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Virginia Beach agrees to change the way it scores police math exams

By DUANE BOURNE, The Virginian-Pilot
© April 3, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH – The city has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve allegations that the math portion of the police entrance examination discriminates against blacks and Hispanics.

The consent decree was filed today in federal court in Norfolk.

The city will change how the exam is scored. As a result, more black and Hispanic applicants are expected to pass.

Also, the city will offer to allow 124 applicants to resume participation in the hiring process. Those 124 failed the math test between 2002 and 2005, but would have passed under the new standards.

The city also will create a $160,000 fund to compensate those applicants.

Under the agreement, the city will eliminate the 70 percent passing score for the math part of the test. Under the new standards, an applicant must score at least 70 percent on the reading and grammar test, and score an average of at least 60 percent on all three parts of the exam, said Deputy City Attorney Mark Stiles.

The old format required a 70 percent passing score on each of the three sections.

The settlement fund will be split into two parts: $128,000 for black applicants and $32,000 for Hispanic applicants. The amount of compensation per applicants will be determined by the number of people who apply.

In February, the Justice Department sent a letter to Virginia Beach, concluding that the Beach Police Department has “engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination” against blacks and Hispanics applicants.

The only evidence cited were results of a math exam given to all police recruits. It showed a wide gap between the passing rates for white applicants and the passing rates for black and Hispanics.

About 85 percent of white applicants passed the math test from 2002 to mid-2005, compared with 59 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics.

The Justice Department had demanded that Virginia Beach end the discrimination and “provide sufficient remedial relief” to previous police applicants who suffered discrimination. It did not specify what kind of “remedial relief” should be provided.

In March, the Justice Department sent a nearly-identical letter to the Chesapeake Police Department, concluding that that city also discriminated against black and Hispanic police applicants because of its math test. Chesapeake has not yet resolved that complaint.