Ferguson casts new questions on CPD’s merit promotion process

SHARE Ferguson casts new questions on CPD’s merit promotion process

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson | Sun-Times

Inspector General Joe Ferguson disclosed Monday that he has uncovered “procedural and compliance issues” tied to a merit promotion process in the Chicago Police Department condemned by officers interviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “reward for cronyism” and clout.

The new allegations, contained in Ferguson’s quarterly report, surround 2013 merit promotions to the rank of sergeant.

According to Ferguson, an officer assigned to the security detail of then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was promoted to sergeant, “despite having failed the written portion of the sergeant’s exam.”

Only after sergeant training was completed and hiring packets were forwarded to the city’s Department of Human Resources was it discovered that the officer in question was “ineligible for promotion” and the promotion was rescinded, Ferguson said.

Ferguson has overseen hiring ever since the city got out from under the Shakman decree and the costly constraints of a federal hiring monitor.

His hiring oversight section conducted an initial review of the matter, then forwarded the matter to his investigative section to probe individual misconduct.

“OIG’s investigation did not find evidence that anyone involved in the nomination process, other than the officer, knew the officer had failed the sergeant’s exam,” Ferguson wrote in his quarterly report.

“However, OIG’s inquiries identified shortcomings in CPD’s handling of the merit promotional process, including, among other issues, the fact that a superior officer asked a subordinate to nominate the officer of whom the subordinate lacked personal knowledge of work performance and that same superior officer directed another subordinate employee to assist the officer in drafting the nominee’s own nomination.”

Ferguson further noted that both the police department and the city’s Department of Human Resources “failed to confirm the officer’s eligibility and also proceeded with the promotion, despite the fact that the superintendent had not completed the required justification memo.”

As a result of the incident, Ferguson’s hiring oversight section made several recommendations that culminated in amendments to the police department’s hiring plan.

Ferguson said he also recommended “further corrective steps,” including that the police department “revise merit promotion training,” make the police department and the Department of Human Resources “accountable for compliance” with the hiring plan and make certain that “command staff is fully aware of its obligation” under the hiring plan.

In it response, the police department agreed to a series of changes. They include adding language to nominator training and instruction guides emphasizing that nominators “must have knowledge of the nominees work performance.”

Yet another change will required nominators, members of the merit board and the police superintendent to undergo training on the process every year.

In its scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department, the U.S. 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.

“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,” said the DOJ report released in January.

Twenty percent of detectives and 30 percent of other ranks are promoted under the merit system. Supervisors nominate candidates and a five-member board of deputy chiefs interviews them and votes on them. The names of the candidates approved by the board are forwarded to the superintendent for his final OK.

The rest of the promotions are made through a testing process.

The city has used merit promotions since the 1990s, with the stated goal of boosting the number of minorities in supervisory positions.

In previous promotions, members of the merit board weren’t allowed to participate in the nomination process. The rule was intended to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But in November, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson gave a verbal order that scrapped that ban. Under the new rules, board members must recuse themselves from interviews of candidates who they’ve nominated and can’t vote on them.

In response to criticism from the Fraternal Order of Police and Ferguson, Johnson said there is “no funny business” to his decision to change the rules governing merit promotions and apply the change to the last two rounds of promotions before putting the new policy in writing.

A former chief of patrol, Johnson said his goal was to make certain that patrol officers – which he called the “backbone of the department” – get their fair share of merit promotions.

And the only way to do that is to allow the deputy chiefs who sit on the five-member merit board and predominantly come from patrol to nominate candidates for merit promotion, the superintendent said.

“They have to physically recuse themselves . . . . Not only do they not vote on the person or play a part in the interview. They have to leave the room altogether. They have no idea how their nominated candidate fared in that interview . . . . Someone from the inspector general’s office sits in every interview to ensure that it’s done correctly so there’s no funny business,” Johnson said in late February.

“We’re naming who the merit personnel are. We’re putting in also whoever nominated them. If that’s not transparent, I don’t know what is. . . . If we wanted to be clever about it, we wouldn’t be doing it this way. . . . If we were trying to hide something, we would not name who the merit promotees are and we definitely wouldn’t name who’s nominating.”

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