Saturday, November 25, 2006 Female recruits pass wall test Alteration may have fixed bias By Milton J. Valencia TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF WORCESTER— The three female police recruits hoping to join the local police academy recently passed a state-required physical abilities test, indicating that a changed climbing wall in the test may have mitigated possible gender bias. Two more female police recruits may take the test soon. And with Boston police — the only other department to send recruits to the test — seeing its female recruits pass at better rates than before, concerns that the test was discriminatory seem to have been resolved. “I think the adjustment made a big difference,” Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said. At issue was a significant disparity between men and women recruits who passed the test, which includes an obstacle course and several other physical tests meant to reflect work police do. Statewide statistics show that 92 percent of the men who took the test in recent years passed, compared to 30 percent of women. In the last Worcester recruit class, none of the six women recruits passed. In Boston, 11 of the 23 women who took the test earlier this year passed. The statistics triggered concerns that the test discriminated against women, particularly at a time when police departments across the state are trying to diversify their forces by hiring more women police officers. Police departments from Boston to Fall River and Worcester sent letters to the state calling for a review of the exam, and state Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, led a legislative effort to help fund a review of the exam. Officials said they didn’t want to create advantages for women, but that any test with such a disparity in results needed a review. After the review, state officials changed the dynamics of a wall in the obstacle course. Concerns with the test had focused on the wall, and the adjustment seems to have allayed those concerns. Previously, the 5-foot wall had a straight, smooth surface. Women often had difficulty scaling the wall, and even those who could said it drained from them the energy needed to finish other parts of the obstacle course within the required time. Some women completed the course just seconds beyond the deadline. Those who complained about the wall said it gave men an immediate advantage because men generally have the natural upper body strength needed to pull themselves over it. The wall required upper body strength because its straight surface allowed for no foot leverage. Those who criticized the test, led by Chief Gemme, argued that the wall was an immediate disadvantage for women. Plus, they argued that the wall was an unrealistic reflection of police work. Rarely do officers encounter a five-foot wall with no foothold. Chief Gemme even argued that he would discourage officers from blindly scaling a five-foot wall anyway. Chief Gemme contended that recruits shouldn’t be judged on their fitness for the job solely on a five-foot wall. He said one of the female recruits in the last police class is a U.S. Army soldier serving oversees, even though she couldn’t scale the wall. The state review of the test led to a recent change in the wall. It now has two braces providing for foot leverage, making it easier to scale. A spokesman for the state administration said the wall is now a more realistic reflection of actual police work, because it is made more like a fence, something officers are more likely to encounter in their work settings. Boston police even endorsed the test after seeing 68 percent of their female recruits in a recent class pass. Chief Gemme has endorsed the change, saying improved statistics, after one minor adjustment, shows there was a problem with the original test. The chief said he still has his concerns with the overall testing process, saying he should be able to train recruits before they’re required to take the test, which he said should be called a graduation requirement. He plans to express that idea at a statewide meeting Wednesday, called a “stakeholders” meeting with representatives from police departments across the state. The meeting is part of a continuing job analysis project to review the abilities test. If this tests proves too difficult they're talking about a new pt test, which allows the applicant to walk around the wall instead of going over it. That should eliminate the bias against lazy, fat bastards, which apparently exists now in the law enforcement profession.