Lawmaker questions handling of state police cheating scandal

Written by Marc Levy, Associated Press | Mar 8, 2017 3:56 PM

Photo by AP Photo/David Goldman

(Harrisburg) -- A senior state lawmaker on Wednesday questioned the handling of a cheating scandal at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and said he wanted an independent review into the dismissal of some cadets.

Representative Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland, raised the matter with state police brass during a House Appropriations Committee hearing, about a month after the state inspector general's office reported cadets had received test answers in advance from academy instructors, troopers and cadets from more senior classes.

In his comments to Commissioner Tyree Blocker, Petrarca said dismissed cadets believe they were punished for something they had been encouraged to do, looking at study guides from other cadet classes.

Petrarca, the ranking Democrat on the House committee that handles state police matters, said dismissed cadets believe that fellow cadets who ultimately graduated and became troopers did the same thing.

Former cadets had their lifelong dream of becoming a trooper taken from them, and "they certainly object to the way that was done," Petrarca told Blocker.

Blocker did not answer Petrarca during the hearing. In an interview afterward, Blocker said graduated cadets did not do the same things as cadets who were dismissed.

"My fundamental principle is cadets that resigned resigned of their free will and volition," Blocker said. "Those that were dismissed were dismissed for cause."

On the idea of an independent review, Blocker said, "we can certainly have some broader discussions regarding that."

Petrarca did not say what sort of agency or organization could provide the review. But, he said, he wanted to meet with Blocker about it.

With about 6,000 uniformed and civilian personnel, the Pennsylvania State Police is one of the nation's largest law enforcement agencies.

More than 40 cadets from the academy's 144th class, which began in September 2015 and was due to graduate in March 2016, were dismissed or resigned. No instructor, trooper or cadet from another class was dismissed, Blocker has said.

In its report, the inspector general's office showed the state police cited 16 dismissed cadets for interfering with an investigation. Fifteen were cited for providing false information. Many of the cadets categorized as resigned were cited for both violations, as well.

The state police began an internal investigation after an academy staff member found a folded, handwritten piece of paper in a hallway in December 2015 that was determined to be a cheat sheet containing 20 answers on a traffic law test, according to the inspector general's office. Blocker later invited the investigation by the inspector general, which investigates complaints about fraud, waste and misconduct in state agencies.

In its Feb. 3 report, the inspector general's office said providing answers to cadets in advance had become commonplace.

Nearly all members of the 144th class who were interviewed -- 51 of 57 -- said instructors, troopers or academy staff provided test answers or study guides that mirrored a test. Nearly all said prior classes received similar information. Test content did not change, sometimes for years.

The state police field guide says members should not "furnish" test answers, but the academy lacked additional guidelines or an instructors' manual that outlined what type of information could be provided to cadets in advance, the report said.

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