Racial Disparity In Philadelphia Police Screening Tied To One Psych Test


When Gerald Cooke heard that African Americans were less likely than whites to pass a psychological evaluation to become Philadelphia police officers, it sounded familiar. He tried to fix the same problem two decades ago, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. From 2011 to 2014, 72.5 percent of black police applicants passed the department’s psych evaluation, compared with 81.2 percent of white candidates. In the early 1990s, the disparity was even greater, said Cooke, a forensic psychologist. Then, the passing rate for black applicants was less than 80 percent of that for whites, failing to meet a guideline set by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Part of the problem, Cooke suspects, is that psychologists relied too heavily on a common standardized test that was not originally designed for employment screening. The test is called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2, a widely used true-false exam that is designed to aid a psychologist in rendering a mental-health diagnosis. Psychologists said the MMPI-2 was not designed to screen candidates for employment, much less to determine who would be a good police officer. They said it was important to administer one of several additional standardized psych tests in order to obtain a more accurate picture of a candidate’s fitness for duty, along with conducting an interview. Unlike those in many police departments, the psychologists contracted by the Philadelphia police do not administer a second test to prospective officers, though they do conduct interviews.

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