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Alderman urges city HR chief to find ways to hire more veterans

Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) wants the city to find ways to hire returning military veterans to bolster Chicago's public safety and first responder programs. | Sun-Times file photo

Longtime Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) on Wednesday urged the city’s human resources department to find ways to help returning veterans use their skills to bolster Chicago’s public safety and first responder programs.

“We as a city can do a lot to take advantage of the fact that we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars training each individual and then they come back and they can’t get a job in areas they’re already trained for,” O’Connor said during the third day of budget hearings.

He also urged the Department of Human Resources to review whether veterans are subjected to the same psychological test that police officers must take.

Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi told aldermen she is open to exploring any possible programs to help veterans get jobs.

“I do agree that the city could be more aggressive in recruiting veterans,” Choi said.

Many aldermen questioned techniques of the psychological testing although Choi repeatedly told aldermen she is not in charge of the testing. The Chicago Police Department hires a contractor to conduct the tests, which Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has repeatedly stood behind.

Still O’Connor questioned whether veterans are subjected to the same psychological tests as nonmilitary personnel. He urged a different standard for veterans, so they’re given a chance and not turned down perhaps because of the psychological traumas they endured in the military.

Many aldermen also questioned whether psychological evaluations for police candidates are hurting minority hiring. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) asked for a review of the process: “I think it’s about time to have that take place to have information and data.”

Choi said her department is analyzing data to see whether minorities are disproportionately affected by the testing. But Ervin said a large number of African-Americans are not getting past a certain part of the hiring process.

“What are we going to do about it? . . . This has been historic,” Ervin said. “You may be new, but this is historic. It has been going on for years, and we just need to know what you as the person in charge of resources is going to do about it.”

Choi said her department is “committed to truly taking a look” at the psychological evaluation process. She said McCarthy has expressed concern over the evaluation and said her department will examine whether there should be changes to the exam.

McCarthy in August rejected Ald. Anthony Beale’s (9th) claim that background checks and psychological exams required of police officer candidates are the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.

McCarthy called those claims “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 press conference in the Austin neighborhood in August.

Beale has said he wants an independent review of the entire hiring process.

The city is soliciting bids from firms interested in developing an outreach campaign for a police exam planned for February after a monthlong application process that is to begin in early October.

Choi testified that in 2013, of 14,513 people who took the police exam, 12,713 were deemed eligible.