Is nepotism hurting hiring at your agency?

Arbitrary policies prohibiting the hiring of the children of our finest are not only unfair but also un-American


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This article originally appeared in the February 2020 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Recruitment messaging | Nepotism and hiring | COPS grants, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Can you imagine as a police applicant being told by an agency representative, “You are not welcome here, because of your family name?” Picture them adding, “To hire you would be nepotism,” placing harsh emphasis on “nepotism” as if it was a terrible crime or at least a dirty word. This never happened to me, but I have always felt strongly that arbitrary policies prohibiting the hiring of the children of our finest are not only unfair but also un-American.

American tradition

There are many examples of children of American leaders who used the example and shared traits of their fathers to build a family legacy.

This son was prohibited from starting his career in the department where his father had worked for decades because of anti-nepotism rules. After his father retired, this determined young man joined his father's department and is now a captain there. (Photo courtesy Dan Marcou)
This son was prohibited from starting his career in the department where his father had worked for decades because of anti-nepotism rules. After his father retired, this determined young man joined his father's department and is now a captain there. (Photo courtesy Dan Marcou)

During the Civil War, Lt. Arthur MacArthur of the 24th Wisconsin picked up his regiment’s fallen colors and shouted, “On Wisconsin,” as he led a charge up Missionary Ridge. He dodged countless bullets and shells bursting to plant that flag on top of that ridge. His actions proved to be the pivotal moment in the Battle for Chattanooga, earning MacArthur the Medal of Honor. Arthur MacArthur would dedicate his life to the Army and eventually become a general. His son, General Douglas MacArthur, would replicate his father’s achievements many years later as he played an important part in saving the world.

In another example, imagine the damage that would have been done if some bureaucrat had told Will and Charlie, the sons of Dr. William Worrall Mayo, that they would have to find employment elsewhere because to hire them as doctors, would be nepotism! Thanks to the fact that no such prohibition existed, the world today has access to one of the finest medical facilities on the planet, the Mayo Clinic.

These should-be-unconstitutional prohibitions exist to this day in police agencies all over the nation. However, they are rarely noticed by anyone except those who are harmed by this firewall against fairness.

My observations

In my many years as a full-time officer and part-time police trainer, I have had the privilege of working with and training the sons and daughters of many police officers. I could not help but notice that the vast majority of these officers:

  • Knew exactly what they were getting into and still were driven to pursue this career.
  • Were deeply inspired positively by their parents.
  • Often had pre-taught skills.
  • Were easy to train and seemed born to policing.
  • Demonstrated a seamless transition from recruit to veteran possessing a strong desire to succeed.
  • Became excellent additions to their departments.
  • Became trainers, leaders and role models in their own right.
  • Raised children who wanted to be police officers as well.

Agencies denying opportunities to highly qualified candidates such as these young men and women are not only harming these candidates and their parents, but they are also harming their departments. Once denied, these qualified candidates often go to and serve other agencies honorably for many years.

Questions to ask about nepotism policies

If you belong to an agency that has a policy denying an applicant consideration because of birth and you have the power to influence or change that policy, ask yourself this:

  • Can you afford to deny any qualified candidates for police officer vacancies in today’s recruitment environment?
  • Is denying a job to the child of an employee who has served your department faithfully for many years just because that applicant is that employee’s child fair to the employee?
  • Is this fair to the sons and daughters of our officers whose only disqualifier is they possess the desire to wear the uniform worn by their parent?
  • Even if you did hire someone’s family member, aren’t there different shifts, divisions, etc., you can place that family member in to avoid even the appearance of undue influence?
  • Isn’t it possible to use objective measures in all hiring and promotional decisions to avoid the perception of unfairness rather than to be overtly unfair by not hiring based on lineage?
  • Does it make sense to have a policy that is unfair on its face to prevent the possibility of unfairness that may or may not ever present itself or even be perceived?
  • Would you want your child to be denied any dream they strive for simply because they were your child?
Because there were no prohibitions in place this father and son team had the unique opportunity to walk a 3rd shift beat together; a son literally walking in his father's footsteps. (Photo courtesy Dan Marcou)
Because there were no prohibitions in place this father and son team had the unique opportunity to walk a 3rd shift beat together; a son literally walking in his father's footsteps. (Photo courtesy Dan Marcou)

Conclusion

What would have happened if the United States Army denied Douglas MacArthur’s request to enlist just because of who his father was? Knowing what we know now, would you say that decision would have been just plain unfair or quite possibly a truly harmful unforced error that would have caused historically traumatic outcomes?

With that question answered here is one more: Is denying the child of a police officer the opportunity to wear the same uniform as their father or mother really any different?

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