to the task -- a task measured in Dayton’s case by an unusually generous passing score determined even before DOJ intervention.

Once an eligibility list is established, applicants are commonly put through a physical fitness test to weed out obvious medical ineligibility and lack of fitness that would render them dangerous to themselves or others. I’ve actually witnessed applicants black out or have cardiac incidents due to previously undiagnosed conditions. In some cases, the rejection saved their lives.

Having passed the first two steps, intensive background checks are done, and the applicants commonly take psychological fitness examinations such as the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Inventory (MMPI). In some agencies there are additional tests of various kinds, including questioning by panels of serving officers of various ranks (and in smaller agencies, personal interviews with the sheriff or chief of police). However, one common test in most agencies is a polygraph, where the essential truthfulness of a candidate is assessed. This test also gives an agency an opportunity to discover disqualifying personal facts that an applicant might not otherwise divulge. Candidates are eliminated when background checks reveal sufficiently damaging skeletons in their closets, and psychological issues that might be otherwise overlooked are commonly discovered in that round of testing.

The process is time-consuming, expensive, and manpower-intensive, and that is just before an applicant is offered a job.

What most people don’t realize is that from the first day that a recruit reports for work, an average of a year will pass before they are ready to patrol the streets alone. For a year, each new recruit will draw pay and benefits but will provide no direct police services to their community. Not only that, other officers will be taken from directly serving the public to train and prepare those new officers. This year-long process is absolutely necessary and very expensive.

Hiring an applicant likely to fail is potentially dangerous and an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars.

During their first year, officers are commonly put through a state-mandated training academy, which they must pass to receive state certification as police officers. In addition, they must pass training courses within their own agencies, the most important of which is a field training course wherein they ride with a variety of seasoned officers specially trained to educate and evaluate new recruits.

Some are too dangerous or inept with firearms. Some are temperamentally unsuitable. Some simply can’t write competent reports. Some can’t multi-task, and can’t drive, be aware of their surroundings, and simultaneously speak on the radio. Only after successfully passing all of these experiences is an officer allowed to work on their own. Only then are citizens getting their money’s worth.

What’s more, to put one officer on the street 24/7/365, approximately four officers must be hired. That’s three officers for three eight-hour shifts, and at least one to cover for vacation, illness, court, mandatory training, and other issues that will routinely remove any officer from their duties. With all of this in mind, and considering the very real dangers of an undermanned police force, unnecessarily delaying the process for months for any reason is reckless and unconscionable.

It is difficult to believe that Mr. Holder understands any of these issues.

Most people do not, and most attorneys have no special claim to knowledge of these issues. Even if Mr. Holder is given the benefit of the doubt for having the sole, admittedly admirable motive of eliminating invidious, intentional racial discrimination, the actions of the DOJ in this case are at best destructive.

There is, however, good reason to think that his motives are not so benign and noble.

It’s clear that the city of Dayton secured a new test, no doubt at considerable expense, to eliminate any potential disparate impact. With passing scores of 66% and 72%, it’s also clear that Dayton was trying to placate the DOJ -- few agencies would be comfortable with such low passing scores. Remember, these tests are initial screening instruments only. One need not be a rocket scientist to score at the 90th percentile or higher, and anyone scoring below 80% need not expect a call from the Nobel Prize Committee anytime this century. (Mr. Obama and Mr. Gore excepted, of course).

Demanding passing scores of only 58% and 63% guarantees that many people plainly unsuitable for the job, people who would be eliminated at very little cost at the first step, will be accepted for further testing. That testing, for candidates obviously not qualified and capable, will incur substantial additional costs at a time when cities and states have no money to spare. It will also -- if the DOJ will allow it -- subject people to the cruelty of being dropped after weeks and months when shortcomings that were initially, painfully obvious are too dangerous to be overlooked any further.

Surely Mr. Holder understands this?

But perhaps the worst consequence of Mr. Holder’s dumbing-down of the process is that the mere lowering of test scores sends a very powerful message: the financial resources of the federal government will be used to ensure that a quota of favored candidates -- numbers and races to be determined solely by the DOJ -- will not only be hired, but will be put on the street in blue suits with badges and guns and the power to use them.

Which agency will fail to understand that people who would not normally pass any of the checks and tests that follow placement on an eligibility list will pass those checks and tests, particularly if they are members of DOJ-favored candidate groups? Which agency will fail to understand that members of one particular group -- white males -- not only may be but must be eliminated in favor of those unquestionably less qualified and capable? Surely Mr. Holder understands this as well? Why then would Mr. Holder want to place unqualified, dangerous people of any gender or ethnicity in police work?  As Mr. Obama is fond of saying, “make no mistake” that unqualified police officers are inevitably dangerous to themselves, their fellow officers, and to the public.

Again, allowing the benefit of the doubt, Holder may be single-mindedly determined to eliminate discrimination, even unintentional, incidental discrimination. But such noble desires must always be weighed against their foreseeable and potential unintended negative consequences. In this case, the foreseeable and potential consequences are clear, and to any rational person, should stay their hand in enforcing such damaging policies on the citizens of Dayton and the rest of America. No American police force can fail to understand what will happen to them should their hiring practices come to Mr. Holder’s attention. Again, giving him the benefit of the doubt, surely he would not intend such blatant, thuggish, Chicago-style intimidation?

Another possibility is that Mr. Holder and his like-minded managers at the DOJ cannot possibly imagine unintended future consequences. This state of affairs would mean that the leadership and upper management of the Obama/Holder Department of Justice, despite having the benefit of substantial higher education, are of a kind with those scoring far below 70% on an entry level police exam. In essence, they’re too stupid to know what they don’t know and are stubbornly proud of it.

The third possibility is that Mr. Holder and his managers are Progressive social and racial true believers, intent on imposing their views of social justice on society regardless of the Constitution, the law, common sense, common decency, and the costs or the deadly consequences of their policies. I’ll leave it to the reader to choose between the possibilities, but this possibility would seem to be the likely choice of a man determined to take care of "my people.”  Who else would think, let alone say, such a thing?

It’s common knowledge that the first “post-racial president” has so often injected race into the national discourse.  It’s also a shame that Mr. Holder, Mr. Obama’s choice as attorney general, America’s chief law enforcement official, seems to know and care so little about actual police officers and the communities they serve. Greater is the shame that he seems unaware that all of the American people are the people of the U.S. attorney general.