New Haven’s next class of cops contains more diversity than the department has ever seen — “by far,” said Police Chief Anthony Campbell.
It turns out the department didn’t need to find a more racially-attuned group of shrinks to get there.
After a year of setbacks, from losing 155 cops right at the get-go in the physical agility tests to hiring a consultant who bungled the search for a new psychological evaluator, the department still managed to get the outcome that it wanted. The class will have more New Haven residents, more women and more racial minorities than any past group.
If all three dozen recruits make it past their final agility test next week, the class will be approximately 60 percent black and brown, 40 percent local and 35 percent female, said Assistant Chief Racheal Cain, who oversees the department’s hiring and standards.
The police department notched those high diversity numbers even though Campbell decided to stick with the same psychologist in place for more than a decade. He’d previously said they played a “big part” in why local applicants weren’t making it onto the force, citing rejected applicants who’d accused them of discrimination.
Based in Hamden, Behavioral Health Consultants conducts pre-employment screenings for 59 police agencies across the state, including New Haven since 2008. Its chief evaluator, Mark Kirschner, is the only psychologist in Connecticut certified as a specialist in police and public safety. He follows the industry best practices, scoring candidates’ mental fitness for policing on two widely used written exams.
More than a year ago, Campbell made the decision to go out to bid for a new psychologist. But mistakes along the way added months of delays that led the prevented a final contract from being inked until just two weeks ago.
The process took so long because a consultant, hired for $75,000, didn’t ask for quotes from the psychologists who wanted the job, requiring the department to go out for a second round of bidding.
As an instructor in cultural sensitivity at the Yale Child Study Center and a contractor for YouthStat programs, Maysa Akbar, the founder of Integrated Wellness Group, a psychotherapy practice focused on children and families, seemed like the best person to draw up a request for proposals for a new psychologist, Campbell said. Akbar “had been someone that City Hall had been very familiar with,” he explained earlier this year.
When the request for proposals that Akbar drafted went live on the Purchasing Bureau’s website, the submission deadline was at first set for June 20. Michael Fumiatti, the city’s purchasing agent, later moved the date back to June 27. He said rescheduling is common, particularly if there’s any bad weather.
The extra time allowed Police and Community Psychology Partners, a company incorporated on June 26, to get its application in before the deadline.
That new venture was founded by Brett Rayford, the program development director at the Solnit Psychiatric Center, two state-run residential facilities for early teens, and Derrick Gordon, research director on male development at The Consultation Center, a Yale-associated hub for psychiatric study.
Behavioral Health Consultants, the longtime contractor, did not apply at first. “No one told us about it,” Kirschner said earlier. “We didn’t have the opportunity.”
Akbar recommended Police and Community Psychology Partners for the job, and Gordon said the police department told him they’d won the bid.
But no contract was ever signed, because, Fumiatti said, nobody sent him the paperwork he needed. When Cain started looking through the files in late winter, she noticed that Police and Community Psychology Partners hadn’t given a price.
After those mistakes were caught, Campbell said he felt he needed to go back out to bid a second time, even though he sorely needed to replenish ranks that had been depleted by retirements.
“Rather than have a situation where it looks like we’re catering to anyone in particular, restart the process,” he said at the time.
In the second round of bidding, which closed in late January, both companies sent in applications. (Click here to download the applications from Behavioral Health Consultants and Police and Community Psychology Partners, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.)
Behavioral Health Consultants said it would charge a flat fee of $425 for each test, while Police and Community Psychology Partners started at $750 for each test, with add-ons like an IQ test for $200 and cultural competence reviews for $400.
The applications were reviewed by a committee of two chiefs, a police commissioner, a city official, a Yale psychiatry professor, and Roberto Clemente’s retired principal, Leroy Williams, who took Akbar’s place because she was out of the country, Cain said.
Checks & Balances
Campbell ultimately decided to go with Behavioral Health Consultants as the primary provider. He said that Police and Community Psychology Partners didn’t have the right qualifications, specifically the two years of required experience doing psychological exams for police.
But in a new set-up, Campbell will allow applicants whom Behavioral Health Consultants deemed too risky to go to Police and Community Psychology Partners for another evaluation.
“As a check and balance, given that we’ve had issues in the past, we said we would be okay to have the new company be a backup,” Campbell explained. “Sending them to the second company will also allow them the experience they need to get qualified as a partner company down the line.”
As another check, Campbell has made the police commission much more involved, allowing them to make the final decision whether to keep on recruits that the psychologist has determined pose a moderate risk.
Campbell has also instituted a new communication protocol that keeps each stage of the process distinct. In the past, background investigators sent files to the psychologist directly, sometimes including “inappropriate” notes that were “polluting the process,” Campbell said. Now, the chiefs are the only ones who see the entire file. “We’ve basically created silos,” Campbell explained.
Next time around, Campbell said he’ll sit down with the company first to see if they can come up with solutions, before immediately going out to bid.
“I think it’s a great idea to bring the company that you are working with to the table and talk openly about whatever the issues may be before we ever move forward,” he said. “If we can’t work things out, if they’re outside our area of expertise, then we need to grab a consultant. But I think this process has brought to light that you can bring everyone together, air our laundry and see if we can clean it up ourselves.”
In the first round since getting the gig back, Behavioral Health Consultants sped through the applicants in a few weeks, the chief said. They didn’t find any high-risk candidates in the bunch. A couple recruits, however, did present a moderate risk on several key indicators and will now need to argue their case to the Board of Police Commissioners.
Nobody contested Behavioral Health Consultants’ scores, Cain said.
While the department has also loosened its hiring policy around drug use, Cain said she believes that the high diversity in this class comes from the strong recruitment drives last summer. Visiting local colleges and attending every job fair in the area led to a more diverse class, she said.
“I attribute it all to the recruitment. We had a very good pool and a great number were from the city,” Cain said. “I can say definitively that we did not lower our standards in any way.”
The police department has already started sifting through the next 140 names on the civil service list, sending them to background investigators. Campbell said he’s aiming to get that class seated by October.