Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is shining the light on a merit promotion process condemned by officers interviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “reward for cronyism” and clout.
Following the Justice Department’s demand for increased “transparency” around the merit promotion process, Johnson plans to return to a reform imposed, then rescinded, a few years ago.
Johnson has used the merit process to advance the careers of at least three police officials in recent years, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“CPD will be identifying those individuals who received a merit-based promotion — not just for sergeant but for all going forward. And we will identify who the nominating members are,” said Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“This is part of the superintendent’s effort to be more transparent — not only externally but internally as well. He made the decision following an email request that came in from rank-and-file officers last month,” he said.
The police department was already posting lists of promoted officers on an internal website, but the lists didn’t distinguish which officers were promoted through the merit process. The merit promotions won’t be published on the police website accessible to the public.
Guglielmi noted that the merit process was “enhanced” in 2014 as part of the “hiring plan” that got the city out from under the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.
“After nominations, the applicants are vetted for consideration and presented to a five-person board,” Guglielmi said. “. . . The board then submits a list of finalists for the superintendent to select from.”
The city’s Inspector General’s Office can send nonvoting observers to the board’s meetings.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo was not impressed with Johnson’s decision to once again identify officers promoted on the basis of merit as well as their “nominators.”
“That kind of blew up in their face because it turned out to be the driver” of department brass who got the promotion, Angelo said. “It’s going to do what it did last time. It will ostracize individuals who are meritoriously promoted.”
Angelo said merit promotions — 20 percent for detectives and 30 percent for all other ranks — should be used to reward acts of heroism on the job.
“We have officers who have been injured in the line of duty — some of them have been shot in the line of duty — and they’re still pushing a beat car. That is a shame. Officers who have been shot in the line of duty, it should be an automatic promotion to either detective or sergeant. I don’t know how that can be overlooked,” Angelo said.
“Because you’re a big boss and you want to [promote] the guy who drives you around — that’s what people have concerns about. How do you have four people in one family and they’re all captains or they all retire as exempt members? What kind of oatmeal did that family eat every morning for breakfast?”
In its harsh assessment of the Chicago Police Department, the Justice Department said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the process of nominating and qualifying for merit promotions was “one of the major complaints from officers” interviewed.
Since the early 1990s, the city has used merit promotions, presumably to bolster the number of minorities in supervisory ranks.
Before he was promoted to superintendent last year, Johnson nominated at least three police officials for promotion through the merit process.
Dwayne Betts was promoted to lieutenant in 2012 after a merit nomination from Johnson, records show. Betts is now the commander of the Austin District.
Johnson’s nomination of Robert Cesario led to his promotion to lieutenant in 2010. Cesario became commander of the Town Hall District, and in November he became the police department’s liaison with the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, where he retained his commander rank.
Kevin Connors, meanwhile, became a sergeant in 2010 after a nomination by Johnson.
Betts is black; Cesario and Connors are white.
Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that almost 400 detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain slots were filled through merit promotions over the prior 10 years.
Mayor Richard M. Daley created the system two decades ago to promote more minorities and women. Over that period, white men received about 40 percent of those promotions, more than any other racial or gender group, records show.
According to the recently released DOJ report, many officers “believe that merit promotions are a reward for cronyism rather than a recognition of excellence that was overlooked by the testing process.”
“Many of the officers we spoke with, minority and non-minority alike, told us they feel merit promotions are not truly based on merit, but rather the clout you hold in the department or who you know. . . . Officers believe that CPD leadership gives merit promotions to individuals who are unqualified to serve as leaders merely because those individuals have connections up the chain of command or have advocates in positions of power outside of CPD who call in favors or lobby on their behalf.”
The report said female officers “in particular” feel they are “frequently overlooked” for merit promotions recommended by a five-member board. The superintendent has the final say and is not bound by the board’s recommendations.
The DOJ noted that CPD has “moved in a positive direction” by establishing a hiring plan, allowing oversight by Inspector General Joe Ferguson and by introducing new policies and manuals that, in part, describe information that may be considered by the Merit Board.
The superintendent must also fill out a “written justification memorandum” explaining the basis for merit selections.
But the DOJ noted: “Nothing about the reasoning is made public. The justification is often cursory. And candidates who are eligible, but did not receive merit promotions, are never provided an explanation for why they were not selected.”
And some of those policies are “written in vague terms” allowing problematic promotions to go undetected.
“Indeed we know of at least one example where an individual received a merit promotion based on clout rather than merit even after the new procedures outlined in the hiring plan were in effect,” the report states. “A recent inquiry from the IG found that, as part of the 2013 sergeants merit promotion process, an officer assigned to the then-superintendent [Garry McCarthy’s] security detail was inappropriately promoted to sergeant.”
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Contributing: Tim Novak