Consultants reviewing Balto. Co. police promotion practices

Contract comes amid federal probe into minority hiring

August 09, 2012|By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County has hired consultants to review how it promotes police officers, amid a federal investigation into its hiring practices for minorities in public safety agencies.

Officials said the contract, approved this week by the County Council, was unrelated to the probe. Under the $70,000 deal, the McLean, Va.-based Fields Consulting Group will, among other things, review the Police Department's promotional policies for corporals and sergeants, analyze job tasks and develop exams for promotions, according to the county auditor's analysis of the contract.

In May, county officials announced they would hire a consultant to review promotional practices in all public safety agencies this summer. At the time, they also said they would not issue new promotional tests until the independent review was done.

A contract summary prepared by the Police Department and submitted to the County Council last month states that testing for promotions was suspended in May "in part due to concerns raised by the Department of Justice."

County officials said recently that that description was inaccurate and that the review of promotional procedures had nothing to do with the federal investigation.

The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in January wrote to county officials, asking for more information on the hiring of African-Americans in the police and fire departments. A spokesman for the federal agency declined to comment Wednesday on the status of the investigation.

In an interview last week, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said increasing diversity among the county workforce and ensuring fair promotions has been a longtime goal. He pointed, for instance, to meetings he had last year with representatives of groups that advocate for black police officers and firefighters.

"In general, I'm a big believer that the workforce of the county should fairly reflect the diversity of our society," Kamenetz said, adding that he was concerned that the county's promotional procedures hadn't been reviewed by an outside agency.

On Wednesday, the county released a promotional video encouraging women and minorities to apply for jobs in the county's public safety agencies. Officials said they would air the video at job fairs, schools and churches.

Cole Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said he believes the review of the department's promotional processes is related to the federal investigation.

"I don't think the question … would have been dealt with as seriously, and abruptly, if it weren't for the Department of Justice investigation," he said.

Weston added that he believes the department should regularly review the process. "I don't know that anyone knows when it has gone through any sort of review process," he said. "When was the last time these tests were validated — reviewed by a separate, academic, third party?"

The consultants will study the Police Department's promotion process, then train the county's human resources staff to review other agencies, said Kamenetz's chief of staff, Don Mohler.

Although the contract was not officially approved until this week, the consultants were hired in June.

The federal government has also probed county employment practices for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, connected to 10 police and fire department employees and job applicants. Under an agreement announced Tuesday, the county will pay about $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department that accused the county of a pattern of discrimination, mostly based on medical conditions. County officials said the settlement was not an admission of any wrongdoing.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez

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