Cheating inquiry at police academy
A recruit asked for copies of the tests she'd already taken, but copies got to recruits who hadn't been tested yet. The FDLE is investigating.
By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
Published April 23, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - The state's top law enforcement agency is investigating a local police academy after learning that recruits may have improperly received copies of the school's final exams and answer keys.
According to a memo obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, the potential cheating scandal started in October at the police academy operated by St. Petersburg College at the school's Allstate Center at 3200 34th St. S.
No one knows how many students saw the leaked tests, or if any students got an unfair advantage on their final exams from seeing them. The tests are changed periodically, but they draw upon a common group of questions and answers provided by the FDLE.
In Pinellas County, all police recruits must pass the 13-part test to graduate from the police academy. After that, they're eligible to take a separate FDLE-administered test that allows them to become full-fledged officers.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, said Vickie Marcey, FDLE's bureau chief of standards. The FDLE oversees the installation of the state's police officers.
St. Petersburg police are also investigating.
"It's a serious issue, obviously," said James C. Brock, chief executive officer of the Allstate Center. "The big part is what the intent was - whether it was willful or not."
The college's April 1 investigation memo describes the incident:
St. Petersburg Officer Amanda Westerman, a recent recruit, was preparing for the FDLE state examination in October when she asked police academy director John Dressback for a copy of the tests she and other students had already taken.
Dressback told Westerman the tests could be used for studying by her class only and to not circulate the tests to any other cadets, according to the memo.
St. Petersburg police Officer Wanda Williams made 10 copies of the 13 test modules and passed them out to recruits who, like Westerman, had already taken their tests. Williams thought doing so was okay because the tests had been given out by the academy, the memo said.
Westerman and others in her class used the notebooks as a study aid for the FDLE-given state examinations.
But somehow, the tests were passed from class to class, reaching some students who had yet to take their exams. Then, three recruits in the 23-member spring 2005 graduating class thought the situation was unethical and informed SPC instructors and St. Petersburg police Sgt. Vivian Holmes, who works with new recruits.
Brock launched his own inquiry and reprimanded the person who handed out the tests.
Brock gave the Times a separate document detailing what happened, but blotted out the name of the individual who was reprimanded.
"(Blank) felt he was acting in support of St. Petersburg Police Department and in the best interest of the students," Brock wrote, adding that there was "an appearance of impropriety caused by the covert nature of distributing the old exams."
The spring 2005 class has not yet taken the tests. After the college was told what had happened, the tests were rewritten, officials said.
Until the FDLE and police investigations are concluded, it will be unclear what will happen to the recruits who have already taken the academy test.
Dressback, Williams and Westerman did not return calls.
Brock said the school plans to start a new procedure for guarding tests.
"Personal and professional integrity are important," Brock said. "As a police officer you can't have that gray area. You have to be personally pristine."
The 19-year old academy is called the Southeastern Public Safety Institute. It provides officer certification for Pinellas County's 13 police agencies.
Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified April 23, 2005, 01:06:03]
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