Public Safety Workers Blast Ohio City's Decision to Lower Police Recruit Standard

An Ohio city's decision to lower testing standards for police recruits to increase the number of black officers is being blasted by other public safety professionals, including Connecticut firefighters who were part of a successful reverse discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The city of Dayton is making it easier to pass its exam for police recruits as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice aimed at addressing the police department's low number of lack of black officers.

The two-part exam previously required candidates to score at least 66 percent and 72 percent to be considered for the job. The new scoring policy only requires job candidates to earn 58 percent and 63 percent – failing marks by most academic standards.

The new policy stems from a 2008 lawsuit in which the Department of Justice under the Bush administration claimed Dayton was discriminatory in its testing practices for choosing police applicants.

The Dayton Civil Service Board said the new change means 748 people passed the most recent exam – though the racial makeup of those who passed was not immediately available, the Dayton Daily News reports.

“These individuals will undergo preliminary backgrounds and if successful will proceed to a structured oral interview,” the Dayton Civil Service Board, which administers the exam, said in a written statement.

But the new score requirements were criticized this week by public safety workers outside the state, including members of the New Haven Fire Department whose 2009 civil rights lawsuit won before the high court. New Haven had decided to scrap a promotion exam because too few minorities had passed, but the Supreme Court later ruled that the move violated the civil rights of top-scoring white applicants.

“Merit has to win out over race politics,” Frank Ricci, a plaintiff in the New Haven case, said in an interview with “In public safety positions, it’s critical we have the best person in those positions regardless of race.”

Ricci, as well as fellow plaintiff Matthew Marcarelli, called the Dayton policy “absolutely unfair” and said the new rule should be repealed.

“You want the best and brightest -- academically and physically -- on the street,” Marcarelli said. “This is ‘dumbing down’ the requirements to be a police officer.”

The DOJ says that officer qualifications can be determined in many ways and claims the Dayton police exam is flawed. The department also says that passing the test does not guarantee entrance into the police force – applicants must also undergo an interview process.

“The city’s hiring process doesn’t stop at the test,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said.

“Qualifications can, of course, be assessed in a number of ways, depending upon what abilities are needed for the job. For example, being able to memorize a test booklet doesn't mean an applicant has the emotional or physical capabilities to be a firefighter or police officer,” she said.

The Dayton Police Department has declined to comment publicly on the matter. The department is in dire need of new recruits -- after the retirement of several officers – and Hinojosa said the new rules will help the department meet its hiring needs quickly.

“Through our agreement with Dayton, we will limit the exclusionary effect of the city's test while enabling the city to meet its urgent hiring needs and identify qualified candidates through individualized interviews,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report