Report: PA police academy culture permitted cheating

A report released last week concludes the Pennsylvania State Police Academy created an environment where cadets easily cheated — a finding that comes nearly a year after the cheating scandal surfaced, and dozens of would-be troopers were dismissed or resigned.

Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General investigators found that instructors gave students test questions and answers as part of study guides before exams, that study guides were passed down from class to class and exams were mostly the same from year to year, and that instructors complained about having to teach one class, calling it a “joke.”

The cheating scandal started in late 2015, when a staff member at the academy found a “cheat sheet” for one of several traffic exams, which led to an internal investigation. The academy dismissed 16 cadets during and after that investigation, and another 26 cadets resigned from the 144th Cadet Class. The OIG compiled the 47-page report after state police asked them in March 2016 to investigate claims of cheating, academic inadequacies, and instructor misconduct.

Eight full-time investigators put in more than 8,000 hours over several months, conducting “more than 105 interviews of graduated, dismissed and resigned cadets; current and former academy staff; PSP command staff; current and former troopers; and others,” according to a press release from the OIG.

According to 51 of 57 cadets who were asked, instructors gave cadets “direct test answers or study guides that specifically mirror a test.” Investigators found that exams would remain largely the same year to year, and study guides from prior classes would be passed down from class to class.

An OIG investigator with no law enforcement experience used two study guides that an instructor allowed the 142nd Cadet Class to create, and which was passed down to the 144th Cadet Class. Using only that study guide, the investigator passed tests that were given to both cadet classes.

One cadet told investigators that instructors complained about having to teach the Emergency Medical Response course, and that instructors called the course a “joke.”

“Instructors basically gave the Cadets the answers to the Emergency Medical Response examination before it was administered,” said one cadet, according to the report.

Adding insult to injury, the OIG’s investigation found that the curriculum for the Emergency Medical Response test did not meet standards outlined by the American Red Cross.

A former director of the academy’s Bureau of Training and Education told investigators that the academy’s tests may have been created in 1994 or 1995, though the tests and curriculum “have evolved to reflect changes in the law.”

In addition to outdated tests and a culture of cheating, the report noted that allegations of a staff member making “ethnically-inappropriate statements to one or more cadets of Indian background” led to the staff member in question being reassigned away from the police academy.

The police academy has made changes since the scandal broke, but the OIG made several recommendations for improvement.

To address the cheating, the OIG recommends that the academy implement computer-based testing with randomly assigned questions, and that instructors shouldn’t be allowed to share test questions or answers before tests. The office also recommends that instructors be evaluated and have term limits.