But criminals can add and subtract!

Should cops be able to understand simple math? Apparently, the Justice Department doesn't think so.

VIRGINIA BEACH - The U.S. Justice Department has found that the math portion of the Virginia Beach Police Department's entrance exam discriminates against black and Hispanic applicants.

In a letter to the city released Wednesday, the Justice Department said its findings were based on results of a math test administered to all entry-level police officers.

A math test? How can testing simple math -- the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide -- discriminate on the basis of race?

I know that there's a movement to dumb down math, but's not as if math is a race issue. Might this be part of "whiteness theory"?

Actually no. The contention isn't even made that math is racially biased; only that there's a disparate impact:

The city requires all recruits to score at least 70 percent on all parts of the written exam – the National Police Officer Selection Test.

Between 2002 and mid-2005, about 59 percent of black applicants and 66 percent of Hispanic applicants passed the math test, compared with 85 percent of white applicants, according to the Justice Department letter.

First administered to Virginia Beach candidates in 1998, the test is designed to assess basic skills of a police officer. It is offered to prospective officers in 20 other states, according to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

“This is not a test we developed,” Jacocks said. “We are not looking for rocket scientists. This is a basic math aptitude test.”

One sample question framed a problem in the context of police work: “On Tuesday, Officer Jones worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. At 10:55 p.m. he was called to the scene of an accident where he remained until 1:30 a.m. How long past his regular shift did Officer Jones work?”

I'm sorry, but if an applicant can't figure out answers to problems like the example above, I don't think he should be working as a police officer, because the criminals will bamboozle him! This is crazy. Officers should be physically fit too, and I'm all for tests that have a "disparate impact" on blind or paraplegic applicants.

Furthermore, the test -- known as the National Police Officer Selection Test -- is not unique to Virginia Beach. It's used in a lot of cities including Washington DC, Boulder, CO, and Providence, RI, and it is designed to be fair and non-discriminatory.

If for whatever reason someone is unable to perform simple math, it's either because he is stupid or else he's had a very poor education. In either case, why should everyone else be made to suffer?

Years ago, I ate lunch with a couple of law professors who got into a ferocious argument over how to grade essays written by law students who were "unable to write an English sentence." One professor thought it was unfair to penalize a conscientious law student for what he should have learned in the seventh grade, but the other thought it was equally unfair to inflict an illiterate attorney on his clients, and on society.

Cops should know math. I think it's a public safety issue having nothing to do with fairness. Frankly, if that question about the overtime is any example, I don't think the test is hard enough.

If they keep this nonsense up, the only "disparate impact" will be on public safety.

MORE: j.d. at evolution (commenting below) highlights what may be part of the problem -- a growing "educational" trend to declare math a form of oppression:

....traditional mathematics — the mathematics taught in universities around the world — is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors.
I suspect that the people who can afford to experiment with these theories make damned sure their own kids master traditional math!

posted by Eric on 02.09.06 at 07:53 PM


Oh, some of the wonderful things I've seen...

j.d.   ·  February 9, 2006 10:15 PM

Selfishly, I wish more cops could write simple, declarative sentences.

Good lord, I could chapter and verse on the incoherent reports I have to process!

And that's not even discussing penmenship...


Darleen   ·  February 10, 2006 1:06 AM

Math does play a role in many police investigations, such as with auto accidents. Measuring skid marks and computing the speed the car was going, etc. And since such calculations can determine whether a ticket is issued, or a criminal charge filed, or whether there was liability (say for speeding) that could result in the cop's analysis being entered into evidence or testimony in a criminal or civil action, I'd say simple math comprehension is a must.

Jeff Soyer   ·  February 10, 2006 4:54 AM

2 + 2 =

A) 4
B) 22
C) Maybe

Beck   ·  February 10, 2006 10:36 AM

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