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The city of Chicago has spent the summer working itself into one of the finest racial frenzies in years. The heaving and frothing have been as stupid as they were inevitable but they have called attention to something very important: The city actually took a stand for sanity, despite the sustained braying of every black and Hispanic who could find a soap box.
Beneath the rococo frills that are always part of late-20th-century race relations, the story is really quite simple. After years of blatant racial preferences in the hiring and promotion of police officers, the city of Chicago finally gave a test for police sergeant that was fair. And it stuck to the results.
It is no easy job, devising a fair test that can weather the charges of racism when whites, as they invariably do, outperform non-whites. The administration of Mayor Richard Daley therefore went to astonishing lengths to ensure that the 1994 sergeant test was beyond reproach. First, it took the entire procedure of test-making and administration out of the hands of the police and the politicians so as to avoid any possibility of favoritism. At a cost of well over $5 million, the city hired a top-flight consulting firm, Barrett and Associates, to devise the test, and the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson to administer it.
The consultants interviewed 124 Chicago sergeants — 46 of them non-white — as part of their project to devise the fairest, most objective test possible. Once it was complete, Arthur Anderson treated the test papers like plutonium. All employees involved with the project had to sign sworn confidentiality agreements and to affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they had no relatives on the Chicago police force. Advance copies of the test were kept in a secured cage in a secret warehouse, under 24-hour guard.
To make sure that no one got a head start on preparation, Chicago police were all told on the same day when the test would be and exactly what it would cover. Four thousand seven hundred candidates took the test.
The results, announced on July 22nd, would not have been much different if the city had asked the Ku Klux Klan to grade the tests: 96 percent of the 114 top scorers, eligible for immediate promotion, were white. There were two Hispanics in the top group and three blacks, two of whom were women.
The last time Chicago minted new sergeants was in 1985. Then, of the 458 promoted, 26 percent were black and nine percent were Hispanic. That year, as in previous years, scores were “race-normed” to ensure that non-whites were promoted in proportion to their numbers on the force. Race norming appears to have improved the chances of black promotion ten-fold: 26 percent in 1985 as opposed to 2.6 percent in 1994.
This time, of course, blacks worked themselves into a fury of righteous indignation. One alderman, John Steele, unbosomed this carefully-considered opinion:
“They [the promotions] are done on who you know and not what you know. People are controlled by people who are not minorities, and they look out for themselves and kick minorities to the curb.”
“It’s business as usual,” said Patricia Hill, president of the African-American Police League; “The objective is ultimately to eliminate African Americans from any positions of decision-making on the job.” She also explained that blacks had failed the test because the questions were from “a white world.” One black lady police officer said she had not even bothered to take the test because “I know the odds are stacked against me.”
A black Chicago congressman, Bobby Rush, accused the Daley administration and the police department of “flagrantly and shamelessly” practicing racial discrimination. Black senator Carol Moseley-Braun joined another black congressman, Mel Reynolds, (as well as a white senator, Paul Simon) in urging the city to find some other way to promote officers. Hispanic aldermen accused Mayor Daley of breaking his promise to hire more non-whites, and complained about unspecified “cultural impediments” in the test. Some black aldermen accused the white officers of cheating, or of getting advance copies of the test. Alderman Ed Smith called for lie detector tests for Arthur Anderson employees to see if any had leaked the questions to whites.
The Puerto Rican Police Association denounced the test, as did the Mexican American Police Organization. The Chicago chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives demanded that the city find an alternative to the “unfair” test, and the African-American Police League threatened to break away from the Fraternal Order of Police and establish an all-black labor union. The city informed them that would be illegal.
Despite this chorus of wailing, Mayor Daley refused to budge. The test, he said, was fair, and ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the city was forbidden to fudge the scores the way it used to. He did, however, make many of the spineless gestures expected of whites under these circumstances. He claimed to be “as frustrated as anyone by the results” — an odd complaint for someone who said he thought the test was fair. He even wrote a newspaper editorial boasting about the large numbers of non-whites he has hired. No one seemed to wonder how thumping great crowds of blacks and Hispanics were going on the payroll when only a handful could pass the city’s latest and most excruciatingly fair test.
When it began to sink in that the mayor was not going to invalidate the test, astonished black politicos started casting about for ways to force him to. First, they tried to call a special meeting of the board of aldermen to repudiate the results. Mayor Daley managed to persuade enough of his supporters to boycott the meeting, and it failed to establish a quorum. Black aldermen then held hearings, during which they grilled the people who made and administered the test, hoping to find traces of racism. Even these experts in detecting white wickedness could find none.
Blacks turned to the federal government. Congressman Bobby Rush called on Attorney General Janet Reno to look into whether the test violated civil rights laws. He threatened to vote against President Clinton’s crime bill, which would provide money for law enforcement, if she did not. “I cannot and will not vote for a crime bill that will give Chicago more means with which to discriminate,” he explained. The Justice Department promptly began a review.
What did whites have to say? For the most part, they moaned piously about how it really was very, very sad that non-whites had done so poorly, but they kept mum as to why. Columnist Mike Royko ventured the view that blacks failed the test because most of them attended Chicago’s public schools, which are miserable.
The Chicago Tribune cleared its throat and decided that the test, admirable though it might be, was just not the right way to choose sergeants. “Non-objective, unquantifiable elements — the stuff we commonly call ‘chemistry’ — come into play,” it said. The editorial admitted uncomfortably that it was precisely to eliminate non-objective evaluations that written tests were introduced in the first place, but felt sure that broader evaluations would fill the force with non-white sergeants. Blacks and Puerto Ricans will presumably be found to be brimming with “chemistry.” Of course, back in the days of racial quotas, the Tribune seemed to think that pencil-and-paper tests were just fine.
One white police officer, quoted anonymously by Mr. Royko, voiced perhaps the only explanation for the results that was even faintly unorthodox:
“The poor performance by minority group members is a direct result of affirmative action and selective promotions in the past. Maybe these officers believed they didn’t have to prepare as much and score as well because they’d get promoted regardless.”
No one in the entire city seems to have breathed a word about genetics or racial differences in IQ. As it always does, the obvious explanation hung over the debate like a great, black cloud, but everyone pretended not to see it. U.S. News & World Report, in an article about the fracas, conceded that a few people might think that the problem was genetic, but this idea never appears to have gotten into print in Chicago itself.
Even so, it is significant and encouraging that despite this huge controversy over nothing, the city stood firm. It took $5 million and a summer of hand-wringing and hot air to get essentially the same promotions the city would have gotten 30 years ago, before the reign of racial idiocy — but Chicago has achieved what may be its first real merit promotions in decades.
It is likely to have more. The same firm that designed the sergeant test, Barrett and Associates, has been at work on other tests for the city.
The firm has made a name for itself as a purveyor of objective tests, but the eponymous Mr. Barrett explains that when it comes to race, nothing is yahoo-proof. “I’ve been in litigation since 1973 and the issue is always the same — black officers who believe that they have been discriminated against,” he says. So far, his company has been sued in Akron and Columbus, Ohio, but the tests have been proven in court to be unimpeachably objective.
A Useful Dustup
In the long run, high-profile dustups like this are enormously useful. Only the most gibberingly liberal whites do not understand that the city could not have tried harder to make the test objective and fair. Stripped of the protection of the jiggery-pokery that passes for “equal opportunity,” blacks performed miserably and everyone in Chicago knows it.
Everyone in Chicago also knows that whenever a black or Hispanic could get near a microphone he bellowed about “bias” and “racism.” Unlike the usual “racism” story — blacks spout nonsense, whites whimper sympathetically, and the story disappears — this one was on the front page long enough for even the boneheads to see that black “leaders” were frauds and scoundrels, snout to tail.
This is all excellent news. Every time a well-publicized, rigorously objective test throws a harsh light on the black/white performance gap, the more receptive the country becomes to the genetic explanations that will eventually prevail. Every time blacks and Hispanics work themselves into a roaring lather over imaginary “racism,” the more immune to future accusations the average white becomes.
Chicago may have taken its first, hesitant steps towards redemption.
Miss Evans would like to thank a Chicago subscriber for his help with this story.
(Posted on February 16, 2007)
What the Officers Said
With everyone from Mayor Daley and police superintendent Matt Rodriguez on down expressing "disappointment" with the test results, how do the officers who passed the test feel? A few spoke to reporters, but only on condition of anonymity.
White Woman: I thought this was gong to be legit, finally. No quotas. No political involvement. Now this. The city officials says they are "disappointed" in the results. What does that mean? Have they ever met any one of us? No. Are they "disappointed" because they didn’t get in the people they wanted? Are they saying this to cover their political [butts]?
Non-white: This test was based solely on the general orders [police regulations] and the law. How you can say that an internal exam based on those two things is culturally or racially biased is ridiculous.... If you don’t understand the general orders or the law and how it applies to police work, what good are you as a sergeant?
Those of us who are minorities and in the class have been congratulated. But the whites now are living with the suggestion that they got there by cheating. Now you talk about fairness. That is really unfair.
White Man: What the law is, that was this test. Cut and dried. No bias in it. It’s what we are supposed to know as police officers. The federal investigation into this test is a waste of time. Look at every question we were given, and show me one racially biased question.
White Woman: If I had the questions in advance, why did I pass with flying colors and my husband who is a police officer flunked and so did my partner? Don’t you think I would have shared it with them?
Chicago is hardly the only city to discover the awkward fact that whites get higher test scores than blacks or Hispanics. The search for "solutions" to the "problem" of test bias, often ordered by busy-body federal judges, is rich in tragi-comedy.
In 1989, New York City decided it could eliminate bias if it got black and Hispanic police officers to help write the sergeant test. They had exclusive power to throw out all questions they thought were biased. Two percent of the blacks who then took the test passed, and 95 percent of the people promoted to sergeant were white. Blacks and Hispanics howled and filed suit.
New York was briefly taken with the idea that pencil-and-paper tests were all, somehow, biased against non-whites, and produced a video version of the police test. This was enormously expensive, failed to narrow the gap in pass rates, and produced more law suits.
One way to get rid of test bias is to make a test so easy that anyone can pass it. New York City’s Sanitation Department indulged in a huge waste of time with a test on which 23,078 applicants out of 24,000 got perfect scores. The department then hired all the non-whites it wanted, claiming correctly that they had all gotten the highest possible score.
The prize for ingenuity, however, goes to the Houston Fire Department. In 1991, it gave a 100-question test with a passing grade of 70. Whites got better scores than non-whites. The department then went over the test papers and threw out questions that non-whites were more likely than whites to get wrong. The reasoning was that if there was a performance gap it could only be because the questions were biased.
Twenty-eight questions were duly eliminated. The result was that 32 people who had originally passed were now declared to have failed: 24 whites, four blacks, three Hispanics, and one Asian. Thirteen people who had originally failed were now found to have passed: five blacks, four Hispanics, and four whites.
Eight non-whites were knocked off the pass list and nine added to it, for a net gain of one. There was a net loss of 20 whites who, along with the non-whites who were bumped from the passing list, were hopping mad. It was plain hard luck for the non-whites who got the right answers to questions that were supposed to be "biased" against them, and pure good luck for the four whites who got wrong answers on questions that were supposed to be "biased" in their favor.
Some day, sanity will drift back to these cities, too.