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andover

Police may shift hiring system

The town of Andover is considering withdrawing its police force from the state civil service system, a move that would allow town officials to hire and promote officers based on their own criteria, rather than relying on a state ranking system.

The idea is being weighed as the town’s three police unions, including those representing patrol officers and superior officers, work out final details of a contract agreement that would cover the period from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2014.

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Andover’s 54-member force has been working without a contract for the past 8½ months. The Public Safety Communicators Union, which represents the dispatchers who report to the town’s police and fire chiefs, is not part of civil service.

If such a change is embraced, it would not take effect for some time, according to both town officials and union representatives.

“We are currently meeting with our police unions and developing some language that would set up a process for labor and management to work together to study the merits of formally revoking Andover’s acceptance of Chapter 31 [civil service] and replacing it with alternative processes for hiring and promoting police officers,” said Assistant Town Manager Steven S. Bucuzzo, noting that “Andover removed both the police and fire chiefs’ positions from civil service many years ago, and I think all would agree it has worked out very well for this community.”

Massachusetts became the second state to enact a civil service law in 1884. The fundamental purpose of the system, then and now, is to guard against political considerations, favoritism, and bias in governmental employment decisions.

The state Human Resources Division administers and oversees the civil service system, in which individuals are hired and promoted based in part on their performance on competitive exams. Each town gets a list from the Civil Service Commission with the names of the applicants they can hire, but test scores — which are not released — are only part of the equation. An applicant’s favorable ranking on the list also can be based on a number of other factors, including ethnicity, veteran status, residency, and being the child of a police officer killed or injured in the line of duty.

The town of Reading withdrew its Police Department from the civil service process last April. Wellesley also dropped out of the system entirely. In those communities, unions remained intact, and members backed the move as part of a negotiated package.

“There is growing interest in doing this spreading throughout the Commonwealth due to the extremely long delays and overly bureaucratic processes of the archaic and understaffed Civil Service Commission in Boston,” said Bucuzzo.

“It is a complicated issue and I’m watching how this change is going in Reading and Wellesley to learn from them,” said Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” S. Stapczynski.

Andover’s Police Department and call Fire Department members were placed in the civil service system 78 years ago, during the annual Town Meeting of March 1935, town records show. Bucuzzo said there are no discussions to remove the Fire Department from civil service. No other town departments are covered by the system.

Some say the civil service system is no longer needed. Critics contend the ranking of applicants is flawed, and the system’s protections against unjust firing are duplicated by state and federal laws, as well as collective bargaining agreements.

Police Lieutenant Edward “Eddie” J. Guy III, a nine-year veteran of the Andover department who has nearly 18 years of police experience, said he understands why the town is looking to eliminate civil service. He called the system an “antiquated, bureaucratic process.” Guy noted that a promotional exam was given in October, and the test results are still not in. The long lag is cause for concern, he said, because “the process just seems to get worse and worse over time.”

As president of the Andover Police Superior Officers Association, Guy said he would “have to think of the membership and what they would want. Clearly, it’s something we will have to discuss. We don’t have any specifics of how [the new hiring and promotion process] would work. There’s a lot of things we would need to understand about it in order for the membership to embrace it.”

Patrol Officer Stephen R. Neal, president of the Andover Police Patrolmen’s Union, said “At this point, the idea is just being floated to us. It’s something we have to research, talk to other towns that have gone through the process to see the benefits and drawbacks to it.”

Any move to withdraw Andover’s Police Department from the civil service system would have to be negotiated by the town manager with the police unions, and ultimately approved by voters at Town Meeting. All those in civil service would be grandfathered in; new hires would not be subject to the civil service process.

“The town and the unions have had discussion about the possibility of moving toward removal from civil service, but nothing has been negotiated,” said Police Chief Brian J. Pattullo, who recently announced plans to retire in July for a job in the private sector. “We are just in the investigatory stages.”

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.

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