HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A report detailing widespread wrongdoing at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy has been released by the Office of Inspector General.
State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker ordered the investigation after a cheat sheet was discovered at the academy in Derry Township in 2015. Allegations of cheating in the 144th cadet class were first reported by ABC27 in February 2016.
The discovery led to an internal investigation. Dozens of cadets were dismissed and many others left voluntarily. Blocker then asked the inspector general’s office for an outside review.
“It was really important for the public and others to see that this report lays out some real institutional problems,” Inspector General Bruce Beemer said.
The OIG report concluded that cheating at the academy did occur. Furthermore, investigators said the academy atmosphere did not prevent cheating and in many ways provided an avenue for cadets to cheat, including sharing of notes and study guides between multiple cadet classes. Instructors are also accused of not changing test questions on exams from class to class and year to year.
Investigators said the academy, up to the 144th cadet class, had an “evolved culture” of sharing study guides, notes and other sources of cheating. They found that some instructors provided answers to cadets in review sessions before tests.
“We do know that that was going on for a decade or more and we know that because we asked to see and review 15 years worth of tests,” Beemer said.
The report did not determine if any particular cadet was wrongfully terminated.
Investigators also found the length of the academy’s Emergency Medical Response curriculum is not adequate under American Red Cross standards.
The investigation included interviews with a total of 57 cadets from the 144th class; 38 who resigned or were dismissed as a result of the cheating investigation, one who resigned but was not implicated, and 18 randomly selected cadets who had successfully graduated.
Eighteen former and current instructors were also interviewed.
The Office of Inspector General said the scandal unfolded when an academy staff member found a folded, handwritten paper in an academy hallways that was later determined to be a “cheat sheet” for a traffic examination.
“The paper appeared to contain all 20 ‘lookup’ answers from the examination and additional handwritten information,” the report said.
Cadets were asked to provide information about the paper that was found. When none came forward, the Internal Affairs Division was notified. During its investigation, the academy was arranged into two platoons of cadets; those suspected of cheating and those not suspected.
The report details a culture at the academy where previous classes would pass down study guides, highlighted notes, and flashcards that helped with exams. Some of the study guides were alleged to have been created with an instructor’s assistance.
The report said 12 of 18 graduated cadets reported that “academy instructors, troopers or academy staff provided them with direct test answers or with study guides that specifically mirrored an academy examination.”
Furthermore, the OIG concluded that 49 of 57 cadets interviewed told investigators that instructors provided direct questions and/or answers to the Emergency Medical Response Examination during the test review.
One cadet, identified as 83, told the OIG that he or she “lacked instruction concerning emergency medical response and said that he or she could not properly render first aid to a victim if he or she were the first to arrive on the scene.”
Cadet “91” said that instructors would actually pull out exams and read the questions, saying “make sure you know this.”
Investigators said that several instructors admitted to providing direct examination answers to cadets, such as “number 6 is D.” One admitted to doing so immediately before an exam. Another admitted to doing so immediately before a test if there were “questions historically missed by many cadets.”
It was also the OIG’s finding that the academy has not frequently changed questions or answers on traffic law, criminal law and final cadet examinations. They said their findings conflict with statements Pennsylvania State Police leaders made to the media in the wake of the cheating scandal that tests are “in fact changed.”
“This situation here was more a matter of complacency on the department, and I take full responsibility as the commissioner for that,” Blocker said.
Since the cheating incident, investigators said Pennsylvania State Police has made changes to the academy’s academic processes. The report outlined several recommendations made to the academy, including a computer-based testing system and prohibiting instructors from providing exam questions and/or answers to cadets. The report also recommended term limits from all academy instructors, including current instructors. In addition, investigators said Pennsylvania State Police should consider making it possible for a cadet to anonymously report academy staff to the Internal Affairs division.
In response to the report, Pennsylvania State Police responded that they had already implemented “considerable improvements”. Furthermore, they said although they believe “the integrity of cadets in the academy program should far exceed the norm, we do recognize substantial steps are needed to eliminate future cheating incidents such as those that occurred in the 144th cadet class.”
“I don’t believe [the report] has diminished the respect that the public has for the state police,” Blocker said. “We will be a much better police agency for having gone through this review.”
Officials said they would take all of the OIG’s recommendations under consideration.