Chicago police may scrap entrance exam
Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue said the idea "sounds too stupid to be true"
Editor’s note: Those who support the removal of an entrance exam claim there are good reasons to make that move, like saving money, increasing minority hiring in law enforcement and avoiding litigation. Others think the idea is illogical, dangerous and, as the FOP president put it, "too stupid to be true." What do you think? Smart move or the start of a dangerous precedent? Here’s your chance to be heard — add your comments below.
By Fran Spielman and Frank Main
CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department is seriously considering scrapping the police entrance exam to bolster minority hiring, save millions on test preparation and avert costly legal battles that have dogged the exam process for decades, City Hall sources said Tuesday.
If the process is opened to everyone who applies and meets education and residency requirements, Chicago would be virtually alone among major cities. Most cities have police entrance exams -- and for good reason, experts say.
"A background check and a psych [exam] alone will not eliminate some people who should not be there," said Brad Woods, who ran the Personnel Division under former Chicago Police superintendents Phil Cline and Terry Hillard.
Calling an application-only process a "step backward" and the "wrong way to go," Woods said, "When you lower your quality, you will get poor police service and more complaints. . . . Whenever you make it easier to be the police, you're doing the citizens and the Police Department a disservice."
Charlie Roberts, who ran the training division from 1995 to 1999, noted that there are 11 subject areas recruits must go through in the police academy, including the law and the municipal code.
"If you don't give someone at least a reading comprehension test, can you just put them in and risk the possibility of having so many of them fail? That could get quite expensive," Roberts said.
"We were getting people with 60 hours of college credit who were reading at a third-grade level. What do you think you'll get if you have no screening process?"
Human Resources Department spokeswoman Connie Buscemi acknowledged Tuesday that the Daley administration has been exploring its options since last fall, when a "request for proposals" for companies interested in preparing an online exam was canceled.
The last police entrance exam was held on Nov. 5, 2006.
"We wanted to try to develop something online to allow the city to accommodate members of the U.S. military who are on active duty. But we didn't get any responses that met our needs. No one said they could administer an online exam" and guarantee its integrity, Buscemi said.
"We're [now] reviewing our options on how to administer the police application process."
Other sources confirmed that the exam could be scrapped "to open up the process to as many people as possible." A final decision could be made later this week.
Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue said the idea "sounds too stupid to be true."
"You need a testing process. . . . You need to be very concerned about the very limited information you would get from just a screening and application process," he said.
Hiring and promotions in the Police and Fire departments have generated controversy for as long as anyone can remember.
Criticism grew in 1994 after a sergeants exam produced just five minority promotions out of 114. The test was the first to be administered after "race-norming" -- adjusting scores on the basis of race -- was ruled unconstitutional.
In November 2005, City Hall announced plans to offer the police entrance exam a record four times the following year -- and for the first time on the Internet -- after an outreach campaign that bolstered the number of minority applicants to 34 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic and 26 percent women.
More than two years later, black ministers told newly appointed Police Supt. Jody Weis that, if he was serious about re-establishing trust between police and the black community, he should start by hiring and promoting more African Americans.
CURRENT CPD EDUCATION QUALIFICATIONS
Applicants must have at least 60 semester (90 quarter) hours of college credit or four years of continuous active duty in the U.S. armed forces -- or 30 semester (or 45 quarter) hours of college credit and one year of continuous active duty in the military.
Copyright 2010 Chicago Sun Times