11 Investigates Exclusive: Black Pittsburgh police recruits eliminated after psychological testing

PITTSBURGH — Concerns are arising about the testing process for police recruits in the city of Pittsburgh. This comes after 11 Investigates discovered that the majority of African American candidates attempting to join the police department were eliminated near the end of the recruiting process.

Since Mayor Ed Gainey took office two years ago, only one Black recruit and two bi-racial recruits have gone through the city of Pittsburgh’s police academy.

In an interview with Channel 11 Chief Investigator Rick Earle on police diversity last November, the mayor promised change.

Earle: This has been a big issue for you, diversify, diversify and now we’re going backwards?

Gainey: Here’s what I know about that,  here’s what I will tell you, we will diversify, but it’s going to take time.

But 11 Investigates has uncovered new information that this troubling trend continues.

At least five African American candidates in the upcoming academy class were eliminated after psychological interviews and assessments.

Those candidates had already passed other tests, including reading assessment, polygraph, background, and the oral interview, arguably the most difficult part of the process.

In March, they each received a conditional offer of employment, pending a psychological assessment.

Earlier this month, all five received letters from the city that the offers had been withdrawn.

“It has been determined by the psychologists that you are currently not recommended for the position of police officer recruit,” wrote the city to the candidates.

“This is really inexplicable to me. why and how they would have rejected five candidates,” said Vic Walczak, of the  American Civil Liberties Union.

A decade ago, the ACLU sued the city of Pittsburgh over discriminatory hiring practices in the police bureau.

They reached a settlement, and the city paid out $1.6 million to a number of recruits who were impacted by the discriminatory testing practices.

The city also agreed to change the testing process.

“Changes in the written and the oral exam because we did find bias there,” said Walczak.

Walczak said at the time, there were concerns about the psychological exams, but they didn’t address that specifically.

Earle spoke by phone with two candidates who were eliminated this time.

Both said they had prior law enforcement experience and had passed psychological tests before.

“It’s racism. It’s not fair,” one of the candidates told Earle.

Both raised questions about the psychologists who conducted the interviews, claiming they asked questions about their age, as both are older and if they own or rent their homes.

“When you are asking about anything to do with finances, I mean it’s well known that that leads to bias results just because of the legacy of Jim Crow,” said Walczak.

At a “Get Out The Black Vote” rally in the Hill District just before the primary election earlier this month, the head of the Black Political Empowerment Project declined to discuss the situation but acknowledged during the rally that he had reached out to the city.

“I just wrote a letter in the last hour to the city about some issues about Black employment the police bureau,” said Tim Stevens, the Chairman of BPEP.

A spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Police Department said the process is not complete so she couldn’t confirm the numbers who had been eliminated and those who had made it to the academy class.

“Pittsburgh police are not privy to the race and gender of those who are going through the application process,” said Cara Cruz, a public information officer for the Public Safety Department.

All of this comes at a time when the bureau is suffering from a lack of diversity.

African Americans make up 23% of the city, but only 12% of the department.

The last two academy classes have had one Black and two bi-racial candidates.

The police bureau’s command staff is now down to one African American after some retired and the new chief forced others out.

B-PEP’s Stevens addressed the declining numbers last year.

“My concern is that African Americans need to see people of color in leadership, not just a chief but throughout the department,” said Stevens.

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