Photo via Baltimore County Police Department/Facebook

The U.S. Department of Justice today filed a lawsuit against Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Police Department, alleging a written exam used to hire police officers and cadets discriminates against African-American applicants.

According to the DOJ’s complaint, a passing score is needed to be considered for a position within the department, even though is “not job related.” Prosecutors say the test does not comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The feds are asking the county to discontinue the tests and develop a non-discriminatory selection process, and provide relief to people who may have been discriminated against.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the county has stopped using the test. He and Chief Melissa Hyatt are taking several steps to ensure the police department is “diverse, vibrant, and reflects the diversity of Baltimore County’s communities,” he said.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, said the county has used three different versions of the written test since 2013. The earliest version, first used in 2009, was a written exam with 85 questions measuring reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, spelling and logical ordering. A score of 75 percent or higher was required to pass.

A second version, instituted in 2014, was 100 questions divided into two parts. The first part required applicants to answer 15 questions based on a photograph, and the second was 85 questions testing reading comprehension, logical ordering, writing skills and interpretation of data. A 70 percent score was needed to move on.

The only difference between the most recent version of the test, put into place in 2015, and the last one was the photographs and questions in Part I changed.

In all three instances, the pass rates between white applicants and African-American applicants were “statistically significant,” federal prosecutors say. Data compiled by Governing magazine four years ago shows only 14.5 percent of Baltimore County officers were minorities in 2013. Meanwhile, 85.5 percent of officers were white.

Governing found a 24.4 percent difference in the minority population of the county and how that was reflected in the police agency.

Olszewski Jr. said he is willing to negotiate with the DOJ to “resolve this matter in a way that best serves the Baltimore County Police Department and our mission of advancing public safety for all of Baltimore County.”

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...