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Long-awaited police sergeants exam expected to be world’s largest

6-14-10  Police Academy graduatiSkyline Stage Navy Pier. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times.  There were 89 graduates Recruit Class 09-2.Brian Jackson/Chicago

6-14-10 Police Academy graduation at the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times. There were 89 graduates in the Recruit Class 09-2.Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: October 23, 2012 6:11AM



Chicago will hold its first police sergeants exam in seven years in 2013, with thousands of frustrated officers who’ve never had the chance to get promoted expected to take one of the largest sergeants exams held anywhere in the world.

Six pre-approved companies are vying for the right to develop and administer the first such exam since 2006. The city expects to choose a winner as early as next week and hold the exam in late summer or early fall of 2013, records show.

The Chicago Police Department has an authorized strength of 1,180 sergeants, but 104 of those jobs are unfilled. A new class of 50 sergeants is expected to enter the police academy for training on Monday, with another class expected by the end of the year.

To qualify for the sergeant’s exam, Chicago Police officers must have completed four years of college, spent 6 1/2 years on the job and have no outstanding debts to the city.

Dr. Jeff Bernstein, a police psychologist who has served as a resource expert to the Fraternal Order of Police, said he’s planning to hold classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Oct. 20 and 21 to prepare Chicago Police officers for the test.

At the request of frustrated officers, Bernstein filed a Freedom-of-Information request about the upcoming sergeant’s exam and found that the Emanuel administration had issued a “task order request” to six pre-approved companies as part of the hush-hush process.

“According to the bid documents, the city expects to test upwards of 10,000 police officers. Never have this many officers sat for a sergeants exam. That would actually eclipse New York City. This would be the biggest in the world from my read,” Bernstein said.

“Because there’s been no exam for seven years, almost every officer would now be eligible. The city will benefit from having more supervisors on the street and morale goes up for thousands of officers who now have the opportunity to sit for an exam that would mean a considerable pay raise for them.”

Jim Ade, president of the Chicago Police Sergeants Association, said promotional exams are normally held every three or four years.

“To have exams on a more regular basis is probably a better way to get a higher quality candidate,” he said.

Ade noted that the Chicago Police Department had an authorized strength of 1,360 sergeants before that number was cut last year.

As for the 104 vacancies, Ade said, “Because they’re running from job-to-job, it puts more officers out there unsupervised. There are nights when there are only one or two sergeants in a district when there used to be four. You don’t need supervisors with you every step of the way. But, there’s not enough time to supervise the people you’re paid to supervise. You’re not able to mentor your people.”

Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton confirmed the plan to hold a sergeants exam, without revealing precisely when it would be.

“The new test will allow officers to freshen up on the most current policies and procedures,” she said in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The first-line supervision is critical and we strive to ensure the most effective supervision at all times. To that end, a new class of 50 sergeants is beginning the academy on Monday with another class set to enter … before the end of the year. This is a morale boost, not only for the officers who are promoted, but for others who seek the opportunity. With the graduation of these two classes, we will maintain the current level of strength at the sergeant level.”

Hiring and promotions in the police and fire departments have generated controversy in Chicago for as long as anyone can remember.

The criticism reached a crescendo in 1994 after a sergeants exam produced just five minority promotions out of 114.

The test was the first to be administered by the city after “race-norming” — the practice of adjusting scores on the basis of race — was ruled unconstitutional.

The last sergeants exam was administered in 2006.

Two years later, black ministers warned then-newly-appointed Police Supt. Jody Weis that, if he was serious about re-establishing trust between police and the black community damaged by police torture allegations against former Area 2 Commander Jon Burge, he should start by hiring and promoting more African Americans.

At the time, Chicago had 1,262 sergeants. They were 69.7 percent white, 16.7 percent black and 11.8 percent Hispanic. Current figures were not known.

But, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, said there are still “not enough” African-Americans.

“If you don’t have those people to select from, you’ll never have any real representation in the exempt-ranks. You basically discriminate against future leadership,” Cochran said.

“It’s important to have command staff that knows how the community thinks. It encourage people to speak to the police. It encourages people to be more comfortable in their communities when they have police [supervisors] on their block.”



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