Psych firm that screens Baltimore cops under review

Author: Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) – A psychological firm paid to evaluate troubled Baltimore police, including a lieutenant charged in the killing of Freddie Gray, is under investigation by the city and has been put on probation by the state police for cutting corners in its mental health screenings of officers.

The Maryland State Police took action against Psychology Consultants Associated in June after an investigation showed the firm’s president, psychologist Kenneth Sachs, and his employees and contractors were completing evaluations of officers’ mental stability in 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes required by the state contract, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Experts say 15 minutes is far too short to adequately conduct psychological assessments, either for police applicants or officers seeking to return to active duty.

Baltimore’s law department and inspector general are also investigating the firm’s assessments of city police officers, said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the city.

“Both are looking into allegations that have been made against PCA, and looking at whether they are fulfilling their contractual obligations,” he said.

Harris said PCA is the department’s sole contractor for psychological evaluations of officers. The contract is still active and will remain in place “pending the conclusion of the investigation,” he said.

As part of his contract with the Baltimore City Police Department, Sachs assessed the mental health and fitness for duty of officers who were removed from active duty due to psychological problems.

That should have included Lt. Brian Rice, who was hospitalized in April 2012 and had his guns confiscated by Carroll County sheriff’s deputies. Court records and the sheriff’s reports raised concerns about Rice’s self-control and judgment. Rice was accused in June 2012 of removing a semi-automatic handgun from the trunk of his personal vehicle and threatening the mother of his child.

Michael A. Wood, a retired Baltimore police sergeant who said he wrote the department’s medical policy, said Rice “absolutely would have had a fitness for duty evaluation, and would have been referred to PCA. It would have been required.”

In May, Rice was charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office in Gray’s death from injuries suffered while in police custody. Five other officers were also charged in connection with Gray’s death, which prompted mass protests, as well as looting and rioting.

Baltimore Police declined to answer any questions about PCA, referring all queries to City Hall.

In the past five years, PCA has held contracts with at least 17 Maryland law enforcement agencies, including the Baltimore City Schools Police, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department, the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

State police documents turned over to AP through a public information request show that the state police placed Sachs and PCA on probation June 10 after determining the firm spent 15 minutes evaluating the mental health of officers seeking to return to active duty, and of police academy applicants.

“After receiving a complaint that the vendor was not providing the required 45 minute clinical interview, the Human Resources Division investigated and determined that PCA/Dr. Sachs was not meeting this contract requirement,” reads a June 10 performance report from the state police. The report said a “tracking and audit mechanism” was developed and PCA was placed on probation.

The complaint came from psychologist Tali Shokek, whom Sachs offered part-time work. In an email she forwarded to city and state agencies, Sachs told her, “it takes me 15-20 minutes to interview and dictate a boilerplate report.”

“You’ll see 3-4 per hour and get paid $50 each,” Sachs wrote to Shokek.

Richard Berger, a lawyer for Sachs, denied the allegations.

Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Sachs and his firm are still on probation and being monitored to ensure the contract requirements are being met. Sachs still holds an active contract with the agency.

Jack Leeb, a psychologist whose firm performs psychological assessments for 30 law enforcement agencies in Maryland said screenings typically take him at least 40 minutes.

“If you have a young person with no significant issues, he’s never been arrested or done drugs – those types of things – if the answers are no, no, no, no, the interview could take as little as 20 minutes,” Leeb said. “But that’s just the interview. To dictate the report, that takes between 10 and 15 minutes by itself. In a really clean case it would take 35 minutes, and that would be on the low side. But 15 minutes for the whole thing? They can’t possibly be asking all the questions.”

Dr. Lewis Schlosser, a police psychologist with the Institute for Forensic Psychology, said his pre-employment screening interviews take roughly 30 minutes. However, a fitness for duty assessment for an officer on administrative leave takes between one and two hours.

Philip Deitchman, director of human resources for the Department of Juvenile Services, which also contracted with Sachs’ firm, expressed concern about Sachs in intradepartmental emails obtained by AP.

“This alert does not surprise me,” Deitchman wrote in a June 5 email after a state police official sent him an email saying Sachs was “short cutting the required clinical interview and boiler plating the written results.” Deitchman’s own email mentioned “the lack of in depth reports and the inconsistency of his reports.”

Department of Juvenile Services spokesman Eric Solomon said the agency has not received any complaints about Sachs, and is in the process of renewing its contract with his firm.

Additionally, Sachs and his firm are the subject of a lawsuit involving allegations of shoddy screenings. Baltimore police officer Angeline Todman, who had bipolar disorder, killed herself with her service weapon just five days after Sachs deemed her fit to return to active duty following two involuntary hospitalizations.

Todman had been committed to a hospital due to paranoia, hallucinations and drastic changes in behavior. Four months later she was hospitalized a second time, and upon her release asked to be reinstated. Sachs denied her request, but ultimately found her fit for duty and authorized the return of her service weapon.

Marc Rosen, an attorney representing Todman’s family, said Sachs apparently “had very limited contact” with Todman.

“I see very little time expended with the patient by anyone qualified,” he told AP.

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