A verdict in a federal reverse discrimination case has called into question
the lack of standards or formal procedure for achieving a captain's rank in
the Milwaukee Police Department, where hiring practices are already under
From the April 4, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Arthur Jones, former Milwaukee police chief
It sounds altogether unprofessional and backward. It's straight from the
- Samuel Walker,
criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha
To promote someone who is as qualified (as someone else) but will do
anything they can to undermine you in your position is just incorrect.
- Carla Cross,
former member of Fire and Police Commission
3/30/05: Jones' defense faltered early on
3/30/05: Kane: In this city, race isn't always as it seems
3/30/05: Editorial: Police diversity is still vital
3/29/05: Jones discriminated, jury finds
3/29/05: Other suits from Jones era pending
3/29/05: Police diversity efforts at risk after ruling, some fear
3/28/05: Closing arguments put bias lawsuit in jurors' hands
3/26/05: Discrimination trial exposes police secrets
3/23/05: Defense rests in police promotion suit
3/22/05: Defense gets its turn in trial of police suit
3/15/05: Officers clash on promotion deal
3/13/05: Promotions not based on race, Jones says
3/10/05: Jones wasn't colorblind, expert says
Last week, a jury ruled that former chief Arthur Jones' failure to
promote 17 white male lieutenants to captain was discriminatory. The
penalty phase of the trial, which also named the city and the Fire and
Police Commission as defendants, begins today.Legal observers agree that
the city's case fell apart during Jones' testimony, which revealed that
captain's openings aren't posted, and that there are no specific
criteria for the job: no specialized training, no minimum experience, no
interview process. Jones simply chose whomever he wanted and presented
that person to the Fire and Police Commission, which approved each of
the 41 people Jones promoted to captain, all but one by unanimous
The system was in place before Jones became chief. Current chief
Nannette Hegerty said through a spokeswoman that she has no plans to
Police experts around the country said it's highly unusual for a
department the size of Milwaukee's to choose captains so arbitrarily.
"It sounds altogether unprofessional and backward," said Samuel Walker,
a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "It's
straight from the 1950s."
A posted job description and formal selection process that includes
interviews with several candidates should be the bare minimum, he said.
Chiefs in most cities the size of Milwaukee have broad discretion to
appoint only their top deputies, said D.P. Van Blaricom, former chief in
Bellevue, Wash., and a police practices consultant. "That's how you pick
your top commanders, but captains are not top commanders. They're middle
managers," he said.
Metropolitan departments tend to use a promotions process based on
civil-service examinations, Van Blaricom said. People who are qualified
for the job by rank, experience or education take a test. The chief may
choose among the top three scorers. For the next opening, the number
four finisher moves up to an eligible position, and so on.
Washington, D.C., and Boston are among cities that use testing and
civil service promotional lists to choose captains. Smaller departments
are more likely to allow chiefs to appoint their entire command staffs.
In Milwaukee, testing is used only for promotions to sergeants and
lieutenants. In 1999, the League of Martin, an organization of black
officers that Jones helped found, suggested including captains in a
civil-service process, said Lenard Wells, a retired lieutenant and
former president of the group.
No one at the Fire and Police Commission took the idea seriously, he
said, because in the militaristic hierarchy of the Police Department,
the chief's right to appoint a cabinet results in power to recruit
commanders who agree with his or her agenda.
David Heard, executive director of the Fire and Police Commission, was
out of town last week and could not be reached. Current commissioners
declined to discuss the matter due to the ongoing lawsuit.
Former commissioner Carla Cross, who served during and after Jones'
tenure as chief, testified that she thought it was very important for a
chief to be free to choose members of the command staff. "To promote
someone who is as qualified (as someone else) but will do anything they
can to undermine you in your position is just incorrect," Cross
testified March 11. While civil-service testing for captains is the norm
nationwide, it's far from perfect, Van Blaricom said.
"It's sort of like the jury system. It's not very damned good, but
there's nothing better," he said.
One flaw in using testing alone as a basis for promotions is that the
opportunity to consider race or gender as part of the selection is lost,
which makes it difficult to promote diversity among leadership ranks.
That would certainly be met with outrage in Milwaukee, where the
department has been much-maligned over the years for its failure to hire
and promote minorities and women.
Some departments in other cities address the issue by administering a
pass/fail test, then letting the chief decide among those who pass. In
Chicago, most promotions are based on a numerically arranged list of
scores, but a percentage of the openings are set aside for the chief to
fill without consulting the rankings.
Among the issues
The method of choosing captains will be among the personnel matters
discussed among Mayor Tom Barrett, Hegerty and the Fire and Police
Commission, said Patrick Curley, Barrett's chief of staff.
"The mayor is concerned about the overall performance of the Police
Department and is committed to diversity as well as excellence. He
thinks it's possible to have both," Curley said.
The mayor initiated those discussions as a result of the department's
patchwork hiring process, which was shaped by 30 years of litigation
over racial bias, including a 1974 lawsuit in which the federal
government sued the city for failing to hire enough women and minorities
as police officers and firefighters.
Currently, not all police applicants are interviewed by a psychologist,
nor are they required to complete two years of college until five years
after being hired, typical requirements at other large departments. The
mayor wants to address those issues, as well as evaluate the police aide
program and institute a tracking system to help spot troubled officers.
In theory, the courts could step in again to mandate the way captains
are chosen. U.S. District Judge Thomas Curran, in consultation with the
attorneys involved in the 17 lieutenants' reverse discrimination case,
could dictate a procedure as part of the damages phase. Or a different
group of officers could file a new, class-action suit that demands
non-discriminatory promotions processes.
That has happened in other jurisdictions.
In Birmingham, Ala., a court-ordered affirmative-action program led to
a federal discrimination lawsuit by 22 white firefighters and police
officers, along with a parks employee, who had been passed over for
promotions. They were awarded $1.4 million in 2000. But the system
remains flawed despite civil-service testing now required for all police
positions below deputy chief, said their attorney, Raymond Fitzpatrick
"Race remains an important factor with who gets job opportunities in
this city," Fitzpatrick said.
Allen Treadaway, president of the Birmingham Police Department chapter
of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he hasn't seen any internal
problems as a result of that reverse-discrimination verdict. He said it
and other court actions, including a 27-year-old court order for
diversity now in its final stages, gave Birmingham a painful
trial-and-error education in diversity that seems to have turned out
"It has helped resolve a lot of issues that had been out there," said
Treadaway, a police sergeant.
Former Milwaukee Fire and Police Commissioner William I. Gore, who
served when the city was bound by federally mandated hiring quotas,
believes more judicial intervention may be necessary to guide the
Milwaukee Police Department's future.
"We need leadership that brings people together," he said. "And we've
probably got to have some input from the courts, because you can't have
it both ways."
Leonard Sykes Jr. of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this