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Aside from providing the governor with a means of information, a state detective force would prove of value in the actual enforcement of unpopular statutes. The claim of the local police that certain laws cannot be enforced, though often honestly made, is not infrequently unfounded. The example of such laws actually enforced by an outside authority would, in many instances, arouse the local police to the performance of the unpleasant duty themselves. This has occurred in states which now have a state constabulary.
Finally, a state detective force could be made of great value to cities too small to develop special detective service and to the rural districts where the detection of crime is now dependent upon non-professional and, usually, non-expert officials. This weakness in the enforcement of our criminal laws is well known to all students of the subject. The lack of efficient detective service, or even delay in its employment, not infrequently results in the failure to apprehend the perpetrators of serious crimes or, what is only one degree less undesirable, renders their prompt capture and punishment impossible. The state, as the ultimate guardian of the public safety, should be able to place at the disposal of communities without a detective service of their own the expert service that a state detective bureau could afford.
(5) The state inspection and detective services might be centralized in a state bureau of police at the head of which would be a state police commissioner appointed by the governor.
The value of such a bureau, if properly organized and conducted, could hardly be overestimated. Besides reports from
state police inspectors and detectives the local State Police
police commissioners and county sheriffs should Bureau
be required to file reports with the bureau at frequent intervals. This would provide another means of holding the local police to the performance of their duties to the state. It would also make the bureau, in addition to its control features, a central office of police statistics and information. Through inspection and the work of such a bureau it should be possible within a short time, and without the use of coercive measures, both to increase the efficiency of individual forces and to bring about a large measure of co-operation among all the police authorities of the state.
Formerly Deputy Police Commissioner. Although the civil service method of appointing new policemen to the force is undoubtedly successful, the method of promotion to higher office needs improvement. To train men especially to be officers, in other words, to establish a police West Point, seems to be impracticable. The officers must be taken from the ranks. To be successful, this method must operate so that promotion shall go to those men who have done the best police work, work that shows them fit to command. Nothing can be more important to the honesty and efficiency of any body of men than the conviction in the minds of the men in the ranks that preferment will go to those that deserve it. No favoritism must enter into the choice. This is essential, but alone it is not enough; it would leave too much to luck. It is also essential that the best men be chosen. The test for promotion, therefore, must be fair, and must select the best fitted men.
How does the civil service test measure up in the light of these requirements ?
As far as ruling out favoritism goes, it is clearly good. The discretion given to the commissioner of choosing one out of three
from the list makes possible a certain amount Favoritism
of abuse, especially if he waits before filling vacancies till he has a long list of candidates. Still, the system goes very far toward eliminating favoritism.
As a means of selecting the best men, however, it is almost a failure. The general theory of the test would indicate this, aside from its practical working. The three elements entering in are the man's record, his length of service, and his success at passing a written examination.
The records are worthless. To a man's credit is placed nothing but extraordinary deeds of physical courage. These are usually accidental opportunities which would have been equally well met by most of the men on the force, for there is no lack of physical courage. They may even be pre-arranged. There is no way, moreover, in which credit can be given to a man for simple devotion to duty, day in and day out, for proven honesty or intelligence, for excellent deeds showing capacity and judgment, unless they also happen to show physical courage. Against him count only the penalties inflicted on him in the police disciplinary court. These form a criterion of negligible value for estimating a man's
fitness for higher rank. They doubtless someRecords Useless
times indicate clearly the unfit man, but as a comprehensive test they are unfair. Some of the best men have hard-looking records. A man may be fined several days' pay for a fault caused by overzeal, while the loafer who never makes an arrest unless he can't escape it is likely to have a clear record. If a man makes himself offensive to his superiors by enforcing laws which, according to the good old custom, are not to be enforced without special orders and then only after previous notice to the offender, he marks himself for trouble, and unless he speedily repents and follows the ways pointed out to him, he finds himself up on charges. It is his word against the word of his superior officer, and his record is blackened. It does not need argument to show that this kind of record, as a means of sifting out the men who should be promoted, is valueless.
Length of service, the second element in the civil service test, doesn't help much either. The mere bald fact that one man has been a patrolman fifteen years, as against another man's five, does not demonstrate that he would make a better sergeant than his younger colleague. It may even not be unfair to infer that the scale tips in favor of the younger man, since he has at least not failed, while the older has missed several previous chances for promotion.
The written examination, the third part of the present system, is certainly good as far as it goes. In New York it is well carried
out, by a capable commission. The questions Written
are carefully chosen, and the most rigorous preExaminations
cautions are taken against fraud. No matter how excellent it may be, however, in itself, as a criterion by which to select men for promotion it can never be fair, either to the man or to the force. The objection to it is not that it is valueless, or even that it would not be valuable if viewed together with an accurate record of the candidate's past performance. As the situation stands, however, the written examination is the only element in the whole test that has a chance of reflecting at all the candidate's capacity. The other two elements, while in individual cases they may show up the man to be good or bad, as tests to apply to the whole force are not comprehensive enough to be fair to the men, or to help in choosing the best officers. The whole test in practice simmers down to a written examination, tempered by accidentals.
Great business organizations, which employ thousands of men, offer in many points a parallel case. The head can't know his men individually, and many promotions have to be made. Yet probably no such organization in existence uses the tests specified by law for the police department. It tries its men, by tests that are conclusive, and promotes only those who prove that they can take the higher responsibility and that they can take it better than the next man. The result is we hear few complaints of incompetency in high places.
Experience, too, agrees with theory and example as shown above, in indicating that the present police system fails to choose
the right men. Though some of the high officers Failure of
on the New York force are able men, there is Present Tests
many a patrolman walking the streets who is far better qualified to command than some of the captains. The last examination for promotion to the rank of sergeant showed the inadequacy of the promotion test. It was entered into with enthusiasm by thousands of patrolmen. Its excellence as a written test, and its honesty, are absolutely vouched for by the fact that the president of the commission gave it his personal attention. The civil service system could not have a chance to work under more favorable auspices. Yet, though some good men came out near the top, so many other men, whom the commissioner and his deputies had found peculiarly qualified, were down toward the foot, that it seemed as if there must have been some mistake, as if the system must have worked wrong. It hadn't, we found; on the contrary it had worked unusually smoothly. And this very smoothness of working showed that, even at its best, it couldn't produce the product it was meant to produce.
But was it ever designed to choose the best? Isn't the present civil service system rather the result of a splendid and largely
successful attempt to knock out dishonesty and Dishonesty and favoritism from the public service. Its creating Incompetency
purpose was not to promote efficiency, but to prevent dishonesty. In the process it helps along efficiency all it can, but this is secondary. It has even been harshly criticized as a step from dishonesty to incompetency, as an effort, probably unconscious, on the part of well-meaning citizens to relieve themselves of the responsibility of electing the right men to office. The grain of truth in this criticism is too large; we cannot stop where we are. My argument is not against civil service reform as a principle, but is against it as a goal beyond which it is not worth while to strive, as a summum bonum of attainment. And the need of another forward step shows up nowhere more strongly than in police promotions.
One is reluctant to criticise an existing system so frankly when one has no immediate substitute to offer. The logical system to suggest would be that used by large private organizations, namely, the giving of power to the head of the department to promote the men he has found most worthy. The objection to this that has been deemed valid is that it would give to a bad commissioner too much power. The situation is, however, too humiliating to be tolerated except as a step from something worse to something better. In the effort to draw the teeth and file the nails of an incompetent, dishonest official, we seriously blunt the powers for good of a strong, honest commissioner. It would
not be hard so to limit the powers of the head A Strong of the police department that he wouldn't figure Commissioner
much any way, either for good or for bad. The better alternative is to clothe the office with powers that shall make the commissioner strong, on the theory that, if he is the right man, he should have the power, and that, if he is the wrong man, the very fact that he has the power will show him up.
Even a capable police commissioner, however, given the power to dictate promotions, would be badly handicapped in New York