Knowing the right people used to help you climb the ladder at the Chattanooga Police Department.
Or at least that's what many officers believed -- the idea that a good ol' boy network dominates the promotion process at CPD was one of the top employee complaints in a 2014 study of the department conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
But now, the promotion process is about to be radically changed. A 20-member committee appointed by Chief Fred Fletcher last year just proposed a new process that moves the scoring emphasis away from subjective administrative reviews and toward objective written exams and task-oriented testing.
"We're getting away from the way things used to be," said Lt. Bakari Welles, a member of the committee. "Away from the good ol' boy mentality of who knows who, who is in what group. This levels the playing field."
The way it works now, a small committee of assistant chiefs and captains weigh in on all promotions at the department. For low-level promotions -- when an officer applies to become a sergeant -- the committee's evaluation makes up 30 percent of a candidate's entire score.
But for higher-level promotions -- like when a sergeant applies to become a lieutenant -- the committee's evaluation makes up 80 percent of the score.
The heavy emphasis on the administrative reviews has fostered the perception that the promotion process is unfair, officers say.
"It really was apparent that qualified individuals were hurt because of the subjectivity," said Sean O'Brien, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Rock City Lodge 22.
O'Brien also is one of 20 people assigned to Fletcher's RESTART committee, which is tasked with revamping the department's recruiting, transfer and promotion efforts. The committee includes both community members and officers and was started in September 2014.
After meeting once every two weeks since, RESTART turned over its proposed changes to Fletcher in early April.
The proposed new policy drops the administrative review completely for all promotions except the move from lieutenant to captain. And in that case, the review will only account for 65 percent of the candidate's score instead of 80 percent.
The new policy also would require officers to have completed six years of service instead of five before they become eligible for initial promotion, and would change the content of the written test from focusing on city and state law to focusing on CPD policy and job requirements.
Fletcher has the final say on whether or not the proposed changes become official CPD policy. The department will first test the new parameters to ensure they are not inherently unfair, and if not, Fletcher plans to approve the changes, he said.
"I was as happy with the process as I am with the results," he said. "When I came on board I heard from both inside and outside that the promotional processes were unfair. So the first thing we did is create RESTART in an effort to do this."
Now that the committee has finished the changes to the promotional process, RESTART will next tackle the recruiting process, Welles said.
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6525 with tips or story ideas.