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male applicants were ultimately hired. For the class appointed Aug. 7, 1978,
5.9 percent of white male and 10.9 percent of white female applicants were
appointed (no black applicants were appointed). For the class appointed Dec.
1, 1978, 3.2 percent of white male and 3.6 percent of white female applicants
were appointed (no black applicants were appointed). For the class of
Dec. 16, 1981, 0.8 percent of white male, no white female, 2.2 percent of
black male and 1.2 percent of black female applicants were appointed. For the
class of Sept. 1, 1981, 1.6 percent of white male, 1.7 percent of white
female, 4.8 percent of black male and 3.5 percent of black female applicants
were appointed. 52
There are marked disparities in the success rate on the examinations.
examinations for the recruit class of 1977, 81.1 percent of white male
applicants were placed on the eligibility list, while only 69.4 percent of
white female, 67.5 percent of black male and 45.5 percent of black female
applicants were placed on the list.
For the 1978 classes the pass rate for
white male applicants on the written exams was 52.7 percent compared to 65.5
percent for white female, 11.1 percent for black male and 30.8 percent for
black female applicants. The pass rate on the physical test was 43.6 percent
for white male applicants compared to 32.7 percent for white female, 6.7
percent for black male and 15.4 percent for black female applicants. The pass rate on the interview was 32.5 percent for white male applicants compared to 20.0 percent for white female, 4.4 percent for black male and 7.7 percent for
black female applicants. Of the applicants who reached the eligibility list for 1978, 32.5 percent of the white male applicants did so, compared to 20.0
percent of white female, 4.4 percent of black male and 7.7 percent of black
The pass rate on the written and physical examinations for white
applicants for the 1980-1981 classes was 42.8 percent, compared to 23.6
percent for white female, 20.5 percent for black male and 17.7 percent for
black female applicants. The pass rate on the interview was 24.3 percent for
white male applicants compared to 18.7 percent for white female, 17.4 percent
for black male and 15.5 percent for black female applicants. The pass rate on the polygraph examination (not all applicants reported) was 2.8 percent for white male applicants compared to 2.2 percent of white female, 9.2 percent of
black male and 5.9 percent of black female applicants. The rates on the
remaining sections of the examination were essentially similar.
of the subsequent concern expressed about the polygraph portion of the test,
it is interesting to note that 11.1 percent of white male, no white female,
44.7 percent of black male and 50.0 percent of black female applicants who took the polygraph test failed.54 The minority failure rate was 10 times that of the interview phase which preceded it.55 The physical agility test
has been validated for job relatedness, Mr. Troutman stated.
It was never
mentioned in any interview as a source of contention. Similarly the medical
examination and psychological profile were not mentioned.
Omaha is unique among the cities surveyed by the World-Herald in rejecting
candidates based on a polygraph examination. Five other area police units contacted by the newspaper--the Nebraska State Patrol; the Kansas City,
Missouri, Police Department; the Des Moines Police Department; and, the
Lincoln Police Department use the polygraph but none would reject an applicant
on the basis of the results.
Indeed one applicant who failed the test, the
grandson and son of Omaha officers, subsequently passed similar tests and became an officer in another jurisdiction. Usually, the polygraph is used in conjunction with a background investigation but Omaha does not do a background check because it believes the checks are too expensive. 57 In commenting on
the draft, Mr. Troutman said the city did a modified background investigation
which was described as a check on criminal and traffic records.58 The
polygraph examination is controversial. Some community leaders interviewed see it as a means of rejecting otherwise qualified minority applicants. 59
State parole officer, who was rejected for a police job because of the test, filed suit in Federal District Court in August 1981 alleging the test
discriminates against blacks. He alleged that 68 percent of recent black
applicants were disqualified on the basis of the polygraph test, while 32 percent of white candidates were similarly disqualified. 60 The case is still pending.61 But Deputy City Attorney James Fellows asserted that while only one person was rejected in recent tests for lying, many were rejected for truthfully reporting criminal pasts which would disqualify them.
The police denied the test was discriminatory.63 In October 1981, an effort by Fred Conley, the only black member of the city council, to eliminate by
ordinance the polygraph test was rejected. But the mayor did order changes in
the procedure including transfer of administration of the test to the city personnel department, creation of a panel including a minority person to develop questions and an agreement to review the effect of the changes. He
also said the city council could decide to abandon the test if it continues to have an adverse effect.64 The Mayor told the Advisory Committee that he is not sure yet if it will be retained as a screening device. He commented that
he believes it can serve some purpose if it is properly administered and the
test questions are relevant. He said an expert not connected with the police force had been brought in to do the latest round of testing. 65
City Councilmember Fred Conley said "the jury is still out" on the polygraph which he contends is inappropriate as a screening device. 66
A letter from the city to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding
compliance with the consent decree explains that substantial changes have been
made in the administration of the polygraph. The letter, dated January 19,
... Presently the examination consists of eighteen (18) standardized questions covering specific job related areas dealing with a candidate's previous criminal activities, use of drugs, latent physical deficiencies and work history. These questions are then verified by polygraph evaluation and the candidates responses, together with the polygraph evaluation, are assigned a numerical score by a three-member committee consisting of the Chief of Police, a personnel evaluator and a lay member of the general populace, applying pre-set standards to the given responses. This numerical evaluation is then considered together with scores from other facets of the pre-employment testing in making a final determination of selection or non-selection.67
Acting Chief Jack Swanson stated his belief that the polygraph issue
finally has been settled by introducing the new procedures. He commented that
at one time the police division had a polygraph operator on its staff but
stopped administering the test because of complaints that it was not being
handled fairly. Then a person outside the department was hired (but from
Omaha) and the problem worsened. Acting Chief Swanson did not foresee the
police division taking back the responsibility for the test because there would be too much "suspicion.168
After the polygraph, candidates are interviewed by one of three panels.
Acting Chief Swanson stated that these are composed entirely of police personnel, each panel consisting of three officers with the rank of lieutenant or captain. Currently there is only one black officer on one of the panels, there had been two at one point. Appearance is considered by the panel although a candidate would not be rejected on appearance alone. Questions are
asked from a list of set categories so while the categories covered remain the
same for all candidates, specific questions might change. Acting Chief
Swanson said the interviewers receive 16 hours of training on interview techniques. 69 However, the oral interview was criticized by members of the
Midwest Guardians as being unstructured. They alleged irrelevant and perhaps
even illegal questions were used. They stated it is impossible to check
because there is no set of specific questions. They believe a civilian or at
least a representative of the personnel department should be on the interview
panels. They are also concerned that there is only one black on one
Mr. Troutman said the oral interview process is being reviewed to
determine if civilians could be added to the panels.
By December 1981, nine of the 14 blacks in the September 1981 recruit
class had either resigned or been dropped.72 This rate of failure caused
questions to be raised about the entire selection procedure.
One citizen, Mary Jane Harvey, said she believed something was wrong if an applicant could pass the selection devices and then fail the training.
73 Fred Conley agreed.
74 Members of the Midwest Guardians called the September recruit class an
"insult to all black citizens." They believe that when so many blacks fail
training after being certified as qualified,. there are problems in the
One member of the Midwest Guardians went so far as to say he
thought the recruits had been chosen to fail, saying it was common knowledge
that the class had been told that just because the division had to hire 40
percent black did not mean 40 percent of the training graduates would be
Mr. Troutman denied that the city had lowered its standards for the
September class. He did say, though, that recruits from that class were
chosen "from the bottom of the list" in order to have enough to meet the 40
percent minority goal. It should be noted though that everyone on the list
had qualified. Mr. Troutman believes that the entire city will see changes
with the February recruit class that will give them confidence in the police division.76
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in its 1981 report on police
practices, has pointed out, as do numerous experts cited therein, that the
police spend a large proportion of their time providing "social services" and