Psyched Out

Is the MPD's hiring process skewed against minority applicants?

"They're nothing but interrogations," says Charlie Adams, who worked in the background unit in the late 1990s. "The background investigation becomes very tense and hostile, and the interview is a full-on interrogation. The people in charge of background are culturally conditioned to weed out someone who may not fit with their perception of an officer, and often that can come down to color."

The issue almost always comes up at regular Police Community Relations Council meetings between cops and citizens. At those meetings, community members, many of whom are black, constantly argue that candidates of color have to live up to a higher standard. At a meeting on April 19, two Minneapolis cops gave a presentation on the hiring process. One revelation that emerged from the gathering: As it stands now, the 13-member background unit of the MPD does not include even a single African American officer.

Interim Chief Tim Dolan, answering allegations that most of what was found in background checks was used against officers of color in the psych exam, conceded that there might be a bias. "Those things shouldn't come into play," Dolan offered.

What's wrong with this picture? Despite 16 years of law enforcement experience and friends in high places, Ron Jones wasn't good enough for the MPD.
Jayme Halbritter
What's wrong with this picture? Despite 16 years of law enforcement experience and friends in high places, Ron Jones wasn't good enough for the MPD.

Deputy Chief Harris, for his part, insists that the psychological exams, done by an Illinois-based firm, are steadfastly objective. "They don't base questions off the background check," Harris notes, adding that the questions are preordained. "There's a perception of bias according to race, but the numbers of who passes and who doesn't don't indicate a disparity." (The firm, Campion, Barrow and Associates, has come under fire before for alleged bias.)

But Ron Jones isn't so sure. By nearly all accounts, Jones would be a good fit for the department—Adams even worked with him at the State Fair last August and heartily endorsed his hiring.

Still, some things came up in the background check that Jones fears might have sealed his fate, even though he technically passed that part of his hiring process. For starters, he couldn't recall specifically when he had dropped out of school in Arizona and returned to a law-enforcement program in Virginia in the 1970s. There was a gap in his employment history when he was a keyboardist in a nationally touring R&B band. And Jones, who has four children, admits that there was a time when he missed some child support payments. He also claims that some of his answers regarding hypothetical police situations drew the response, "You're too by-the-book; you've got to quit thinking like a cop."

Mostly, though, Jones points to the fact that he was involved in a successful lawsuit in the mid-1990s against the Minnesota Police Recruiting System, an organization that screens recruits for suburban police departments in the metro, which was accused of racial bias. He believes that episode, coupled with his tight relationship with Bill McManus (who was Jones's supervisor for three years in D.C.), played a role in the outcome of his application. "Mac was unpopular in parts of the department, and now he's gone," Jones says. "Maybe they just looked at me and said, 'We don't want a troublemaker.'"

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