Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on Tuesday rejected an influential alderman’s claim that background checks and psychological exams administered to police officer candidates are the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to hold Chicago’s second police entrance exam in two years after another minority outreach campaign that Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) warned will fall short again in efforts to diversify the Chicago Police Department.
Beale, former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, predicted that the police department would remain disproportionately white and crime-fighting will suffer because of it unless changes are made to the independently administered background checks and psychological exams.
McCarthy fired back Tuesday.
“That’s absurd . . . Absolutely absurd. There are standards. We have to give psychological exams to people who we’re going to give guns to. I don’t think that’s something we could possibly get away from,” McCarthy said at a news conference in the Austin neighborhood called to tout an increase in police bike patrols.
But McCarthy readily acknowledged that he’s fighting an uphill battle to field a police force that mirrors the city’s population.
Before the last police exam, McCarthy noted that he put together an attractive young team of officers to speak at schools, churches and community events.
“We didn’t get the [minority] numbers coming in that we wanted. . . . It has a lot to do with what’s happening in the world today. . . . You know what’s happening across the country, and how people are looking at policing right now,” he said.
“When I’ve spoken to a lot of our African-American officers, they tell stories about losing a lot of friends when they became police officers. At the end of the day, that has to be overcome.”
Informed that McCarthy had characterized his allegations about the psychological exam as “absurd,” Beale stood his ground.
“What’s absurd is the tens of millions of dollars we pay out every year because of lawsuits tied to police abuse. What’s absurd is the police shootings and other incidents to be happening in minority communities. The only way to combat that is to look at different ways to get minority numbers up” that focus on the psychological exam, he said.
“I still believe there are avenues where a person can use the psychological exam as an avenue to knock down minority numbers. … We need an independent review of the entire process and it needs to be outside of the jurisdiction of the Chicago Police Department.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), newly elected chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he, too, is concerned about the number of black and Hispanic candidates “knocked out” by the psychological exam.
“The aptitude exam, we seem to do alright there. But we lose a lot of people with the psychological exam,” Sawyer said.
“We need to do a better job . . . preparing people for the exam. Maybe that’s where we fall short. Getting people prepared for all aspects of the exam — physical, psychological and the aptitude portion. We should have prep courses.”
It’s not the first time questions have been raised about the psychological exam administered to police hopefuls.
In the early ’90s, a psychological testing company was removed for failing between 60 percent and 80 percent of police applicants.
Ten years later, the City Council’s Police Committee held a hearing on psychological testing to find out why African-American candidates were washing out at a rate 10 percentage points higher than Hispanics and 13 percentage points higher than white police recruits.
Then-Police Committee Chairman William Beavers (7th) complained that applicants from families without a father were being automatically disqualified.
Six years later, another hearing was held.
This time, an African-American Marine Corps veteran complained of having passed the police exam three times “with flying colors,” only to be washed out by a psychological exam that included a five- to seven-minute interview, even though it was supposed to last 30 to 40 minutes.
Dr. Michael Roberts, president of California-based Law Enforcement and Psychological Services, could not explain the quickie interviews.
But Roberts assured aldermen that the psychological test had been revamped to “get rid of questions with an adverse impact” on minorities and that the overhaul had closed the gap between black and white passing rates to 4 percentage points.
Applicants were still asked about their “family of origin” and who raised them. But Roberts said those questions had an “absolute zero rating” on whether the applicant passes.
Still, Roberts acknowledged that the passage rate for Hispanics, Chicago’s fastest-growing ethnic group, had dropped by 10 percentage points to 71 percent.
Now Emanuel is planning to try again to attract a pool of applicants that “better reflects Chicago’s diverse population.”
The city is soliciting bids from firms interested in developing a “comprehensive recruiting and outreach campaign” for a police exam to be held in February after a monthlong application process scheduled to begin in early October.
Ultimately, Emanuel and McCarthy hope to switch to a system of “ongoing testing” so they don’t have to hold a police exam every few years. But they did not say how the cash-strapped city can afford rolling exams.
“You’re not just giving an exam two, three years apart, but ongoing. So you’re keeping both the recruits fresh and keeping your department at full force. That’s what I want to see done,” the mayor said.