The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis is definitely a tragedy, and a situation deplored by virtually every police officer in the country. Unfortunately, the situation is being exploited by politicians everywhere, and Lima is no exception.
Mayor David Berger’s request to eliminate the “Rule of Ten” now used by the civil service board, is just another attempt to politicize public hiring, which is a giant step backwards.
The civil service system began over a thousand years ago in China as an attempt by the Emperor to obtain the most qualified people to fill government positions. It finally reached the United States in the 1800s, when instituted by the federal government for that same reason, plus solving another valid concern — the retention of those qualified people during the frequent changes of administration.
The civil service system eliminated a spoils system where nearly all positions were filled by political hacks with ties to the new administration. In the process, numerous jobs at the top were left as political plums to be appointed by the new administration, and only lower paying “bureaucrat” jobs were civil service. The political appointments at the top easily explain the chaos that seems to be a constant at the top levels of our government.
The system gradually worked its way down to local governments, and many states and cities have used it for years, including Lima. A crack in that local system occurred just a few years ago when Berger succeeded in changing the long-standing rule of three to the now used rule of 10. Now he wants to eliminate that rule also.
To clarify for people not acquainted with civil service practices, the rule of three simply meant that after a competitive examination, the three people who scored the highest were considered for the position, and the city could pick any one of three. Then the fourth person moved up a notch, and one of three was selected for the next opening. Once a person had been passed over three times, his or her name was dropped from the list, enabling the elimination of someone with a negative factor in their background that did not surface in the initial process.
Changing to a rule of 10 enabled the hiring of people who did not score so well on the list, which is questionable since the purpose of the whole system is to provide the best utilization of taxpayer funds and hire the best possible candidates — not just someone who fits the mold desired by the administration.
Eliminating the rule of 10 simply means that anyone who gets the lowest possible passing grade could be hired first, bypassing candidates who are much more qualified. This is particularly troublesome in the hiring of police officers, since many of the officer candidates being hired today have spent years in preparation, including obtaining education ranging from two-year associate degrees all the way up to post-graduate degrees in order to increase their chances of being hired. Changing the system could easily eliminate them from the process in favor of political considerations.
One reason for low morale in many police agencies today, is constant meddling in their operations by politicians who know basically nothing about police work, and whose every move is manipulated by political concerns — about which most police officers could not possibly care any less. Their only concern is doing the job for which they were hired to the best of their ability, and that’s hard enough without political interference.
If the mayor wants more minority hiring in the police department, his best alternative is to find a way to convince the many well-qualified people in the minority community that policing is a necessary function, a job that can be both rewarding and satisfying, and that they are truly wanted and needed in police positions.
Lowering expectations only results in a less than acceptable outcome.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.