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Baltimore County Police Department settles lawsuit with U.S. Department of Justice

The Baltimore County Police Department announced Wednesday that it reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit alleging the county’s hiring practices were discriminatory against African American applicants.

The lawsuit, filed last August, said African American applicants to the department failed a required written exam at a rate greater than white applicants, resulting in fewer African Americans being hired as police officers. The suit did not include the pass rates, but said the difference was “statistically significant.”

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The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit said are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.

Under the settlement, Baltimore County will be on the hook for $2 million in back pay to eligible claimants and must make 20 priority hires of African American claimants who previously took the test and failed, the news release from the county said.

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The old test has been discontinued and the county will hire a new test developer to craft a written exam that “does not have a disparate impact" on African American applicants. In the meantime, the department will use the National Police Officer Selection Test.

As part of the settlement, the federal government will acknowledge that the practices were established before Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. being elected in 2018.

“Our Police Department should look like the communities it serves and, even prior to this lawsuit, I joined Chief Hyatt to begin efforts that increase the diversity of our police force,” Olszewski said in a statement. “This settlement will help hold Baltimore County accountable as we continue working toward that critical goal — while also helping to further ensure our Police Department can best serve all of Baltimore County’s residents.”

For the priority hires, the eligible African American claimants must meet the minimum qualifications for the position at the time they applied and meet current minimum qualifications for the position. The individuals also will be entitled to retroactive seniority and hiring bonuses, the county said.

Sean Naron, a county spokesman, said $1 million in back pay will be distributed in fiscal year 2021 before the remaining funds are paid out in fiscal year 2022. The payments will come from the county’s self-insurance fund, Naron said.

“Ensuring residents see themselves reflected in our ranks is a critical step towards strengthening our relationship with the communities that we are sworn to serve,” Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said in a statement. “While maintaining our exceptional hiring standards, we are taking committed action to diversify our department, and we will continue building on these efforts in the months and years ahead to improve our capacity for diverse recruitment to make a strong department even stronger.”

Efforts to reach the Blue Guardians, an organization representing minority officers, were unsuccessful.

Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat who is the only African American on the council, said he’s happy with the resolution and that he believes the new requirements will help people feel more welcomed into the police department.

“I’m happy that it appears to be on the path to be resolved," said Jones, adding the settlement was among the best remedies to the suit. “I’m happy to get this chapter behind us and continue to move forward and I hope this will make people feel comfortable especially those who were not allowed that opportunity in the past."

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