Study guide has verbatim questions from police test

CALL7 Investigation Questions Validity Of Exams

DENVER - Colorado police certification tests have been compromised because many test questions and answers are readily available in a $75 study guide sold by the former curriculum committee chairman, a CALL7 Investigation found.

Philip Baca, the person selling the study guide, was on the P.O.S.T. (Peace Officers Standards and Training board) curriculum committee for years. The committee oversees testing and education, including approval of all test questions, CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia learned.

Baca, the former Commerce City police chief, sells the study guide, known colloquially as the “Baca Book” on his website and at least one community college book store. He claims he never reviewed the P.O.S.T. database of test questions but did give the board many questions for that state test -- questions he had created for his study guide.

The fact that the questions are readily available raises concerns about the qualifications of hundreds of officers certified with the test, former P.O.S.T employee said.

“When I found out that, A, the book actually existed and, B, that yes there were identical verbatim questions, I was stunned,” said Karen Duffala, who recently left a job as deputy director of the P.O.S.T board.

“The test was compromised?” Ferrugia asked.

“The test was compromised,” Duffala said.

“And had been for years?” Ferrugia asked.

“Apparently had been for a number of years,” she said.

Baca said he came up with the questions for his guide and the P.O.S.T. board asked him for questions for the certification test. But Baca confirmed that he was chairman of the P.O.S.T. committee that oversaw education and testing for police officers.

“I wrote that,” Baca told Ferrugia. “Those are my questions and the state uses them, and I can tell you that exactly. And they use those questions because they had no other questions and when they ask for our questions I said, 'OK.'”

“You know they're on the test?” Ferrugia asked Baca outside the Denver police academy, where he teaches.

“Yeah, I know they're on the test,” Baca said.

“How do you know they're on the test?” Ferrugia asked.

“They told me they were on the test,” he said.

And our investigation found that the popularity of his study guide is based on the questions contained in the “practice tests”.

Julie Carleen Johnson-Garcia, administered the tests for the P.O.S.T. board, until last year when she was charged with a felony for releasing the test to two officers and lying about it. Garcia says there were a shortage of tests and that she was simply trying insure that officers in a local department would not have to wait to take the test. She admits that was a mistake, but she denies she lied about the release.

And unlike Baca, she did not profit from making test questions public. Garcia said she brought the fact that the Baca Book contains test answers to her supervisor.

“Ever since I started administering the exam, scores were high, very few failures,” she said. “In fact, beginning in 2011, we had individuals who were scoring 100 percent on the first time.”

Garcia said in one group of 48 officers 46 used the Baca study guide and passed while the other two failed. She found more than 61 questions and answers in the Baca Book that are actual test questions.

But when Garcia initially brought up the compromised exam, her boss cautioned that there might be repercussions for questioning the test.

“My supervisor, she was in shock,” Garcia said. “And she told me that I basically needed to stay out of this because it was going to be very political. It has to do with the chief of police and the attorney general's office and it appears that our test database questions are compromised. Nothing is valid.”

Garcia was told to do an investigation of testing but not to tell anyone. When she completed her investigation, she presented it to her boss and a member of Suthers’ office.

“What did they say?” Ferrugia asked.

“'Thank you very much, that was an excellent report,'” Garcia said. “'We're taking it on to the attorney general.'”

Baca also said Suthers should explain what is being done about the compromised tests.

“If these questions are on the test and they're verbatim, how can this be a valid test?” Ferrugia asked.

“That's a question you'd have to ask the AG's office or P.O.S.T.,” Baca said.

Phil Baca resigned from the curriculum committee in January but says it was unrelated to the internal investigation of the testing program.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, whose officer oversees the P.O.S.T. board, declined, through a spokesman, to comment.

Recently the state has selected an outside company to conduct the P.O.S.T. certification exam, but Suthers has never disclosed that the current test was compromised. Suthers has also now required all committee members sign a non-disclosure statement for all P.O.S.T. materials.