Police, fire psychologist ends city contract, says Council treated him unfairly

2018-03-10 | The Buffalo News

March 09--Jay A. Supnick, who conducted psychological exams for men and women hoping to become Buffalo police officers and firefighters, has terminated his contract with the city because he said he was not being treated fairly by the Common Council.

Supnick, who founded Law Enforcement Psychological Associates in Rochester, had been conducting the exams for the city for the last five years. He terminated his contract on Tuesday, the same day the Council unanimously voted to begin a 30-day notice of termination to fire him after complaints from some candidates about racial bias and inappropriate and unethical questions.

"It must be said that I did not resign," Supnick said in a telephone interview Friday morning. "I terminated the city's contract."

Talk of firing Supnick came up at a recent Common Council Civil Service Committee meeting in which about a dozen African-American men and at least one woman sought action. About a half of them spoke about how they all passed physical aptitude tests, the drug tests and the polygraph tests, only to be removed from the eligibility list based on Supnick's recommendation, which they said was a 10- or 15-minute verbal psychological exam.

In addition, some Councilmembers said that they said they felt the psychologist asked the candidates inappropriate questions, such as the number of sexual partners an applicant had or the number of children out of wedlock.

Complaints of racial bias may oust Buffalo's police, fire psychologist

Supnick said Friday, "When allegations like these arise, the psychologist is at a disadvantage to defend him or herself because of the ethical and legal confidentiality obligations to the candidates. The responsibility falls upon the city to act in a fair and impartial manner to investigate the allegations and act accordingly based on the findings of the investigation. Buffalo's Common Council has not lived up to its obligations. Instead it has taken the word of these candidates without consulting me or getting my side of the story. In fact, the Council Members made an active decision not to have me come before them to present the facts."

"The Council did not even ask why these six candidates were not recommended, the implication being that they were not recommended due to bias," Supnick said. He added that it is his understanding that the Brown administration has said there is no evidence of racial bias in the hiring process.

Mayor Byron W. Brown declined comment.

University District Councilmember Rasheed N.C. Wyatt disputed that claim. He said Councilmembers began receiving complaints from candidates five years ago when the Common Council approved Supnick's contract and met with Supnick then about the very same issues that the candidates brought up recently.

"We could not continue on with this psychologist with the feedback we were getting from so many candidates," said Wyatt, chairman of the Council's Civil Service Committee. "We heard from (Supnick) in the beginning when the city first contracted with him, and we got wind of some concerns and me met with him. We had conversations with him, and we were somewhat shocked by his positions."

Supnick also said Friday that according to Commissioner of Human Resources Gladys Herndon-Hill, "the Common Council has no power to fire me or terminate my contract. That power is held by the ... mayor's office and the commissioner of Human Resources."

Wyatt said he was not aware of that but he's doesn't know why the Common Council would not have that power.

"We approved the contract. Why wouldn't we be able to dismiss him?" Wyatt asked.

Ultimately, Supnick said he terminated his contract with Buffalo because he could not work under such conditions.

"The Common Council has been unfair and insulting to me and my profession, and it is pandering to its constituents ... at the expense of the City of Buffalo as a whole and it undermines the entire hiring process," he said. "In the end the city can hire whomever it wants, I will just not be a party to it."