Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Tuesday he would like to see the Police Department consider changing its promotion policy to be in line with the Fire Department’s.
“That, to me, seems like a good approach,” Bartlett said. “It certainly has been very, very good and successful for the Fire Department.”
An investigation by The Frontier and NewsOn6 found that superior officers were paid as much as $20,000 to $50,000 to retire early by the officer next in line for the job. The practice, which is not sanctioned or overseen by the Police Department, is believed to have occurred for decades and at nearly every rank, according to current and former police officers.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Vic Regalado, the Republican candidate for Tulsa County Sheriff, told The Frontier that he had paid a sergeant to retire early in 2013.
The practice is a way for officers to ensure they receive a promotion before the promotion eligibility list expires and they have to retest for the position.
Police Department promotion eligibility lists expire in a year. The Fire Department’s testing lists remain in place until the last person on the list has been promoted.
Bartlett said it is important for the public to understand that officers cannot be promoted without being rigorously tested and earning a top score. Still, he added, the pay-for-promotion practice doesn’t seem right and needs to be changed.
“At the end of the day, in order to address the public concern about this, and my concern about this, I think we need to have a thorough evaluation and some kind of change to make it more fair,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said he has spoken with Police Chief Chuck Jordan, Fire Chief Ray Driskell and the police union about the issue and plans to work with them to come up with a solution.
“I prefer having all the parties involved with whatever we come up with,” Bartlett said. “They (the police union) don’t want to be portrayed as having a department that is not abiding by the rules properly.”
Clay Ballenger, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the union is open to discussing the matter.
“We just want to ensure that we have a fair process and have the best pool of candidates to test every year,” Ballenger said.
Ballenger declined to speak specifically about the mayor’s proposal, but noted that even seemingly simple changes to a promotion process come with pros and cons that must be considered carefully.
“Maybe a negative side effect would be promoting people who wouldn’t be promoted under our current system because the promotion eligibility list expires,” Ballenger said.
Any changes to the promotion policy would be subject to the collective bargaining process, Ballenger said.
City Auditor Cathy Criswell said last week that language in the city’s ethics code seems to prohibit paying for a promotion but added that only the mayor can initiate an investigation into whether such violations have occurred.
Bartlett said Tuesday he was not ready to take that step.
“Right now I’m looking forward, I’m trying to find a solution, or a good option, to consider,” Bartlett said. “Then, when we come up with that, then we can look at something maybe in the past.”