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 thing...to a point.

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 thing.
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 manipulation.

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

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
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
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 explanation.
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
Police and
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker