The view from here E-mail
Written by Thomas J. Nee   

In Boston, it's now official. A scandal associated with hiring practices at the Probation Department has prompted the age-old debate about the Civil Service System. It seems like every year, our union, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, is in court or in the legislature fighting to stop the erosion or even abolishment of the time tested civil service merit based standards and procedures. In 1883, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the nation to adopt a "merit hiring" or "civil service" law to stop the rampant practices of favoritism, cronyism, patronage and other forms of corrupt hiring and promotion practices.

The law was created as a reaction against hiring and firing practices that were heavily influenced by politicians and other forms of corruption.  While such practices have not been completely eradicated, they have not been as pervasive as the years before we had a civil service system.

Recently the editorial board of one of our daily newspapers, The Boston Herald, took another swipe at Civil Service in the wake of the Probation Department scandal. Chiefs of police, municipal managers, elected officials and activists are currently trying to weaken and even dismantle the system in the name of "reform."

They argue that civil service should be repealed because the system is obsolete and not relevant in 2010 as it was in the 1890's. Yet few will honestly deny that corruption, cronyism, and favoritism still exist and can be far more costly to the taxpayers than a "merit based hiring and promotional civil service system" even an imperfect one.

We've all heard their rhetoric-that repealing strict civil service standards would give employers more "flexibility" in hiring or promoting the personnel they believe are truly the most qualified. Of course no judgment is more biased than the subjective view of an employer who hires or promotes someone because they are more comfortable with them.

And without constraints the employer has no trouble disciplining or even firing someone because, for whatever reason, they are not comfortable with them. The BPPA has had a long history of passionately arguing that protections offered by Civil Service law are essential for fairness regardless of race, creed, color, religion, gender, or political affiliation.

Without the protections insured by the Civil Service System with regards to  hiring, firing, promotion and discipline, the profession of law enforcement will be seriously diminished.

Thomas J. Nee is president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association and the president of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).

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