The Minneapolis Police Department has selected a new psychologist to screen potential recruits, following a report raising questions about the psychological testing practices the city has used for the past five years.
The City Council on Friday approved a contract valued at up to $540,697.45 with Aspen Psychological Consulting LLC. The action came after APM Reports published a story in December showing that the department had scaled back its once extensive psychological screening protocol. In 2012 the city eliminated four of the five tests it had administered to aspiring officers. It has since hired more than 200 officers under the less-rigorous screening.
Using only one test — one designed simply to screen out applicants with unstable tendencies — placed Minneapolis below national best practices, which call for at least two tests. An APM Reports survey of seven cities in similar-sized metro areas around the country, including Seattle, Denver and Miami, showed all used at least two tests to screen officers.
Until recently Minneapolis was relying on psychiatrist Thomas Gratzer to approve officers for duty, even though state regulations require a licensed psychologist — a social scientist rather than a medical doctor — to sign off on an officer's mental and emotional fitness.
Aspen Psychological Consulting is owned by Dr. Jan Tyson Roberts, a licensed psychologist. She plans to administer two tests. In addition to the current test, she will also use one designed to identify positive traits such as integrity and sociability.
The city was in the process of replacing Gratzer at the time APM Reports published its findings, but the revelations were clearly on the minds of some City Council members as they considered the new contract.
"Does this rectify previous best-practice deficiencies?" Council Member Linea Palmisano asked at a committee meeting about the contract earlier this month.
"I don't think we were doing things that were not compliant," human resources official Destiny Xiong replied, but she added that the new screening procedures would be "higher quality." Palmisano later said she was "very comfortable" moving forward with the contract.
But not everyone agrees the city has addressed the problem. Dr. Gary Fischler, a psychologist who also applied for the contract, submitted comments to the council raising "many serious concerns" about Tyson Roberts' lack of experience in police psychology.
Fischler's firm specializes in screening aspiring officers for law enforcement agencies in Minnesota and around the country. Tyson Roberts has administered psychological tests, but she has never used them to determine whether police officers are fit for duty.
"Would it not make more sense to hire a licensed psychologist firm employing three psychologists with 25 years of specialization in law enforcement and public safety personnel examinations, who have examined 10,000 of such personnel, with a demonstrated track record of effective screening, rather than a consulting firm that acknowledges having never screened any aspiring police officers?" his attorney asked in a five-page written statement submitted to members of the city's Ways & Means Committee.
The statement also noted that the fees in Tyson Roberts' contract were triple the amount of Fischler's $180,000 bid. (Asked about Fischler's criticisms, Tyson Roberts said she had no comment.)
Fischler screened Minneapolis cops for a decade, until 2005. The city fired him after activists contended that he screened out too many minority candidates. Fischler's statistics showed white and minority candidates failed his screenings at almost identical rates.
The department has long dealt with accusations of discriminatory hiring practices. Two of Fischler's successors, Michael Campion and Gratzer, also faced allegations that their screenings were biased against minority applicants. Fischler, Campion and Gratzer are all white. Tyson Roberts is African-American. In its request to approve the contract with Aspen Psychological Consulting LLC, the police department noted that, in addition to her strong clinical record, Tyson Roberts has a "demonstrated record of experience working with and understanding diverse populations."
Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo criticized Fischler's work in a 2007 lawsuit against the city. Arradondo, then a lieutenant, was one of five officers to file suit, which among other accusations against the city claimed that Fischler had engaged in "discriminatory bias." Fischler's attorneys argued that those statements should have led Arradondo, the city's first African-American police chief, to recuse himself from the hiring process.
But Arradondo, who personally interviewed all the applicants for the contract, including Fischler, told the council's Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee at a recent hearing that, "I did everything that I could to try to get it right."