Most fail city po­lice sergeant exam

Only 11.7% of of­fi­cers pass lat­est test, leav­ing agency short of can­di­dates

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica An­der­son

When the list of new Bal­ti­more po­lice sergeants is re­leased at the end of the month, it will be far shorter than in the past.

Only 32 of the 273 of­fi­cers who took the sergeant’s test passed, ac­cord­ing to the city’s Depart­ment of Hu­man Re­sources, which over­sees the exam.

The pass­ing rate of 11.7 per­cent is far lower than the last three sergeant ex­ams, which have been given ev­ery two years. The pass­ing rate was over 60 per­cent in 2016 and 50 per­cent in 2012 and 2014.

“I’ve never seen any­thing like this,” said Lt. Gene Ryan, out­go­ing pres­i­dent of the city’s po­lice union. “It’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem.”

James Bent­ley, a spokesman for Mayor Cather­ine E. Pugh, said in an email Thurs­day that “the Depart­ment of Hu­manRe­sources is still work­ing to as­sess the anom­aly of this year’s pass rate.”


The low pass­ing rate comes as the city has been strug­gling to boost re­cruit­ment to fill some 500 of­fi­cer va­can­cies, and af­ter a re­cent staffing study con­ducted as part of the city’s fed­eral con­sent de­cree found the depart­ment suf­fers from “a se­vere short­age of sergeants.”

The depart­ment is “short across the board,” Bent­ley said. “This is a piece of it.”

Ryan said he’s never heard of such a low pas­sage rate in his 36 years with the depart­ment. He said the num­ber of of­fi­cers who passed this year “isn’t enough to get us through two years.”

He said the short­age of sergeants is es­pe­cially trou­bling for a po­lice depart­ment like Bal­ti­more’s, which has many young of­fi­cers and high turnover.

It’s also the lat­est set­back for a depart­ment that is in the midst of its dead­li­est 30-day stretch since 2015, with 43 peo­ple killed in the past month. The depart­ment also has seen a num­ber of high-pro­file de­par­tures, in­clud­ing a top com­man­der who re­signed last week af­ter slam­ming a chair into a wall dur­ing a meet­ing, and its chief spokesman, T.J. Smith, who re­signed, cit­ing an un­sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment — with “mud­sling­ing” within the depart­ment and “po­lit­i­cal tur­moil” all around it — as the driv­ing force be­hind his de­ci­sion.

The sergeant pro­mo­tional exam is given to of­fi­cers with at least three years of ex­pe­ri­ence. The writ­ten por­tion of the exam con­sists of mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions re­gard­ing depart­ment prac­tices and pro­ce­dures, and city, state and fed­eral laws re­lated to po­lice work, among other things. Of­fi­cers who pass the writ­ten exam are el­i­gi­ble to take the oral exam, which eval­u­ates the can­di­date’s knowl­edge, skills and abil­i­ties in ar­eas such as ad­min­is­tra­tive or tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dures, rea­son­ing and judge­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and abil­ity to work with oth­ers.

Of the 37 of­fi­cers who passed the writ­ten exam in June, 32 went on to pass the oral exam in Au­gust.

Ryan said he’s not sure why so few of­fi­cers passed, but sug­gested that many poli­cies have changed or the test could have been more dif­fi­cult this year. He said it’s also pos­si­ble that many of­fi­cers who took the exam might have been com­ing off of over­time shifts, which have be­come manda­tory be­cause the depart­ment is cur­rently short-staffed.

A sergeant who did not want to be named be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak on the is­sue said this year’s exam dif­fered from pre­vi­ous years, fo­cus­ing more on “21stcen­tury polic­ing philosophy.” He said the of­fi­cers were un­pre­pared.

At a monthly City Coun­cil po­lice over­sight brief­ing on Wed­nes­day, coun­cil mem­bers learned of in­ter­nal af­fairs cases, in­clud­ing one al­leg­ing cheat­ing on the exam. Po­lice com­man­ders dis­closed a case in which a lieu­tenant was dis­ci­plined af­ter be­ing over­heard on a wire­tap shar­ing an­swers to the sergeant exam.

“This is ex­tremely con­cern­ing for me and I am go­ing to fol­low up with BPD for more info,” said Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott, chair­man of the pub­lic safety com­mit­tee. “This, along with us learn­ing that an­swers were given out to a test in the past, raise a lot of con­cerns.”

Ryan said sergeants are an im­por­tant po­si­tion in the depart­ment, serv­ing as an of­fi­cer’s direct su­per­vi­sor. He said it’s also chal­leng­ing be­cause it is some­one “who­must mo­ti­vate of­fi­cers but also re­spond to the de­mands of their su­pe­ri­ors.”

“It’s a tightrope re­ally,” Ryan said.

Sergeants also serve as a role-model, in­struc­tor and men­tor for new of­fi­cers, who must learn a lot on the job, Ryan said.

The re­cent staffing study, which was re­leased last month, found that the short­age of sergeants means that of­ten only one sergeant is on duty in a po­lice dis­trict and that cer­tain of­fi­cers rou­tinely serve as “act­ing sergeants.”

The re­port said the depart­ment must ad­dress this short­age quickly to meet the re­quire­ments un­der the fed­eral con­sent de­cree.

At a quar­terly hear­ing for the con­sent de­cree this week, In­terim Com­mis­sioner Gary Tug­gle said it’s “lu­di­crous” for of­fi­cers to be pro­moted to a su­per­vi­sory role with only three years of ex­pe­ri­ence. He said the depart­ment is con­sid­er­ing adding an in­ter­me­di­ary rank, such a cor­po­ral, to pro­vide a path for those whowant lead­er­ship po­si­tions but might not have the needed ex­pe­ri­ence yet .

It re­mains un­clear how the depart­ment will re­solve the is­sue of not hav­ing enough sergeants.

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