Commissioner wants to regrade questionable promotional exams 

Several San Francisco police officers contacted a city commissioner in confidence, raising concerns that a command staff member tutored a handful of promotional candidates and then helped grade their tests.

Now, Civil Service Commissioner Morgan Gorrono is calling for a promotional examination for San Francisco police captains to be graded by pricey outside experts because of questions of impropriety.

A city investigation is under way to determine whether police Cmdr. David Lazar tutored police officers before a test that he then helped grade.

Lazar told The San Francisco Examiner he couldn’t speak about the specifics of the case because he is bound by a security agreement.

That agreement strictly forbids test experts and graders from guiding, mentoring or tutoring candidates in preparation for the exam, although it does not forbid command staff members who may have already been tutors to then become test graders.

But even if Lazar technically did nothing wrong, Gorrono said, the perception that officers whom he tutored in the past who then performed well on a test he graded would cloud the test results permanently.

To save money, the department allowed its own officers to grade the captain’s test in question, said Gorrono, who called that a mistake.

“It’s supposed to be an impartial panel,” Gorrono said. “The easiest fix in the world is just to have experts from the outside correct it.”

Questions were first raised by Lt. Cornelius “Con” Johnson, who filed complaints about the way the tests were graded. He pointed out that the written portion of the examination allowed test graders — made up of several members of the Police Department command staff — to identify test takers because their answers included information that pertained to their specific experience, such as the names of their supervisors.

The Department of Human Resources conducted a preliminary review and found no evidence to support Johnson’s claims, but on an appeal to the Civil Service Commission, Gorrono called for further review of the accusations, including allegations that Lazar failed to disclose that he conducted a six-month study session before the exam.

Officers involved in that study session received some of the highest grades on the test, Gorrono said. One officer received a perfect score.

Johnson, who originally complained about the test, said that he placed 31st because he was penalized only for his answers on the written portion, where the test graders could identify him.

“All I’m asking for is a transparent, fair, impartial and unbiased exam process for all candidates,” he said. “If there is any impropriety in that process, then we should address that as a department to discover how to improve the process.”

The Police Department has seen several scandals in regards to examinations, including an inspectors’ examination in 1997 that was completely tossed because of cheating.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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