The U.S. Justice Department claimed that Baltimore gave aspiring police officers an irrelevant written examination that favored applicants from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Baltimore County Police Department will pay a multi-million-dollar settlement to the U.S. Justice Department following allegations that the county’s hiring practices discriminated against African-American applicants.
According to The Baltimore Sun, the lawsuit was filed late last summer.
In the suit, Justice Department attorneys claimed that the Baltimore Police Department required all potential hires to complete a written examination. Black applicants failed the examination at higher rates than their White counterparts, leading to demographic discrepancies in the department’s composition.
While the lawsuit did not take note of the percentages of “passes” and “fails,” the federal government said the difference was “statistically significant.”
The exams, notes the Sun, tested skills such as reading, grammar, and logic—skills which Department of Justice Attorneys argued are somehow not related to police work.
While that premise might sound questionable, the suit was successful. Now, Baltimore County and its police department will be responsible for paying $2 million in damages.
Under the settlement’s terms, the county will also have to make 20 “priority” hires of African-American candidates who had previously applied for police positions but failed the written examination. Baltimore P.D. will also discontinue the test; the county is planning to develop a new exam which will not reflect racial or socio-economic disparities in educational access.
In the meantime, Baltimore will use the National Police Officer Selection Test.
In resolving the suit, the Justice Department also ceded that the county’s supposedly discriminatory hiring measures were established before Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski was elected in 2018.
For his part, Olszewski has publicly said that Baltimore—a predominately Black city—should have not have a disproportionately White police department.
“Our Police Department should look like the communities it serves and, even prior to this lawsuit, I joined Chief Hyatt to begin efforts to increase the diversity of our police force,” Olszewski said in a statement. “This settlement will help hold Baltimore County accountable as we continue working towards that critical goal—while also helping to further ensure our Police Department can best serve all of Baltimore County’s residents.”
Baltimore Councilman Julian Jones—a Democrat and one of the only Black members of the Baltimore County Council—said he’s pleased with the settlement and believes that it will facilitate better, more egalitarian hiring practices.
“I’m happy that it appears to be on a path to be resolved,” Jones said. “I’m happy to get this chapter behind us and continue to move forward, and I hope this will make people feel comfortable, especially those who were not allowed that opportunity in the past.”