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DOJ Sues Baltimore County Police Over Alleged Racial Discrimination Against Prospective Black Hires

The U.S. Justice Department is taking Baltimore County to court over claims that the county’s police department discriminated against Black applicants for entry-level police jobs.

According to the DOJ, the alleged discrimination has gone on for years.

DOJ Sues Baltimore County Police

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department blamed a “discriminatory screening” exam it said led to the hiring of fewer African-Americans for entry-level police positions. (Photo: CBS Baltimore / video screenshot)

The complaint, filed by the department’s Civil Rights Division Tuesday points to a written exam it says resulted in the hiring of fewer Africans-Americans as rookie police officers and cadets, starting in January 2013, Baltimore station WBAL-TV reported. The DOJ argues the pass/fail exam was a “discriminatory screening device” used to eliminate prospective Black hires.

African-American applicants failed the exam — which tested for reading, grammar, logic and other skills — at a higher rate than white applicants. While the suit doesn’t mention pass rates, the DOJ said the difference was “statistically significant.”

“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 seven’s protected groups,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Drieband said in a statement.

In its lawsuit, the DOJ argues that use of the test amounted to a “pattern or practice of discrimination against” Black applicants, as it included questions and scenarios unrelated to the job of an officer.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the complaint does not include a copy of the exam or examples of the questions. However, the newspaper notes that, “the first part of the exam tested observation skills by having the applicant review a photograph and answer 15 questions about it,” while the second half contained a total of 85  on reading comprehension, logical ordering and data interpretation, among other skills.

Since 2009, Baltimore County police have used at least three versions of the exam. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said the county had done away with the test prior to the DOJ’s lawsuit and plans to release the department’s latest numbers to prove it.

It’s unclear when the test was officially discontinued.

“We are in the process, also, of releasing information to the public about the numbers and the practices of what our department looks like,” Olszewski said. “We believe transparency, we’re committed to diversity [and] we are going to get it done.”

In a statement, the county exec noted that his office has since created two new positions aimed at increasing diversity. One will serve the county as whole while the other will specifically focus on the police department.

“We’ll 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,” said Olszewski.

He added that the county is “willing to negotiate with the Department of Justice to resolve this matter in a way that best serves the Baltimore County Police Department and our mission of advancing public safety for all.”

The Justice Department is now asking the court to order to county to stop using the exam and to adopt “appropriate non-discriminatory measures to rectify the current effects of the police agency’s past practices,” according to The Baltimore Sun. It also asks Baltimore County PD to provide individual remedies to those impacted by the alleged discrimination.

Watch more in the video below.

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