'Rounding error' forces Baltimore police to alter rankings for sergeant promotion

October 23, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

City officials will send out fresh letters to 335 police officers today, informing them that scores on the most recent sergeants' test were put in the wrong order because of a rounding error. That rendered all but the top 10 rankings incorrect.

That list, which came out yesterday, is used by the police commissioner to determine promotions. Eighty officers were promoted from the last list, and there are 20 vacancies for sergeants.

"It is a real inconvenience," said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the city Police Department. He said that each individual score was correctly calculated, but the error came when the list was compiled.

The promotion processes in the fire and police departments are closely watched, and officers study for months before taking the tests.

Clifford said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III was "upset and disappointed."

"He has been through this process himself when he was promoted," Clifford said.

Union officials were also briefed yesterday. "It is a human error; there is nothing shady going on here at all," said Bob Cherry, the president-elect of police union. He stressed that the scores are not changing.

Of the 335 officers who took the test, 311 will see their rankings change when the rounding error is corrected. Most officers will see little change in their rankings, though one will fall 22 places and another will rise by 19, Clifford said.

The written portion of the test was administered in May and the oral component in mid-August.

A human resources employee caught the mistake yesterday when she noticed that each score ended in ".00," Clifford said. It turned out that the spreadsheet into which she had entered the scores was coded to round each result to the nearest whole number.

But by that time, the Police Department had sent out an initial letter informing each officer of his or her ranking on the exam. Now each officer will receive a second letter reflecting the accurate rankings.

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