ATLANTA – A tip from Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher has led to the discovery of more cheating at Atlanta Public Schools.
This time it involves the district’s police department.
Belcher says APS acknowledges that a quarter of its officers cheated on an important state test.
Police officers and dispatchers are required to take the test every two years to use the state computer system that contains everything from driver’s license information to criminal records.
Belcher began his investigation with a tip involving APS police’s dispatch unit — sleeping on the job.
That department receives, processes and distributes information for officers in the field through radio communication.
The whistleblower provided Belcher with screen-grab pictures from a security camera inside the dispatch room.
They show officers slumped over with their eyes shut and in one picture an officer is face-down at her desk. The tipster said sleeping on duty was common especially on the overnight shift.
After postponing an on-camera interview twice while investigating the allegations, Chief Ronald Applin eventually sat down with Belcher. Applin began the interview by thanking Belcher for bringing the accusations to the school system.
Applin says he investigated the sleeping allegation, but says it was hard to prove because the department doesn’t keep video of the dispatch center for more than three days.
“They were dozing. They were not sleeping. But they are aware that that’s not something that’s acceptable,” Applin told Belcher
But Belcher’s whistleblower brought an even more serious allegation to his attention — officers and dispatchers cheating on a mandatory state test.
“If you’re cheating, you’re violating the law,” Vernon Keenan said.
Keenan, who is the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was speaking about the recertification test the state gives every two years to 100,000 Georgia users of the Criminal Justice Information System.
“Misuse of that network is a crime. So we want the operators, the persons who are going to use the criminal information system network to know what they’re doing and not misuse the system,” Keenan said.
The whistleblower told Belcher screen grabs of the online test started circulating among APS officers as early as last spring.
And that answers were definitely shared improperly.
“It’s not easy to cheat, but it can be done,” Keenan said.
APS says an independent investigator concluded the whistleblower was right: 17 officers improperly received answers from one dispatcher. That’s 25 percent of the entire police force.
All 18 will be disciplined.
The chief says five other officers may require further investigation.
Plus one officer was listed as passing when she says she never took the test.
“I won’t try to get around it or try to come up with another word to make it sound pretty. That’s what it is. It’s cheating,” Applin told Belcher.
“Why someone would cheat, I can’t explain that, but I know it’s a crime,” Keenan said.
Applin says the extent of the cheating surprises him because the test was open-book.
He says it’s possible his officers weren’t fully aware of the requirements governing the testing process but they should have known better.
“These are good officers who have had some positive impact on their schools, on the kids that they work with and they made a decision that I think was not a good decision,” Applin said.
Applin says his officers will now have to take the test on school property with security in the room.
He says he is not seeking a criminal investigation, but internal actions are coming for at least 17 officers and one dispatcher.
Applin says that could include termination.