Guest column: Protecting the protectors

There’s an irony that the Idaho Falls city council’s action to rescind civil service rules was neither civil nor in the spirit of service to the community, writes Chuck Canterbury.

This week, we commemorated Police Memorial Day, adding the names of 234 officers who died in the line of duty. These men and women expected to return home to their families at the end of a shift. Instead, in responding to danger and to keep their communities safe, they returned home to their maker.

It’s because of that danger, faced every time an officer puts on the badge, that we urge law enforcement officers to take every precaution for their safety.

Not least among these precautions is the bulletproof vest every officer is provided and encouraged to wear. Many officers will never shoot their weapons and most will never have to test the effectiveness of their bulletproof vest. But it’s there, as an extra layer of protection.

Like his bulletproof vest, an Idaho Falls police officer’s civil service rights are an extra layer of protection; in this case, it’s the community, represented by local government, protecting those who protect us.

Sadly, what has happened in Idaho Falls with the vote to end civil service policies leaves police officers unprotected.

The timing is certainly suspect. The department currently faces a lawsuit against the city under those civil service rules – worker’s rights that city council saw fit to revoke before the trial.

The pending lawsuit alleges that the chief of police violated civil service rules, bypassing those who scored highest on civil service exams allegedly, “in favor of candidates he personally preferred.”

The city council’s response was not to reinforce the civil service rules, standing by the idea that the most qualified candidate should be hired or promoted. Their response was to do away with the rules at the heart of the lawsuit. They doubled down on cronyism and favoritism.

And they did it in haste. By voting at three consecutive meetings, they were able to limit public input due to a rule restricting comment on agenda items. This rush happened despite the fact that they cited as their reason a study conducted several years ago.

There’s an irony that the council’s action was neither civil nor in the spirit of service to the community.

The city council’s action is a disservice to the community and to police. Civil service is meant to ensure hiring based on professional merit. Isn’t that what we should all want from our government and law enforcement?

The city council has said they want the hiring process to be what they call more “fair.” What they actually mean is that they want it to be easier. They want it to be less expensive. The result is to dilute the quality of the officers hired or promoted.

So where does this leave police? Without the collective bargaining power that firefighters enjoy and no civil service protections, police will have to depend on the administrators and politicians who carried out the devious and hasty repeal of civil service to do the right thing.

And where does it leave the community? The officers will still do their duty. They’ll run towards the problem even as city leaders have run away from this one.

Most importantly, united together, we must encourage our elected officials to protect the protectors.

Canterbury is president of the National Fraternal Order of Police.