State College Borough Council on Monday unanimously approved several changes to the rules governing testing and appointment of candidates for borough police officer positions.
The changes, which were approved by State College’s Civil Service Commission in March, are designed “to increase the overall number and diversity of qualified candidates who are eligible for testing and appointment as police officers,” Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said.
Leann Shaw, director of human resources, said at a council work session last week that borough staff and the Civil Service Commission worked with civil service test provider Stanard and Associates to review previous testing data and develop the changes.
She noted that the borough’s list of candidates who qualify as eligible after testing is usually in place for 18 months to two years, but can sometimes be active even longer.
Among the changes to the requirements, the minimum age for taking part in the testing process was lowered from 21 to 20. However, the candidates must still be at least 21-years-old at the time they are hired.
A fifth module will be added to the written test with the inclusion of the Public Safety Normative Survey integrity test. The test already includes math, reading, grammar and writing modules.
Shaw said the borough believes the added component can increase the quantity and quality of eligible candidates, adding that it is “a way of getting some more insight on each of the candidates.”
Requirements for passing the written exam also change. Previously, candidates could score no lower than 70% in each of the modules. Now, the requirement is an overall score of 75% with no lower than 50% in any one module
Shaw said that the last round of testing in 2020 lost 46 potential candidates because of one module score below 70%, and 39 of those were in the math section.
The updated scoring, Shaw said, is consistent with passing standards of many police departments around the country.
“By increasing the overall score to 75% and eliminating the need to pass each module, we believe we will increase the overall pass rate and provide a better opportunity for all candidates to be successful in the test,” Shaw said. “Our data shows we would have increased our pool of candidates by 30 in the last testing round using the suggested change.
“Working with Stanard and Associates, we have determined that this change will increase the pool of candidates without reducing or adversely affecting the quality of candidates that are on the certified list.”
The final change moves the physical agility test to the conditional offer of appointment phase — when a candidate to be hired is admitted to the police academy.
“Removing this section of the test does not mean we are not interested in the candidate’s fitness as it will still be a requirement of the candidate to enter the academy,” Shaw said.
Two factors played into changing the timing of the physical agility test.
Noting the potentially long wait between becoming eligible and receiving a job offer, Shaw said there is no guarantee a candidate will maintain their health and fitness over that time.
Conversely, a one-day agility test could eliminate a candidate entirely, whereas the academy has candidates test several times before passing the entry-level exam. Admission to the academy requires candidates to be at least in the 30th percentile on the agility test and pass requires them to score in at least the 50th percentile.
“We feel with moving this phase to closer to the time they would be entering the academy, we’d give more opportunity to more candidates to move through the process,” Shaw said.
The Civil Service Commission is looking at potentially moving away from the civil service examination for police officer hiring and to a different form of testing that could offer the borough more flexibility in selecting candidates.
For now, Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said the changes approved on Monday night are a positive.
“It is a step, a first step in the right direction,” Lafer said. “It’s a small change but every change really does make a difference. I particularly approve of the new section of the test because I think it’s something we need to talk about from the time we want to hire somebody through their hiring and hopefully through a lifetime of service.
“I think it’s a decent step in the correct direction. I don’t want anybody to think this is the be-all and end-all of the changes that are being instituted here.”