Minority Challenging of Civil Service

Last month Judge George O’Toole heard closing arguments in a federal lawsuit brought by 44 minorities against the Massachusetts civil service commission for what it described as discriminatory practices in using a multiple choice test for promotional purposes.

The crux of their argument lies in the fact that they argued that the multiple choice exam is by its very nature discriminatory as minorities have historically done poorly on those types of exams.

Most of the state is waiting for the judges ruling as the future of the Civil service system is essentially hanging in the balance. Recently, however the Boston Herald reported on the case and I take issue with two matters they reported. They challenge the Civil service System as flawed due in part because of the preference it gives to #1 veterans, and #2 to the children of slain officers in the line of duty. To attack those who either 1. served this country in its time of need, or 2. those children left without a parent because of their service is irresponsible, heartless, and disrespectful. The veterans preference in my humble opinion comes from a number of avenues. It is rooted in both pragmatism, and gratitude from a grateful nation. Their military regimented background establishes an excellent foundation to grow into paramilitary organizations such as police departments. They receive training in high stress decision making, and are versed in communication technologies as well as various other training that can be found invaluable. That is the pragmatic view, from a personal viewpoint they sacrifice on battlefields, and endure 6 month  or year long deployments away from their family, all for below poverty level wages.

The preference given to them is not some new development that is hidden from the bulk of society, it is a known fact and every high school student makes a choice related to. Does that person as an 18 year old high school grad want to be separated from their family and friends, thrown into a high stress environmental of boot camp, endure 20 hour days for the next 4 years of their life while in some cases quite literally fighting for their lives? Or does that 18 year old choose college (if they can afford it)? The point is that someone has to do it, and to treat a measure of thanks with such disdain as the “herald editorial staff” does is a slap in the face.

As for the children of slain police officers? I challenge anyone to look in the eyes of a child standing at their parents funeral and tell them as the herald does that we owe them nothing. Does anyone with that opinion really think the doors are being knocked down by a herd of “entitled” children of slain officers looking for a handout?

Most children of slain officers spend the rest of their lives trying to understand why their parent will never come home and part of that search may lead them to walk the same path as the person who was pulled from their lives. I don’t believe I have either the credentials or the gall to tell them they are not allowed to do that.

Many detractors of the civil service system have an axe to grind. Either they did not score high enough, or they “know someone” that promised them a job “if not for civil service” and its silly rules about hiring based on merit not connections. The system isn’t perfect, but to steal a phrase from Winston Churchill – “it is the worst in the entire world…., except all others”. Quite simply, it is all we have. The essence of it is to protect against patronage (hello probation department and parole board) and ensure an independant politically insulated police department that does not care if you are the selectmans daughter or the daughter of a plumber (with all due respect to them), they will treat you the same. Any other result is simply unacceptable. We shouldn’t forget that in 1883, then New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt pushed a bill through that established a civil service system that dictated government hiring that was based on merit and fitness, not on favoritism and patronage, which to that time had been the norm under a succession of governors and mayors.

I hope that whatever ruling Judge O’Toole reaches and writes will bear those basic principles and concepts in mind.

Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

About Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

Ronald A. Sellon is a licensed Attorney in the state of Massachusetts and U.S. District Court, Massachusetts as well as a Sergeant with a Municipal Police Department and U.S. military Veteran. Additionally, he has taught Criminal Procedure at the Massachusetts State Police Academy in New Braintree and has written a text on Criminal Procedure for police field training officer programs. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, was a 2008 recipient of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass C.O.P.) Presidents award and holds a Bachelors Degree in Law Enforcement, a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Juris Doctor Law Degree. Questions related to content material may be directed to RSellon@PoliceLegalPromotions.com
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2 Responses to Minority Challenging of Civil Service

  1. Charles Brace says:

    I must strongly disagree to your posted comments at least in part. With regard to preference (1) Military – While I will agree that those who serve deserve our appreciation, it shows in the benefits that we extend to them (housing, retirement, medical, ect.) these are good things that most would agree upon. Should a person get these perks in getting there jobs and ALSO in promotions. I would say yes to the former but not the latter. If you want to be fair with regards to armed services then those who served as National Guards and Reserves should be afford those same “perks” because they served to. Unfortunately, they don’t get that in many eyes they are considered NOT REAL MILITARY even though they are trained the same and are subject to call up. There is an remains a dirty little secret with regards that comparison. Give the same benefit for those in Reserves/Guards as well as Full time service or at least some comparable. But to say they should be treated the same as those who never even enlisted is at the very least dubious. (2)Children of Slain Officers wishing to go into service should receive some benefit for initial joining but no considerations should be given toward promotions. Fairness is choosing the best not catering to emotional dogma. As far as the Minority Issue and fairness of the test is concerned, YES there does need to be a change to the testing methodology, use of Acessment Centers seems to be a trend worth exploring, since this last test proved that Multiple Choice tests merely go to the best memory on that given day, not the best person for position. I believe the Judge would be right in striking down Civil Service on this point because a multiple choice test cannot possible test ability, merely memory. (Most of which can be obtained by looking up the answers, heck even Judges and Lawyers do that!) On the street it more procedural and application of known laws that matters, ability to communicate, commonsense, ability to write and understand social norms NONE of these skills are found in a multiple choice test. The current system keeps Chiefs of Police from select the most fit and able opposed to the highest scoring candidate. (Reform, Reform, REFORM!)

  2. shaun santos says:

    Excellent pointed argument. As a police officer and attorney I appreciate your writings and posts. Keep up the good work. And for all of those who wish to get rid of Civil Service, be careful of what you wish for!

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