For 13 years, the city of Portland has awarded a Lake Oswego man a contract to conduct psychological exams of prospective Portland police hires and to gauge whether officers who have been involved in shootings and other major events are fit to return to duty.
With little or no discussion, the City Council has granted or extended psychologist David M. Corey‘s contract nine times and paid him close to half a million dollars.
The city sought competitive bids for the contract three times: in 1999, when Corey was first picked to develop and conduct psychological tests; in 2003 when the contract was extended; and this year, after a decade of contract extensions with no bids sought.
When the city did open the contract to competitive bidding this year, it was riddled with controversy.
While Corey is highly regarded nationally and there’s been no specific problems cited with Corey’s work, members of the city’s minority communities say they object to his “monopoly” on the police bureau contract. They argue Corey has failed to weed out some officers with a propensity for violence, pointing to last month’s U.S. Department of Justice finding that Portland police use excessive force against people with mental illness.
Mayor Sam Adams, the police commissioner, recently backed away from awarding a new five-year contract to Corey. He acknowledged the city could have done more to draw a broader pool of bidders.
“I think the criticism was fair,” the mayor said, adding, “The fact that the contract has been with one person for so long is worth reviewing.
Critics have urged the city to find psychologists from diverse backgrounds.
“The city is only getting this one white guy from Lake Oswego’s point of view,” said Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch.
Corey, president of the American Board of Police & Public Safety Psychology, said the concerns are not off base. The community’s call for a multi-cultural group of psychologists to help determine police candidates’ suitability for the job “warrants serious consideration” by the city, he said.
“How the Portland Police Bureau selects its police officers should reflect the needs and interests of the broader community,” Corey wrote in an e-mail to The Oregonian.
“We look forward to reviewing the city’s new specifications for the services and to preparing a responsive proposal.”
Corey added, “My firm has had no role in determining the frequency of these competitive bids over the past 13 years.”
In 1999, the bureau for the first time sought a psychologist to develop and conduct evaluations for police candidates and fitness-for-duty evaluations of sworn officers when there’s a concern about their ability to perform their job. Three psychologists submitted bids, and Corey’s was lowest. His rate then: $325 per applicant; $150 per hour for fitness-for-duty tests.
A police captain, a lieutenant, an acting sergeant, and a police human resources analyst were on the selection committee. The city wanted a vendor to assess police candidates’ emotional control, sensitivity, moral-ethical behavior, and “ability to appropriately employ force under extreme stress.”
In subsequent years, the City Council voted eight times to extend Corey’s contract. Often, police bureau officials told council members that an emergency existed, allowing the city to bypass competitive bidding. The emergency, the bureau said, was that officer recruitment and fitness-for-duty evaluations needed to continue “without disruption.”
In July 2009, the city also awarded Corey a $150,000 five-year contract to conduct psychological exams on prospective emergency dispatchers, without seeking competitive bids. The Bureau of Emergency Communications cited an exemption from city procurement rules that allows no-bid contracting when determining “any prospective or current City employee’s ability to work or return to work.”
Most recently, on Feb. 2, Police Chief Mike Reese tried to extend Corey’s contract with the police bureau through March. Reese told the council no public involvement was sought “because it pertains to internal city government services provided by Dr. Corey,” as approved by a 2004 contract.
Sean Murray, the police bureau’s personnel manager, defended Corey’s work. “The bureau has been pleased with Dr. Corey’s service,” Murray said. “Dr. Corey’s process has not had any adverse impact on protected-status groups.”
According to Corey, his psychological exams disqualify 32.2 percent of Portland police candidates. Candidates of color are not at a disadvantage, Corey told a community group in 2010. His data showed some disparities for Native American candidates, but Corey said last week the current pass rate for the Native American applicants shows no “significant disparity.”
He said the pre-employment psychological evaluation for police applicants consists of a lengthy series of questions. The pre-offer phase consists of 614 questions. A post-offer evaluation consists of 992 questions. There is also a face-to-face interview as a part of the psychological evaluation.
Community activists became concerned about police psychological exams after a Portland police officer’s controversial 2010 shooting of an unarmed black man. Leaders of the Albina Ministerial Alliance and Portland Copwatch urged the mayor and chief to reach out to diverse communities to broaden the pool of psychologists available.
When the city this year asked for bids, it received only two: from Corey, and another psychologist.
This time, Corey was chosen by a selection committee that consisted of: the mayor’s public safety aide; the police bureau’s internal affairs captain; a retired African-American police lieutenant who works security in City Hall; and two citizen members of the minority community, one from the Albina Ministerial Alliance.
Each was given a draft of the city’s bid request and asked to offer any suggested changes. One community member questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for the same psychologist to perform initial screenings of applicants and fitness-for-duty exams of current officers.
Corey, in an interview, said finding a person psychologically fit at one time doesn’t preclude finding the person unfit later.
By Feb. 26,, the council was poised to extend Corey’s contract for five years. The ordinance was on the council’s consent agenda, meaning there would be no council discussion or public comment.
But community activists raised strong objections.
Pastor T. Allen Bethel, chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, was disturbed there were only two bidders. He said alliance members would have alerted prospective psychologists if they had known bidding had started.
“We notice that Dr. Corey has had this contract for over 10 years,” Bethel told the council.
The mayor backed off and proposed extending the contract for six months through the end of August, which the council approved.
In September, another emergency ordinance went before the council. The bureau asked to extend Corey’s contract through Oct. 31, adding $20,000 to cover additional police psychological testing. Murray told commissioners that there were “outstanding invoices to be paid” because the bureau had hired more officers. If the money wasn’t approved, the bureau couldn’t hire the recruits, Murray said.
Teresa Roberts, a citizen, addressed the council. “I don’t understand the fast-tracking of crucial considerations like this,” Roberts said. “In this economy, with so many people looking for jobs, to have only two qualified applicants — it doesn’t make sense. It does not engender trust.”
Before awarding a long-term contract, Adams promised that the city would develop a new request for bids and appoint a new committee for selecting a police psychologist, with greater outreach.
“I’m using this mistake to consult with the feds on best practices,” Adams said. “I want to figure out what the best way forward is.”