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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cheating on State Police Promotion Tests Alleged

Cheating on DPS exams alleged
The Clarion Ledger - August 29, 2011

An internal investigation of the state Department of Public Safety is seeking to determine if troopers cheated on promotions tests - and who, if anybody, helped. Promotions tests were given for the positions of master sergeant, lieutenant and captain earlier this month. Internal Affairs officials have begun to administer polygraphs to some of those who took the tests, according to troopers. Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday the allegations arose late last week. "The results of all the exams have been thrown out, and anyone involved in any improprieties will be severely punished," he said. He could not say how many troopers might be involved. "I would simply be guessing," he said. It's bad news for a department already reeling from bad news. On Friday, James Smith, a 17-year Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol employee, was convicted of fixing tickets and falsifying commercial driver's license records. Another former employee, Joseph Rigsby, faces trial this week on similar charges. In November, Bill Maxey resigned as director of fleet for the patrol after coming under scrutiny for reportedly using his state car for personal travel. The Clarion-Ledger reported that records showed Maxey used his state-owned SUV to make out-of-state, weekend trips to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee. Maxey, who has sold tailor-made suits, had no law enforcement background before taking the $66,000-a-year job. The promotions tests investigation is continuing, and DPS spokesman Jon Kalahar said further details will be released later. "We will make the full results of that investigation known as soon as it's completed," he said. One area Internal Affairs is scrutinizing is whether copies were leaked when officials emailed the tests to the command staff for review. Several troopers said it was common knowledge the tests were emailed. Jackson lawyer Shane Langston, whose law firm handles employment law cases, said emailing promotions tests blows his mind. "That's like emailing the ACT test exam to public school teachers, and saying to them, 'Now don't show it to your students.'" Former Jackson Police Chief and law enforcement consultant Robert Johnson
called emailing promotions tests "highly unusual. There's a reason that no confidential information is sent out on email."

In 2009, Michael Berthay, then-assistant commissioner of public safety, began to institute changes that transferred the administration of Highway Patrol promotions tests to an outside agency, the state Personnel Board along with troopers from neighboring states. "We were one of the last states to change," said Berthay, who retired in June 2010. The patrol since has reverted to handling those promotions tests internally. Berthay praised those who work at the Highway Patrol as having a "high sense of integrity, but I think the integrity comes into question when the administration allows the promotions tests to be published on the World Wide Web, whether it's email or some other way." Instead of polygraphing troopers, the investigation should "look at the person in the administration that would allow a test to be emailed out," he said. Sending out an email means anybody in the world can possibly get a copy of the exam, he said. "Who knows? The Afghan police could be studying for this test." Bobby Reed, past president of the Mississippi State Troopers Association, said Monday's allegations are nothing new. Years ago, administrators shared old tests as "study guides" with troopers they wanted to promote, he said. "It's the same song, second verse." He said he preferred the old system where "at least they'd look you in the eye and say, 'Old so-and-so is getting the job because he's politically connected.'" He shared the story of a favored trooper that administrators wanted to promote. "Only problem was he was dumber than a rock," he said. Realizing this, the administrators waited until two positions came open at once and announced they would select from the troopers who scored in the top six, he said. "The dumb guy couldn't even get in the top six," Reed recalled. "He came in at number seven." Administrators decided to promote someone already in the top six, enabling the favored trooper to move up into the top six and get the promotion, he said. "It was politics at its best."

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