Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Police exam bias in NJ

I was at the local police station reporting my stolen bike, when I spotted an article about reverse discrimination in a correctional officers' magazine. Puh-lease. Out town is 1/2 Black and Spanish yet their are only 3 Black officers on the force.

The article was about reverse discrimination in Teaneck, NJ. In New Jersey, the current list of police officers were denied promotions because the police exam was ruled biased by the US justice department. One Black officer had his promotion delayed, so the article screamed "Reverse Discrimination!" Puh-lease.

The basis for the delay was a ruling by the justice department that the police promotion exam had a "disparate impact," on minorities. Basically, the results of the exam show Whites are favored over Blacks and other minorities. Minorities have long been discriminated against in New Jersey law enforcement.

One of the great things about a blog is you can do original research and make a difference.

To evaluate the claims of bias, we reviewed several exam preparation test books for the police officers and Sargent exams. All the books were obtained from the local library. The prep books give a good idea of what is required to pass the exam for a police officer or promotion.Specifically, used:

Barron's Police Office Exam, Schroeder and Lombardo,2009
McGraw-Hill's Police Officer Exams, Palmiotto and Brown, 2008
Learning Express Police Sergeant Exam, 2009

Based on the content of the books, here is what to expect on the police officers exam:

McGraw-Hill and Barron's
Memorization and memory testing
Map reading, Visualization and Spatial Orientation
Grammar, writing, sentence structure and spelling. Filling out forms and reports.
Reading comprehension
Some basic math
Information processing such as deductive reasoning
Legal definitions and police procedures

The sargent's exam include additional topics:

Legal procedures
Laws and statues

What's missing ? Common sense, real crime prevention strategies and social work. Yes, crime prevention is social work.

We agree with the court that the exams are biased toward testing taking and answer memorization. They do not full reflect true police work. We understand and appreciate the work of the exam creators. They have a difficult job with lots of interest group and cultural pressure. How do you put on a written test questions that distill years of police work (Sargents exam) or basic police skills into a written, multiple choice exam ?

How to you test for aptitude, learning ability, community relations skills, and common sense and social welfare. An almost impossible job. So any test devised is flawed from jump. Yet, like education, we must test. We must have some benchmark for comparison. We do support testing as part of a comprehensive candidate evaluation portfolio. We also support the recognition a point in time test is a flawed measure

Our proposal is for more realistic tests, work evaluations, and observations that de-emphasizes memorization, reading and writing and rewards crime prevention, bravery, community relations and police skills.

Police work is the dark side of social work. They catch all the people who choose not to follow social norms. Police work is also about community building. Police work is about crime prevention. None of those principles are emphasized in the exam.

The exam is about following orders, filling out forms correctly, memorizing the correct answer. There is a large section on geographical navigation.

The real life exam is about applying the principals of constitution law and why the rulings were made, handling difficult situations without resorting to force, community relations, acculturation, [speaking Spanish in a Spanish community], crime victim empathy and preventing crime. Again none of these topics appear on the test.

The tests are a good start, but only a beginning. It is time to consider the limits and biases of the test in considering the results. It is time to revise the test to measure what really matter for police especially police in Black and minority communities.


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