Tyler Police officer Mathew Riggle was promoted to sergeant Monday, after an independent investigation put to rest questions regarding accusations he had an unfair advantage on a test required to receive promotion due to his mother's former position with the department.
The independent investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the Tyler Police Department or Riggle, but city officials declined to release the study to the media.
Nevertheless, the city has altered some internal procedures to ensure the process is more transparent. Testing process came under scrutiny after a test taker filed a formal complaint alleging Riggle had privileged access to study materials prior to taking a sergeant's exam.
“This entire situation was investigated by the Civil Service Commission,” Chief Gary Swindle said. “They hired an independent investigator and they officially ruled on the incident. … They ruled that the test was valid and I have to follow the test. I would be violating the law if I didn’t.”
On April 1, a Tyler board hired the law firm Lynn Ross Gannaway and Cranford LLC, to investigate a formal complaint filed by officer Ethan Johnson into the preparation, security, fairness and results of an internal test for promotion to sergeant, which was conducted on Feb. 20.
The firm was hired by the City of Tyler Firefighters and Police Officers Civil Service Commission, which acts as an appeal board to review disciplinary actions of the fire and police chiefs and to decide questions on hiring and promotion tests, according to the city’s website.
Rose Ray, human resources manager and director of civil service for the city, said other officers thought Riggle had an unfair advantage over his peers, because his mother, former Assistant Chief Paula Riggle, previously had roles in reviewing pre-test materials for other promotional exams.
For the February test, Mrs. Riggle helped secure the contract with the test vendors but did not review the sample test questions. Assistant Chief Steve Sharron did that.
“She realized her son was going to take the tests,” Ms. Ray said, adding Mrs. Riggle had given input on past tests, which Sgt. Riggle was not a part of.
Paula Riggle has since retired from the department.
The exam is based on Civil Service Commission standards and is written by a third-party provider, which was written to avoid the “good ol ’ boy” system of promotion, Ms. Ray said. The board also is responsible for hearing officers' contentions regarding test questions they believe were unfair or poorly worded. Questions that are overturned result in questions being thrown out and scores improved, Ms. Ray said.
On Oct. 8, the Civil Service board ruled the test was fair, and the final list of those eligible for promotion. The City Council was given the information in an executive session, but does not take action on matters overseen by the civil service board.
Of the 10 people who took the test in February, five passed, and Riggle had the highest score.
The test consists of two parts - a written portion of 100 multiple-choice questions and observed assessment, which includes exposing the officers to real-life situations and grading their reactions.
The written portion, which was the subject of scrutiny, accounts for 40 of an officer's final score and is graded in front of all test takers.
Riggle scored a 94 on the written portion, but achieved a 100 with the addition of 6 extra points for his years of service, Ms. Ray said.
A score of greater than 100 is common, Ms. Ray said.
The candidate with the top combined score is given the promotion, by law, Ms. Ray said.
Ninety days prior to the test date, the police department is required to post a list of study materials that the questions on the written exam will be pulled from. It includes things like the Texas Penal Code as well as policies and procedures of the department, among other materials.
“After I do that, we send it off to vendor to make the test,” Ms. Ray said. “From there, they generate it, completely. We just tell them what source book to use.”
The vendor then sends the city a list of sample questions to review and offer feedback before the firm releases a final, sealed test.
In previous years, the review process was done entirely by the city’s human resources department, but there was a high occurrence of officers contesting questions, so the Civil Service board approved allowing a high-ranking official to have input on the sample questions. The vendor creates a bank of test questions.
Following the complaint, Ms. Ray said the city’s human resources department will no longer look to Tyler Police Department officials to help review sample test questions. The city’s human resources department will handle it all for future tests.
“It’s so important to me that the fire and police officers feel comfortable with the process,” Ms. Ray said, adding no wrongdoing was found in the independent investigation.
Members of the force also no longer will be involved in approving the contract with the test vendors.
After input from the city on questions, the third-party company creates a final test.
“We have no say so on the actual test,” Ms. Ray said. “The test goes to me and it’s sealed.”
Ms. Ray said she breaks the seal, counts to make sure she has enough tests and locks them up until the day of the exam.
“It’s not kept at the police department, it’s kept at City Hall,” she said.
Ms. Ray said she doesn’t read the tests before they are administered, and any misleading or poorly worded questions can be contested by the applicants to the Civil Service Board.
After the test, copies are destroyed, she said.