Transparency. Trust. Integrity. Fairness. These are the words you will see in “reform” reports such as the SFPD 2016 Collaborative Reform Initiative (CRI) and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Words that are meant to be cornerstones of a foundation to build change. Would you believe that those same words are also supposed to be applied to how rank-and-file officers are treated by their command staffs and oversight bodies?
Why would you? The sole public focus has been on how officers interact with the community, while completely ignoring the fact that good policing starts with good morale. And morale can quickly go sour if transparency and fairness are thrown overboard in favor of secrecy and favoritism. That’s exactly what is happening with our Department’s promotional process.
The promotional process can always be emotional and at times controversial. The POA has always supported rank order promotions. Prior to Chiefs Scott’s arrival, the department stayed relatively close to the testing results. Skipping around occasionally occurred, typically towards the expiration of the list.
The most recent round of lieutenant and sergeant promotions has created heightened concern and division throughout the department. Unfortunately, this is not new. To date, 24 Lieutenants and 59 Sergeants have been skipped without any real explanation as to why. Candidates who scored in the 90th percentile are being passed over for unknown reasons. No explanations are offered. Thank you, try again.
The CRI report addresses this issue specifically. Recommendation 91.1: “The SFPD should increase the level of transparency of the promotion process and should clearly outline the qualifications required to advance for promotion.” Recommendation 91.2: “The SFPD should consider providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates for promotion as a means of advancing institutional knowledge and performance improvement.”
Every day, our officers are reminded to be objective, fair, equitable and transparent. Yet, the Department effectively thumbs its nose at those values when interacting with its employees. Where’s the accountability?
It’s said you can judge an organization’s values based on where it places its priorities. So, what is the priority assigned to the recommendations above? “Low” and “Medium” according to the Department’s response to the CRI. What’s a high priority? Making the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report required reading before you can promote. That’s not a joke. It’s a higher priority to read about the importance of transparency and fairness than it is to actually achieve it.
This is not to say that those promoted were undeserving. The fact that we have to state that is the whole point of why the immediate reform of the promotional process is needed. The lack of transparency breeds mistrust, not just between rank-and-file and command staff, but amongst one another. Giving this problem a “low priority” shows that internal morale and trust doesn’t matter. That is just wrong.
It is disappointing that Chief Scott has not seized on this issue and made bold moves to address it. We cannot afford to allow morale to dip any more. The SFPOA has implored the Chief to make this an immediate priority before any more damage is done. The Police Commission should pressure the Chief to get this done.
If the Police Commission and Chief expect each San Francisco Police Officer to practice the values of being objective, fair, equitable and transparent while we’re in the field, the least they can do is practice the same when they’re behind their desk.