BRONZEVILLE — On a particularly violent Saturday this month, about a third of Chicago police officers had the day off.
It happened on May 7, and it was the first time since 2004 that the department offered the detective’s promotional exam. In order to get promoted, rank-and-file cops had to take the test on “personal time."
After a 12-year wait, they showed up en masse.
In all, 3,039 of the department’s nearly 9,200 officers turned up to take the 12-hour test, an exam that stirred up complaints and a new bit of controversy related to how the Police Department handles promotional exams.
Last week, a high-level city source upset about the city’s spike in murders and shootings called wanting me to find out “which genius” in the Police Department thought it was a good idea to schedule an all-day promotional exam on the first Saturday in May during an already violent year.
The source argued it was important to ask about May 7 police officer staffing levels “particularly given what happened” on test day, referring to the balmy, 70-degree Saturday when 25 people were shot and three people were killed, including a 16-year-old boy.
It's not fair to jump to any cause-and-effect conclusions related to the events that transpired on the street while 3,039 cops took time off to take a promotion test.
There’s simply no way to determine if the spike in shootings and murders on test day (compared to the first Saturday in May 2015, which saw 14 shootings and no murders) was in any way related to the high percentage of officers who took the day off to take the detective’s test.
Still, there is such a thing as common sense.
People who keep close tabs on shootings in Chicago know there have been more murders on Saturdays than any other day of the week this year.
And there had been 189 murders during the first four months of the year — that’s a 53 percent spike in homicides compared to the same time period in 2015.
So, I asked who came up with the idea of forcing 3,039 ambitious cops to skip their shifts on a spring-time Saturday — about the time temperatures and shootings start to heat up in Chicago — to take a 12-hour promotion exam.
A police spokesman said that scheduling the detective’s test “as with all CPD exams, was a coordinated effort between CPD [department of human resources], the city’s department of human resources, and outside vendors who develop and administer the test.”
“The exam was scheduled based off of the best available date in which resources needed to appropriately administer the exam were available,” the spokesman said.
Here are a couple interesting things about that:
♦ It acknowledges City Hall’s active role in the Police Department promotion process.
♦ It suggests the exam was not scheduled based on which day would not adversely affect resources needed to appropriately fight Chicago’s shooting problem; namely cop staffing on Saturdays.
When I asked Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Dean Angelo about that he said he wasn’t sure how the huge turnout for the 12-hour test — which in previous years was given over two days — may have affected staffing levels on May 7.
The department “makes accommodations for those who took the test by putting people who did not take the test on a 12-hour shift … so the cars were manned,” Angelo said.
“How they run exam day is up to the department to make sure people come in [to cover for test takers].”
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department made up for the manpower shortage caused by the test by minimizing “non-elective time off” for officers who did not take the test.
Also, officers scheduled to be off the day of the exam were given “the opportunity to work,” the spokesman wrote in a statement that left out an important word — “overtime.”
You could say the Police Department bailed itself out of a manpower shortage created by the promotion exam by offering cops the opportunity to work for “time-and-a-half” and making taxpayers foot the bill.
The city Finance Department on Monday hadn’t finished calculating how much it cost to cover the manpower shortage.
According to Guglielmi, “several hundred” officers responded to First Deputy Supt. John Escalante's call for volunteers to work overtime on the day of the test.
The addition of those overtime officers boosted the May 7 staffing level to “between 90 and 95 percent … and did not have any adverse impact to district operations,” the spokesman said.
"Testing rules not violated"
For some officers who took the detective test, a surprise announcement made halfway through the test overshadowed questions about staffing and overtime.
After the six-hour “Part 1” of the exam, testing staffers announced that officers interested only in the prospect of being promoted on “merit” rather than on the score of the test could simply sign their name on “Part 2” of the exam, leave and still be eligible for a merit promotion.
Angelo, the police union boss, said he had no idea why merit promotions were even mentioned on test day.
“What the department does and how they decide on who qualifies for merit promotions is a mystery to us,” he said.
“We don’t endorse merit promotion in any way, shape or form. We think promotion should be 100 percent in test score rank order.”
Guglielmi said it was testing staff and not police brass who made the call to announce officers seeking merit promotion could leave without completing the entire exam.
“Questions were asked by test-takers about whether they needed to stay for Part 2 of the exam if they were only interested in the merit process. To clear up any confusion, staff members at the test site told test-takers that they did not have to stay after instructions were read aloud for Part II of the exam if they were only interested in being promoted through the merit process,” Guglielmi said.
Last week, Guglielmi said that First Deputy Superintendent Escalante planned to review “the circumstances behind this announcement with the department of human resources and external vendors.”
Ultimately, it was determined “testing rules were not violated” and “out of the thousands of officers who completed the 12-hour test, only a handful did not complete the second part of the exam,” Guglielmi said.
Guglielmi also said the merit promotion process is not complete and officers “do not know at this point if they are receiving a merit promotion.”
Angelo, a 39-year Chicago police veteran, said that’s not true for some officers.
“This is Chicago. You come to expect certain things when you’ve been around the department long enough. You deal with it,” he said.
“Work in a certain position for certain people, you get promoted on merit. There are families where every sibling retires as a captain. The father, daughter, son and nephew are all bosses. Did they all score great on the test or did they get merit? Makes you wonder what kind of oatmeal that mom served for breakfast.”
Angelo said he doesn’t understand why the city wastes so much time and money “going through the motions” to pretend the promotion process is fair to everybody when it’s not.
“I’ve been around this for 36 years. Want to be fair? We might as well give everyone a ticket for every year they have on the job, put it in a drum like Bozo’s [Grand Prize Game] and pick out a boy and girl. There’s your promotion,” he said.
“If you’ve got 25 years on the job, you’ve got 25 tickets in the Bozo drum. At least then you’ve got a pretty good chance.”
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