Too Late to Fine Tune Police-Bias Settlement

     NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – It is too late now for the U.S. government to alter a deal intended to stamp out racial bias in the system for promoting New Jersey police officers, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2012 the Justice Department and New Jersey Civil Service Commission entered into a consent decree that resolved a two-year lawsuit alleging the state’s criteria for promoting police officers to sergeant from 2000 to 2008 had a discriminatory impact on black and Hispanic candidates.
     Under the old system, candidates made it onto a promotion list after passing a multiple-choice test. Since 89 percent of white candidates passed the test, compared with 73 percent of black and 77 percent of Hispanic candidates, however, federal investigators noted that nearly 18 percent of white candidates were promoted, while just 9 percent of black and 13 percent of Hispanic candidates rose to the rank of police sergeant.
     The 2012 consent decree set up a new promotional system and ensured retroactive seniority for 68 qualified officers who were denied promotion under the old system.
     But the Justice Department flagged the settlement recently, claiming that one paragraph of the deal has unintentionally wrought unfair consequences.
     It claims that the settlement is causing a disadvantage for police officers in certain jurisdictions such as Trenton who had been laid off and are now owed a promotion.
     These officers are receiving their promotions after the discriminated-against officers under the new system, which also could exclude them altogether.
     The feds proposed modifying the deal to forbid any discriminated-against officer from promotion until officers on special re-employment lists received their promotions.
     New Jersey fought the proposal, however saying it would lead to the promotion of candidates with lower test scores in favor of those with higher scores on the priority hiring list.
     U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Hayden sided with the state in an unpublished opinion last week, saying consent decrees could be modified only in the case of “a significant change in factual conditions.”
     A delay in promoting laid-off officers is not a sufficient reason to modify the decree, the judge added.
     “The record establishes that the DOJ foresaw [this] issue and could have included the modification language it argues for now,” the Sept. 30 ruling states. “The fact that the modification language might never have been needed is of no moment; it could have sat dormant without affecting the rest of the decree.”

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