Complaints of flaws in police test prompt review

June 07, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

The complaints of three county police officers, who say flawed department testing kept them from being promoted to corporal last month, have prompted a review of the entire testing process.

But a county personnel official described the recent promotion test as fair and objective.

TC "No one was harmed by the system itself," said William Herndon, assistant personnel administrator. "Those who passed, passed; and those who failed, failed."

Police union attorney Tim McCrone said his three clients are seeking an administrative hearing before the county Personnel Board to contest the results. The officers also filed a public information request to obtain all of the testing material for their review.

Mr. McCrone's clients, whom he declined to identify, "are extremely frustrated and disappointed," he said.

After taking the written exam, two of the officers initially were told they had qualified but later learned that mistakes were made in grading their exams and that they hadn't made the cut.

The third officer, a detective, said he passed everything and was reading the list of finalists, which included his name, when he was told he hadn't qualified because of testing errors.

Mr. McCrone said the three officers have eight to 15 years of experience. They probably will have to wait two more years before the next round of corporal promotions, he said.

Chief James N. Robey would say only that he thought the process worked and that "excellent promotions" were made.

He resurrected the corporal rank, which was abandoned in 1980, this year to provide career advancement for aspiring supervisors and to boost morale.

On March 17, about 115 officers took the 100-question, multiple-choice exam, which counted for 40 percent of their overall grade, officers said. Later, they wrote an essay that counted for 20 percent of their overall grade and took an oral exam that counted for 40 percent.

Officers had to score 80 to pass the written portion, and the 60 officers with the top overall scores were to be considered for promotion.

Last month, the chief announced that 35 officers would be promoted to corporal, effective May 31, and receive a 5 percent pay increase. The rank is sandwiched between police officer first class and sergeant.

Mr. McCrone and his clients complained that sergeants in the Police Department developed the test haphazardly this year to save the county money and included irrelevant and poorly drafted questions.

The grading also was done poorly, they said.

The test should have been drafted and administered by an outside firm like other tests for promotions, including the sergeant's test, Mr. McCrone said.

Mr. Herndon said he wasn't sure why an outside firm wasn't used but that it probably was to save money. Administering a test can cost $10,000 and $20,000, he said.

"The county was penny-wise and pound-foolish in our opinion," Mr. McCrone said, adding that the appeals process could last several months.

Trouble began when officers reviewed their graded tests and discovered numerous errors, Mr. McCrone said.

Several questions that were based on newer general orders were thrown out because the officers were told to study an old general orders manual, he said. Although officers answered the questions correctly based on old rules, they didn't get credit. Other questions conflicted with changes in state law.

Once scorers rechecked the tests, they found more mistakes and changed the ranking list of finalists, Mr. McCrone said, but failed to notify officers of the changed results in a timely manner.

In all, Mr. McCrone said, there were six or seven officers who were given incorrect test results.

The corporal promotions process has deflated officers' morale, he said. "It's not just my clients, I believe there has been a negative impact on the overall morale in the Police Department."

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