f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

May 12, 2004

Seniority vs. Meritocracy vs. Nepotism

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 1:57 pm

As I mentioned yesterday, the notion of time and careers has been on my mind.  The issue was triggered last Wednesday, as I sat in Session #2 of my Civilian Police Academy course at the Schenectady Police Department headquarters (first discussed at this weblog here).  


police  Our emcee, Sgt. Patrick W. Morris, was lecturing about School Resource Officers (SROs), who are funded by the federal COPS in Schools Program, and are expected to fulfill a triple role in their assigned school —  enforcing the law, counseling, and teaching.  I was thinking, “doing that job well would take a special personality,” and I asked how the officers were selected for the program.  To my amazement, I was told that all jobs held by patrol officers were filled based on seniority — you bid on the job, and the officer with the longest time in grade would be selected.  The SRO positions were very popular (for one reason, because they were Monday through Friday, day shift). 




  • Unlike tv cop shows, you get to be a detective solely by seniority at the SPD.  Similarly, after promotion to a sergeant or lieutenant (which does take an exam), positions for those officers are chosen by seniority bid.

Even the head and staff of the internal affairs section (the Professional Standards Office) and the Department’s Field Training Officers (FTOs) are chosen by seniority.   As I learned upon doing some research back at home, this concerned the Department of Justice in its recent investigation of Schenectady’s Police Department, because officers with some spotty histories and lack of experienced have ended up in sensitive positions within the SPD.  Thus, the DOJ Report states:


“The PSO has no staff eligibility criteria. Because all positions in the SPD have historically been assigned by seniority, the PSO Lieutenant position has served as a right of passage for a sergeant moving to the rank of lieutenant, as it is generally the first and only available lieutenant position for an officer newly promoted from the rank of sergeant.  The PSO Lieutenant typically transfers out of the position as soon as another lieutenant position is available. In addition, the new PSO Lieutenant generally comes from a position of sergeant in the patrol division and, therefore, may have no investigatory experience or training. The SPD does not provide pre-service or in-service investigative training for PSO officers.”


sleuth  “During our October 2002 tour, we were informed that the command staff and PBA are negotiating the removal of the PSO position from the strict seniority requirement of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In this context, we recommend that the SPD develop eligibility criteria for the PSO position, which includes an evaluation of the applicant’s performance, including complaint and disciplinary histories, if any. Such criteria should ensure that only officers with the highest ethical standards serve as investigators. The SPD should take measures to recruit and train PSO officers, including providing additional incentives to encourage officers to apply to and remain with the PSO.”



“The SPD should develop specific criteria for the selection of [Field Training Officers] from the ranks of qualified personnel. The FTO criteria should reflect a candidate’s experience, disciplinary record, and interpersonal skills consistent with the coach/mentor function of an FTO.  During our October tour, we were encouraged to learn that the command staff and the PBA are negotiating the removal ofthe FTO positions from the strict seniority requirement of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.”


[Editor’s Note:  I don’t believe the recommendations have been successfully implemented, due to the difficulties inherent in collective bargaining with a politically important union.  Enough said.]


Now, my dad was a mail carrier for the USPO, so I knew about bidding on a job, but I shuddered to think about seniority being the tool used to fill positions that take a high degree of skill, discretion, quick thinking, etc.  Prior to law school, I worked at a federal job where the least productive people had been there the longest.  While at the FTC as an attorney, it seemed clear that the percentage of deadwood on a staff was positively correlated with their time at the agency — although that could have been related to an improvement in the pool of incoming lawyers.  (The idea of unionized attorneys scared me silly.)   In my experience, local civil service systems based on seniority also seem to lead, to be diplomatic, to mediocrity.  Caring about public schools, I’ve also watched with interest over the years, the debate over seniority vs. meritocracy for school teachers (as covered, e.g., by Spartacus).





  • Sgt. Morris also informed the class that no performance evaluations take place in the SPD — no annual evals!  When pressed (by me, of course), he noted that no one wanted to put negative stuff down on paper (for one reason, because it’s too easy to get sued).  It appears that the SPD is, however, now working with General Electric experts (we have a few left in town from its heyday as corporate headquarters) to create a performance evaluation tool  We shall see.


In yabutesque style, I voiced concern over seniority as a selection device during the Academy class last week.  Sgt. Morris basicaly replied:  Would you rather have people selected based on who they know or are related to?  By which party they’ve worked for or donated to?  My first reaction was skepticism, but then I thought about how little I trusted the politicos and bureaucrats in this region to fill positions based on merit, and I had to pause.  If you can’t trust that meritocracy will be implemented in good faith and with some precision, is it still preferable to seniority or nepotism?  I certainly don’t know, but your responses would be appreciated.  Life sure is complicated.


-pyj-pyj-pyj-pyj-


Hey, we’re missing our Fool in the Forest this week.  Enough with that insurance stuff, George, the world needs more foolery.

Seniority vs. Meritocracy vs. Nepotism

Filed under: pre-06-2006,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 1:57 pm

As I mentioned yesterday, the notion of time and careers has been on my mind. The issue was triggered last Wednesday, as I sat in Session #2 of my Civilian Police Academy course at the Schenectady Police Department headquarters (first discussed at this weblog here).

police Our emcee, Sgt. Patrick W. Morris, was lecturing about School Resource Officers (SROs), who are funded by the federal COPS in Schools Program, and are expected to fulfill a triple role in their assigned school — enforcing the law, counseling, and teaching. I was thinking, “doing that job well would take a special personality,” and I asked how the officers were selected for the program. To my amazement, I was told that all jobs held by patrol officers were filled based on seniority — you bid on the job, and the officer with the longest time in grade would be selected. The SRO positions were very popular (for one reason, because they were Monday through Friday, day shift).

  • Unlike tv cop shows, you get to be a detective solely by seniority at the SPD. Similarly, after promotion to a sergeant or lieutenant (which does take an exam), positions for those officers are chosen by seniority bid.

Even the head and staff of the internal affairs section (the Professional Standards Office) and the Department’s Field Training Officers (FTOs) are chosen by seniority. As I learned upon doing some research back at home, this concerned the Department of Justice in its recent investigation of Schenectady’s Police Department, because officers with some spotty histories and lack of experienced have ended up in sensitive positions within the SPD. Thus, the DOJ Report states:

“The PSO has no staff eligibility criteria. Because all positions in the SPD have historically been assigned by seniority, the PSO Lieutenant position has served as a right of passage for a sergeant moving to the rank of lieutenant, as it is generally the first and only available lieutenant position for an officer newly promoted from the rank of sergeant. The PSO Lieutenant typically transfers out of the position as soon as another lieutenant position is available. In addition, the new PSO Lieutenant generally comes from a position of sergeant in the patrol division and, therefore, may have no investigatory experience or training. The SPD does not provide pre-service or in-service investigative training for PSO officers.”

sleuth “During our October 2002 tour, we were informed that the command staff and PBA are negotiating the removal of the PSO position from the strict seniority requirement of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In this context, we recommend that the SPD develop eligibility criteria for the PSO position, which includes an evaluation of the applicant’s performance, including complaint and disciplinary histories, if any. Such criteria should ensure that only officers with the highest ethical standards serve as investigators. The SPD should take measures to recruit and train PSO officers, including providing additional incentives to encourage officers to apply to and remain with the PSO.”

“The SPD should develop specific criteria for the selection of [Field Training Officers] from the ranks of qualified personnel. The FTO criteria should reflect a candidate’s experience, disciplinary record, and interpersonal skills consistent with the coach/mentor function of an FTO. During our October tour, we were encouraged to learn that the command staff and the PBA are negotiating the removal ofthe FTO positions from the strict seniority requirement of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

[Editor’s Note: I don’t believe the recommendations have been successfully implemented, due to the difficulties inherent in collective bargaining with a politically important union. Enough said.]

Now, my dad was a mail carrier for the USPO, so I knew about bidding on a job, but I shuddered to think about seniority being the tool used to fill positions that take a high degree of skill, discretion, quick thinking, etc. Prior to law school, I worked at a federal job where the least productive people had been there the longest. While at the FTC as an attorney, it seemed clear that the percentage of deadwood on a staff was positively correlated with their time at the agency — although that could have been related to an improvement in the pool of incoming lawyers. (The idea of unionized attorneys scared me silly.) In my experience, local civil service systems based on seniority also seem to lead, to be diplomatic, to mediocrity. Caring about public schools, I’ve also watched with interest over the years, the debate over seniority vs. meritocracy for school teachers (as covered, e.g., by Spartacus).

  • Sgt. Morris also informed the class that no performance evaluations take place in the SPD — no annual evals! When pressed (by me, of course), he noted that no one wanted to put negative stuff down on paper (for one reason, because it’s too easy to get sued). It appears that the SPD is, however, now working with General Electric experts (we have a few left in town from its heyday as corporate headquarters) to create a performance evaluation tool We shall see.

In yabutesque style, I voiced concern over seniority as a selection device during the Academy class last week. Sgt. Morris basicaly replied: Would you rather have people selected based on who they know or are related to? By which party they’ve worked for or donated to? My first reaction was skepticism, but then I thought about how little I trusted the politicos and bureaucrats in this region to fill positions based on merit, and I had to pause. If you can’t trust that meritocracy will be implemented in good faith and with some precision, is it still preferable to seniority or nepotism? I certainly don’t know, but your responses would be appreciated. Life sure is complicated.

-pyj-pyj-pyj-pyj-

Hey, we’re missing our Fool in the Forest this week. Enough with that insurance stuff, George, the world needs more foolery.

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