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 gets.
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
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
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
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 points.
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.
federal managers are
about to find out what
it's like to be free
from the constraints
of civil service rules."
|A return to the "Spoils System" is well underway...
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.
Civil Service, and its protections, is under assault from the top down. The Article,
"Unshackled," to which I've provided you a link to the left, provides an excellent description of
what's happening. The writer does a good job of setting forth the details in an unbiased manner.
However, once politicians have a shot at complicating an uncomplicated issue, even the most
talented writer is challenged to describe their convoluted reasoning.
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. I love the part of the article that talks about a system where 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 you."
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
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.
|History of the
Federal Civil Service
Civil Service Act of
Civil Service Reform
Act of 1978
1789 to 1883
The Merit System is
1883 to 1938
The First Fifty-five
1938 to 1958
The Beginning of
1958 to 1977
From Administration to
1977 to 1979
The Second Civil
1979 to Present
Gains, Losses, and
A large majority of
including police and
fire, are filled through
the competitive civil
service exam process.
Here you will find
designed to give you a
tactical and strategic
advantage during the
civil service exam
process. We provide
on the civil service
exam process for both
hiring and promotion.
|Copyright © 2006 - 2014 - Barry M. Baker - CareerPoliceOfficer.com
|CareerPoliceOfficer.com is not responsible for the contents of any linked site or any link contained in a linked site,
or any changes or updates to such sites. Links are provided only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any link
does not imply endorsement by this site.
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?