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2 Big Counties Face Embarrassing Police Setbacks

Tuesday was a bad day for two of Maryland’s biggest counties and their police departments.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Baltimore County alleging racial discrimination in police hiring.

And in Montgomery County, the leading candidate to become chief of police abruptly withdrew her name from consideration, setting back the county’s search for a new public safety leader.

In Baltimore County, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division alleges that the police have violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through hiring practices since January 2013 that resulted in “unintended employment discrimination against African American applicants for entry-level police officer and cadet positions.”

The Justice Department alleges that written exams developed by the Baltimore County Office of Human Resources resulted in lower passage rates by African-American applicants, according to the claim filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The tests – which included note-taking and observation skills as well as questions about reading comprehension, logical ordering, writing, grammar and data interpretation – as a screening device are not job-related for entry level positions, the lawsuit says. The passage rates for white and African- American applicants on different versions of the exam were significant.

“As a result of its use for these written examinations, Baltimore County has hired fewer African American applicants as BCPD entry-level police officers and police cadets since January 1, 2013 than it would have had it used a non-discriminatory screening device,” the lawsuit states.

The Justice Department is seeking a court order to require Baltimore County Police to use selection procedures that comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and to provide remedies to former African-American applicants who weren’t hired as a result of the exam.

Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion.

“Employers must be mindful that an employment selection device, like a test, must be shown to be job-related if it disproportionately excludes members of one of Title VII’s protected groups,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a news release.

Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr., issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the county is willing to negotiate with the Justice Department to resolve the lawsuit and has discontinued using the exams. The county has denied any liability for actions by past administrations and has also created two diversity-focused positions in county government, including one dedicated specifically to addressing issues within the police department.

“A law enforcement agency should look like the community it serves,” Olszewski, who became county executive in December, said in a statement. “As I have said repeatedly since taking office, I am committed to increasing diversity in the county’s Police Department…We will continue to work with Chief [Melissa] Hyatt, Department leadership, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Blue Guardians and other organizations that represent our officers, in order to ensure that our Police Department is diverse, vibrant, and reflects the diversity of Baltimore County’s communities.”

Back to square one?

Meanwhile, Montgomery County officials were rocked in the latest development involving the county’s search for a replacement to longtime police chief J. Thomas Manger, who retired in April after 15 years leading the 1,300-officer agency. The lone remaining finalist for the post – who was presumed to be the choice of County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) – withdrew from consideration.

Elrich had narrowed the field down to two finalists – former Portsmouth, Va., chief Tonya Chapman, and Takoma Park Chief Antonio DeVaul. But DeVaul took himself out of consideration in mid-July, and Chapman – who resigned in controversy from her previous job, withdrew on Tuesday, citing personal reasons.

Elrich never formally appointed Chapman, but had signaled his intention to do so, telling the County Council in a letter last month that she would “be a great addition to our county.” But in recent weeks, County Council members have sought to probe the reasons for her departure from Portsmouth.

The police department in recent months has been led by Marcus Jones, a veteran of the agency who had applied to replace Manger. Whether he’ll be considered for the permanent job now or how long he will stick around on an interim basis remain to be seen.

Earlier in the search, Elrich had said he was eager to appoint an outsider to lead the agency.

In a written statement late Tuesday afternoon, Elrich expressed disappointment that Chapman had withdrawn, saying “she brought a wealth of experience and knowledge that would have been good for the County.”

“Public safety remains a top priority for me and my administration; and I will move expeditiously, and carefully, to identify a new candidate for police chief for our County,” he said.

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2 Big Counties Face Embarrassing Police Setbacks