A Columbus Civil Service Commission meeting next week could change the rank system when the Columbus Police Department hires experienced officers.
The department does not allow an officer coming from another agency to retain the same rank. If a captain at another agency accepts a job at Columbus, he or she would begin at an entry-level rank.
The proposed change, which city council approved at a previous meeting, must be approved by the Civil Service Commission. Police Chief Selvain McQueen will present the changes at the next civil service meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. in Columbus City Hall. The commission, which oversees the personnel issues of the CPD and Columbus Fire and Rescue, meets monthly.
“What I am petitioning the Civil Service (Commission) to do is to give me the authority to bring experienced people into the department and with their rank,” McQueen said. “What has happened in years past is you might have a deputy chief somewhere, and if they come to the Columbus Police Department … well, they won’t come. The reason being they have to start over as a patrolman.”
The chief said people are for and against the proposed changes and he has heard both sides of the argument.
“I’ve heard some officers tell me, ‘Hey, we understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.’ I’ve had other officers say, ‘Hey, this is not good,'” McQueen said. “While I believe the personnel are the most important aspect of what we do in law enforcement, I have to look at the long range.”
City Attorney Jeff Turnage said he understands both sides, too.
“When you’re not very deep with experienced officers, it would be good to bring in an experienced lieutenant. And what lieutenant is going to come here and be a patrolman?” Turnage said. “On the other hand, it will probably be a morale buster for some lower-ranking officers, and it might seem like it will impede their chances of becoming a higher-ranked officer.”
McQueen said he is looking five-10 years down the road, when officers with more than five years of experience are gone.
“I’m not saying we don’t have people internally that are qualified. As a result of the way this thing has turned out, at least with the current status of the CPD, if everyone who can retire does retire, then I’m going to have to do something,” McQueen said.
When asked about officers’ experience, McQueen said around 65 percent of the force has five years or fewer of experience.
“We have a young force. We have a very young force,” he said. “It’s a very small percentage that’s from five to 17 years experience.
“I’m not doing this to keep anyone from being promoted. I am not saying our officers are inept. We have some fantastic officers working for the Columbus Police Department.”
Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said the Starkville Police Department advertises for vacancies in ranked positions internally and externally, meaning it could hire someone from another department and allow that person to keep his or her rank. However, the police department does not operate under civil service regulations.
“There are no basic rules of operations that are uniquely consistent from one department to another in our state,” Lindley said.
This is not the first time these changes were discussed. During a special Columbus city council meeting in September to discuss three recent homicides, councilmen inquired about luring experienced officers from other departments to Columbus, and the current civil service ranking regulations were mentioned.