If the mayor and chief of police have their way, big changes could soon be coming to the Columbus Police Department. According to a memo being circulated around the department, a civil service meeting is set for Jan. 19 to decide if “lateral hiring” could soon be in effect. Lateral hiring is allowing an officer from another department to transfer to the Columbus department with their rank intact. This prospect has some local officers outraged.
Traditionally, if an officer transfers from one department to another he or she loses his or her rank. For example, if a Lieutenant left the CPD and moved to the Sheriff’s Department, he or she would start at an entry level position such as patrolman, losing their rank in the process. According to several local officers that wished to remain anonymous, they feel that allowing other high ranking officers to come in would essentially upstage what they have worked so hard to achieve. Mayor Robert Smith and Chief McQueen see it differently.
According to McQueen, the possibility of bringing new officers into the department is not an attempt to “shortchange anyone” but added “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in order to provide for the best interests of the citizens.”
Of the 70 plus officers at the CPD, McQueen says “over 60 percent has five years or less time and service.”
McQueen was quick to praise his current officers now, calling them “wonderful people.” He expressed concern however at the thought of losing some of his seasoned officers, saying “I’ve got to look down the road, five, ten years from now. If everyone that could retire, retired, we’re going to be in bad shape. That’s a lot of experience that goes out the door.”
Smith agreed, saying “The most important priority is to get experienced officers. In investigations, in patrol. If they come from Starkville or wherever. With the crime, the murders, we have got to get experienced officers back in investigations. Criminal Investigations Division is my top priority.”
While the officers approached by The Packet agree that they too want what is best for the department, they expressed dismay at the stalled promotions process that they say began in February of 2011. Numerous officers applied to be promoted under the helm of former chief Joseph St. John but that process came to an abrupt stop with his firing last June. Officers have expressed their frustrations with what many have come to see as a flawed process and some have gone so far as to file an official grievance with the city.
When questioned about the possibility of promoting from within, McQueen said he plans to meet with CPD personnel next week to discuss the matter. McQueen said there is room for advancement for any and all officers but was quick to note he intends to implement a new style at the department saying “We’ve got some good people, we’ve got some real good people. If I make a recommendation then it will be the right people, they will be prepared and know what to do. The days of the good ole boy system is gone. We’re in a new time and a new era where people are going to have to prove themselves. No matter how many hours we work, no matter how many people we put in jail, the bottom line is simply this: If the citizens of Columbus don’t feel safe and want to go out and sit out on their front porches, it makes no difference how many tickets we write, no matter warrants we serve, we’ve failed. Whether it is internal or external, we have to find the very best people that we can to ensure the safety and well being of our citizens ”
While Smith and McQueen are presenting a united front about the possibility of lateral hiring, officers at the CPD are doing the same, vowing that depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting with the chief they will do “whatever it takes” to ensure their best interests, and the interests of Columbus citizens, are represented.0