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Complaints of racial bias may oust Buffalo's police, fire psychologist

The psychologist who conducts psychological exams for men and women who want to become Buffalo police officers and firefighters may be on his way out, after complaints of racial bias and inappropriate questions probing applicants' sexual histories.

And the entire system for how candidates are hired for the departments will be evaluated and likely overhauled.

“We have a problem, and we don’t have a little problem. We have a major problem. There has been unfair treatment and racism,” said Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, referring to Jay A. Supnick, a psychologist who founded Law Enforcement Psychological Associates in Rochester.

About a dozen African-American men and at least one women attended the Council’s Civil Service Committee meeting Tuesday to seek action. About half of them spoke about how they all passed the physical aptitude tests, the drug tests and the polygraph tests, only to be denied jobs for the police or fire departments because of a 10- or 15-minute verbal psychological exam conducted by Supnick. They all felt that there was a racial undertone and that the exam was biased against them because they are African-American.

The problems date back as far as 2015, said some Council members.

Contacted by The Buffalo News, Supnick, who has been conducting the psychological exams for the City of Buffalo for the past five years, said he did not want to comment until he has had a chance to talk with Gladys Herndon-Hill, Buffalo’s commissioner of human resources. He receives $300 per interview session, Herndon-Hill said.

Meanwhile, the people who spoke Tuesday said Supnick wrongly implied they had a history of psychosis or a criminal background and accused them of having “cynical tendencies” and “no integrity,” or that they were “self-absorbed” and “not employable.” Supnick allegedly called one applicant a liar. And in one case, Supnick questioned the neighborhood an applicant lived in.

“He asked me what kind of neighborhood do you live in that a person would break into a vehicle on Father’s Day,” said Khalil Cottman, adding that Supnick said Cottman “would never work for the City of Buffalo.”

Cottman was an applicant for both police and fire jobs, he said.

“The test is skewed, totally speculative. These are good quality men and women being denied opportunities to move the city forward,” Cottman said of those who attended the committee meeting, which uncharacteristically lasted more than an hour.

Niles Hardy, who wanted to become a firefighter, said the report from his psychological exam was “a blatant attack on my character.”

“The statements were exaggerated and false and questioned my integrity,” Hardy said. “There’s an agenda at play.”

“I think he’s biased against a certain group: black and African-American,” Hardy said.

Jason Cannon said he took the psychological exam four years ago and that Supnick described him as “the most cynical candidate he ever met.”

Cannon also said Supnick told him that he was lying about being fired from a previous job.

“(Supnick) told me I was a liar and that I didn’t deserve to be a firefighter,” Cannon said. “Maybe the doctor didn’t like my color.”

Andre P. Mingo said Supnick told him he showed signs of betrayal and was not fit to be a firefighter.

“He took 15 minutes of my time and judged me for 30 years,” Mingo said.

Councilmember Christopher P. Scanlon, whose South District is home to many Buffalo police and fire personnel, said he met with Supnick and felt that the psychologist asked inappropriate questions, such as the number of sexual partners an applicant had or the number of children out of wedlock.

“He asked someone if that was the worst day of his life” when the person acknowledged he had a child out of wedlock, Scanlon said.

“It’s been raised time and time again that some of the questions are inappropriate,” Scanlon added. “We need to find someone else to administer the test.”

Other Council members agreed.

“I say unequivocally that this gentleman is not the right gentleman for this job,” Pridgen said.

“I think we should get out of business with him,” said Richard A. Fontana, who represents the Lovejoy District.

In addition to problems with the psychologist, the system for hiring applicants is flawed, said Council Member David A. Rivera, a retired police officer who represents the Niagara District. The Human Resources Department needs to do a better job, he said.

“At what point does the Human Resources Department say, ‘Something is wrong here,’ ” Rivera said. “Every aspect of the process – the appeals, psychological exam – needs to be looked at.”

The Council’s Legislation Committee plans to put Supnick on notice that the city wants to cancel its contract with him and then issue a request for proposals to find a new psychologist, said Committee Chairman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, who represents the University District. And the Council wants to work with the Human Resources Department to re-evaluate the process.

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