The Reading Police Department wants to change the way officers are promoted, but City Council is not ready to sign off on the proposal.
Council introduced an ordinance at its meeting Monday evening that would change how an officer is promoted to captain and would eliminate extra points officers receive on the Civil Service exam if they attended college.
Police Chief Richard Tornielli said the changes were to get more experienced and diverse officers in leadership positions in the department.
Currently, when officers take the civil service exam they are awarded points for years of service and college credits.
To become a captain, an officer has to hold the rank of sergeant for five years or hold the rank of lieutenant for five years or a combination of sergeant and lieutenant for five years.
“We feel by skipping the rank of lieutenant, they are missing out on valuable skills and experience,” Tornielli said.
The proposed change calls for an officer to have at least five years of combined experience as a lieutenant and sergeant and serve at least two years as a lieutenant or sergeant in the patrol division, the department’s largest division.
“We are just making sure our candidates for the position of captain are well rounded, well trained and well experienced within the police department,” Tornielli said.
The police chief wants to remove points for college credits in the civil service exam because it’s potentially discriminatory, he said.
“It’s been our goal to recruit and promote the best candidates possible while also attempting to create a department that reflects the community we serve,” Tornielli said.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 67% of the city’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, Tornielli said.
“It’s a segment of our population that we should be actively recruiting and professionally develop them to lead the department in the future,” he said. “We want folks that know and understand the city, its culture and what it needs from its police department to maintain public safety.”
What becomes a problem is that 35% of the city’s population lives in poverty, Tornielli said.
“Some folks in our city don’t have the means to achieve a higher education,” he said.
Tornielli cited Census Bureau statistics that 18.8% of Hispanics in the city have a bachelor’s degree.
“You can see how it may be discriminatory in the fact that those folks we are trying to recruit, that we are trying to advance throughout our police department, may not have the financial means to obtain a higher education,” Tornielli said. “The city currently has no policy in place in order to financially provide them with the incentive to do that.”
Tornielli said other departments such as the state police and in Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster and York cities do not award college points during the promotion process.
He said he does not want to promote officers just because they could afford to attend college.
“When we look at our promotional tests, the raw scores are very close and very competitive,” he said. “And the folks who don’t have the financial means to get a higher education are getting jumped by those who do.”
Tornielli did not discount officers who attended college and said they bring something to the department as well.
“But I also think we need to keep an even playing field and provide equal opportunities for all of our employees to advance in the department,” he said.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said the city needs to be careful not to make assumptions people don’t have the opportunity for a higher education.
She said many of the city’s universities offer scholarships to pursue criminal justice.
“I think we also have an opportunity to create an incentive-based recruitment,” she said.
Councilwoman Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz suggested a college loan forgiveness program if an officer commits to working for the city for a certain number of years.
“We need to figure out how to incentivize our young adults so we can recruit them straight from high school or college and join our force,” she said. “We want to continue to better our employees and provide them with the tools of being the best they can be.”
Tornielli said he is open to suggestions.
“Whatever suggestions the council may have, we are open to incorporating them into this idea,” he said.