Youngstown police hiring policy changed


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Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams

By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The city is changing its policy on hiring police officers, including reducing the importance of the written test by 50 percent and providing free sessions on what to expect from the exam.

The city’s current policy of dual hiring lists — one for white men and the other for minorities and females — for those seeking to be police officers and firefighters has faced criticism from city administrators and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The city typically hired one minority or female for every two white men it selected for the police and fire departments.

A federal appeals court declared the use of two lists by Shreveport, La., to be unconstitutional in 2006.

Minorities and women haven’t scored as well on the written test as white males, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified, said Mayor Jay Williams.

The city hired Barrett & Associates, a Cuyahoga Falls firm that specializes in legal and human-resources consulting, in October for $24,535 in October to change the policies and oversee the implementation.

Those changes go into effect now.

The new policy will “provide a fair and level playing field” for all applicants, Williams said.

The city is likely to implement the changes for future hires at the fire department, too, he said.

The current policy had those who passed the written test, a score of at least 70, take a physical agility test.

But the new policy calls for 50 percent of the test to be written and the same percentage for physical agility. The latter includes the physical activity of a police officer such as running, scaling a wall and simulating a rescue.

Being a good police officer combines both “intelligence and physical skills,” Williams said. “Critics will say this is lowering the bar, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The written test will be given at 10 a.m. Feb. 5 at Youngstown State University’s Cushwa Hall. A date for the physical test hasn’t been determined.

The city will accept applications for the test between Jan. 10 and 21, but will stop earlier if 400 applications are received, said Jennifer Lewis, the city’s civil service commission administrator. The civil service office doesn’t have the staff — there are only two employees — or the money to offer the test to an unlimited number of people, she said.

The applications must be picked up in person at the civil service office, 7th floor of city hall, 26 S. Phelps St.

As part of the new policy, Barrett & Associates is having free written exam seminars today. The first is from 2-4 p.m. at the McGuffey Center, 1649 Jacobs Road. The other is from 6-8 p.m. at the Mill Creek Community Center, 496 Glenwood Ave.

Applications will be given at the sessions as well as study guides for the written test with Barrett employees going through the study guides, explaining the rules and procedures, and providing test preparation strategies.

Still to be determined is how the city will hire new officers. The city’s civil service commission will meet Jan. 19 to decide whether there will be a ranking based on the results of the written and physical tests or whether everyone who passes the test will be lumped together on a single list, Lewis said. Also to be discussed is possibly changing the passing grade from its current 70 percent.

The city will probably hire five to 15 new police officers in the next 12 to 18 months, Williams said.

Abigail Thernstrom, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ vice chairwoman, told The Vindicator the changes are “certainly a step in the right direction toward increasing the pool of qualified applicants regardless of race or gender.”

She said weighing the physical ability and written tests equally “is all well and good. But if in the end they end up hiring candidates because of their race or ethnicity that would be a violation of the law.

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