You really can't expect politicians to
appreciate civil service.  True, politicians
passed the laws to create civil service, but
they had little choice.  When public service
corruption reaches an intolerable level, even
politicians have to do the right a

In chapter six of my book, I mention the
weight of civil service examinations. Let's
look at a couple of ways civil service
examinations can be administered by your
police department.  In the first example, we
have a written examination which consists of
70% of your final score.  The written
examination consists solely of multiple
choice questions that measures what you
know and what you don't know.  Some
people ridicule multiple choice testing,
because such questions leave no room for
other points of view.  Sorry, an objective
examination is not looking for your
subjective point of view.

Okay, you've taken your written
examination for police sergeant, and you've
scored well.  As a matter of fact, you're
number 20 out of the top 100 candidates who
made the cut.  Now, you're on your way to
the oral interview.  You'll have three people
interviewing you.  The three interviewers
are all police officers of various higher
ranks from police departments outside your
jurisdiction.  They may introduce themselves
by name and rank, or they may not.  You will
not introduce yourself, because these people
aren't suppose to know your name.  Any oral
interview is tough, but this is as good as it

This time, when you take the test, you score
the same position of 20 out of 100 on the
written examination.  But, this time, the
written portion of the test is only worth 30%
of your final score.  This time, your
interviewers for the oral examination are all
higher ranking police officers from within
your own police department.  There's no
need for them to introduce themselves,
because you already know them.  They may,
or may not, know you; however, your
concern should be how many of the other 99
candidates they do know.

You see, the politician's idea of a merit
promotion is best accomplished under the
second example.  Politicians, and those
police officers, who move into the politically
appointed higher ranks of police
departments have unflinching faith in their
own subjective judgements.  Sure, they'll
claim to be objective, but could you really
believe them?  The truth is, people
frequently need help with objectivity.  
Whenever a process can be implemented to
ensure maximum objectivity, it's a good
Manipulation is the Goal
If I had my way, every police promotional
examination would consist entirely of a
written examination.  The questions would
be multiple choice, and the wrong answers
would not be too obvious.  There would be a
lot more than a hundred, or so, questions.  
Five hundred questions would be the
minimum, and they'd cover every area of
knowledge applicable to the position.

Talk about a level playing field.  Of course,
those who always talk about the level
playing field would be those howling the
loudest if anyone tried to implement such a
comprehensive written examination without
any accompanying process more prone to

When I first took the examination for police
sergeant, the written portion consisted of
50%; the oral interview was 30%, and you
could receive a maximum of 5 percentage
points for seniority.  The remaining 15
percentage points came in the form of a
commander's rating.  The top eighty (80)
candidates from the written test would go on
to compete under the additional criteria.

As then, most departments now permit
police officers to take the police sergeant's
promotional examination after three (3)
years of service.  Under this system, the
three year police officer would immediately
lose two percentage points; a four year
police officer one point.  At the five year
mark you'd get your five free points.  The
seniority part could be overcome if one did
exceptionally well on the written and oral
portions of the examination.  The first to last
candidate on the final list was rarely
separated by more than 3 percentage
points.  The last thing to come was the
commander's rating.  What a crock.  Your
Commander had the ability to sink you by
simply rating you as excellent with 14 points
as apposed to outstanding with the full 15

Now, think about this for a moment.  If a
written examination determines who will go
on to all the other hoops a process has to
negotiate, why not just expand the written
portion to further identify those who are the
most qualified for promotion.  After all,
what's so bad about having police officers in
leadership positions who actually have the
knowledge to do the job.  The tried and tired
response to that is, and always will be, some
police officers are just good test takers
while others aren't.

The true response is that promotions in a
police department is a very big deal, and
competitive examinations for promotions are
okay as long as there's a way to manipulate
the outcome…the more room for
manipulation the better.  The simple fact is
it's all about power and consolidation of
power.  It's okay if a police officer promoted
has knowledge, but it's more important for
that police officer to be known, and
acceptable, to those in power.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I can say that
promotion to police sergeant should require
a minimum of ten years experience as a
patrol officer.  You don't have to worry
about that ever happening, because
seniority as a requirement, or benefit, for
anything is dead and gone.  Any person, in
any organization, who moves up rapidly,
faces difficulties supervising people with
more work experience.  In police work,
those difficulties are vast and varied and
magnified under real crisis situations.

At this point, you simply can't appreciate
how many ways you can get into trouble.  As
a police supervisor with minimal work
experience those ways are only multiplied
by the number of police officers under your
supervision.  You're already at some
disadvantage since you'll be entering a
police work force loaded with young police
supervisors with limited experience, and that
youth and limited experience even extends
into the highest ranks of many departments.  
Power and patronage can be just as corrupt
when practiced by young leaders as well as
by older ones.  It's just that the older ones
are more experienced at keeping corrupt
practices under control.
Look... I know the last thing on your mind
right now is how bureaucratic corruption will
affect your police career.  But, at some point
in your police career, you'll probably
become a victim of that corruption, and
you'll wonder why you didn't see it coming.
Politicians would like to convince everyone
that civil service is the reason why things
are screwed up at every level of
government.  They ignore the years of
continual dilution and manipulation of civil
service by corrupt and politically motivated
practices as the real reasons for
incompetence and inefficiency within the
systems of government.
Instead of calling for a strengthening of civil
service rules based on real measures of
merit, their goal is the total elimination of
competitive competition in favor of their
superior subjective evaluations of people.
If you think it's difficult now being hired as a
police officer, imagine what your chances
would be like under a totally, or near total,
subjective process.  In one system
suggested, you'd be classified as
"unqualified," "qualified," highly qualified,"
"most qualified."  Do these terms sound
familiar?  United States Supreme Court
Justice nominees receive similar ratings
from the American Bar Association.  But, of
course, everybody knows that politics has
nothing to do with those ratings.
What a joke; although, funny it's not.  
"Unqualified" is obvious to any idiot.  
"Qualified" and "highly qualified" are
superfluous and useless terms since "most
qualified" is obviously the only term that
counts.  Of course, you do need a couple of
"feel good" categories to put everyone who
never had a shot in the first place.
This is a true story...
A police sergeant was awaiting his
promotion to lieutenant.  His position on the
final scored civil service list ensured his
elevation on the first round of promotions.  
However, the police chief had the
authorization to skip a certain number of
people for promotion, and the sergeant
found himself to be a victim of the chief's
arbitrary and capricious use of a power for
which he wasn't even required to provide an
The sergeant requested a meeting with the
chief.  To the sergeant's surprise, and the
chief's credit, the chief accepted the
sergeant's request.  The sergeant had
prepared extensive documentation detailing
his qualifications for promotion which he
presented to the chief.  The chief did a
perfunctory review of the documentation
feigning interest; after which, the sergeant
simply ask the chief, "Why did you skip me
for promotion?"  Although the sergeant was
seated, he nearly fell from his chair when
the chief answered, "Nobody spoke up for
It took a few seconds for the sergeant to
verify to himself he'd heard the chief
correctly.  The sergeant then ask, "Who is
nobody?"  The chief went on to explain his
process; wherein, his colonels made the
determination who would be skipped for
promotion.  The sergeant then ask, "Who
spoke against me?"  This time the sergeant
was firmly seated in his chair when the chief
replied that no one had spoken against him.
The sergeant, remaining calm and
respectful, stated his disbelief of a process
wherein a person is "blackballed through
silence."  The chief, taking on the tone a
"Dutch Uncle" said, "Look, Sarge, you've
got to understand that everyone that high on
the list is equal."  The sergeant couldn't
believe the unadulterated nonsense he was
hearing.  However, the sergeant
theoretically accepted the chief's premise
that everyone was equal.  The sergeant then
pointed out that the mathematical ranking of
candidates, provided by the Civil Service
Commission, ensured fairness to all of the
"equally qualified" candidates.
Needless to say, that chief never again met
with anyone he would skip for promotion.  
This instance demonstrates what little
protection already exists for fair and
qualified advancement even under civil
service.  The simple truth, in this instance, is
that there were a finite number of lieutenant
positions available, and friends, or friends of
friends of the colonels were farther down on
the list.  
You'll soon learn that corruption comes in a
variety of forms.  Some forms are obvious
while others are subtle and cloaked in
altruistic rhetoric.  I cringe when I hear a
politician attempt to weaken a civil service
process by saying that merit should be given
more consideration than a civil service
examination.  What does that politician think
a civil service examination is based on?
"I know the last thing on your mind
right now is how bureaucratic
corruption will affect your police
career.  But, at some point in your
police career, you'll probably become a
victim of that corruption, and you'll
wonder why you didn't see it coming."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2015  Barry M. Baker
Police and