Beach Police Agree to Drop Cutoff Score on Math Test

Duane Bourne, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), April 4, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH—The city has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve allegations that it discriminated against black and Hispanic police recruits.

Under a consent decree filed Monday in federal court in Norfolk, the city will change the way it scores the police entrance exam.

The Justice Department had complained that the math portion of the exam had an adverse effect on minority applicants and unfairly excluded them from being hired.

The city will offer to let 124 black and Hispanic former applicants resume the hiring process. Those recruits failed the math test between 2002 and 2005 but would have passed under the new standards.

The city also will create a $160,000 fund to compensate those applicants.

In the 27-page settlement, the Justice Department states that the city did not intentionally discriminate against blacks and Hispanics.

“The Department of Justice has alleged that the testing component disproportionately disqualified minority applicants,” Deputy City Attorney Mark Stiles said. “They don’t allege that we engaged in that conduct with the intent of discrimination, but rather that the disparate impact was found to have occurred by our simply using the test.”

In a letter to the city in February, the Justice Department said Virginia Beach had “engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination” against black and Hispanic applicants.

After an 18-month investigation, the Justice Department found that the police force did not reflect the diversity of the city’s population because of how the math test was graded.

The Justice Department claimed that the test’s pass-fail system had a disproportionate effect on minorities because the passing rates for blacks and Hispanics were less than 80 percent of the passing rate for whites.

From 2002 to mid-2005, about 85 percent of white applicants passed the math exam, compared with 59 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics.

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At least one city official, Councilwoman Reba McClanan, said she does not agree with the settlement.

“One of the things that’s insulting about it is they’re telling us we don’t have a right to insist on certain standards,” McClanan said. “My feeling was we should hang in there. We want fairness and we want as many minorities working for our departments as possible, but we also want them to meet certain standards.”

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