Medford officials have asked the state’s Human Resources Division to grant them a special certification in language skills that will allow the city to hire police officers from a roster of applicants who speak a second language, bypassing everyone else, including veterans, on approved public service lists. .
According to a spokesperson for the Baker administration, if the state approves the application, Medford’s list of approved candidates for the police position will only include those who speak one of the following three languages: Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian creole.
The city made the request in the spring, but the state asked Medford to provide more information and did not comply with the request.
This request does not suit the Director of Veterans Services, Michael Durham.
In May, Durham alerted the city’s diversity office that the request could effectively shut the door on hiring veterans, a protected category of applicants.
Durham, himself a disabled veteran, stressed to city officials that recruiting multilingual speakers should not come at the expense of veterans.
Durham suggested different ways to tackle the language problem, ranging from investing in machine translators that can be deployed in patrol cars, similar to translators used by the military in Afghanistan, to offering stipends to officers who learn a language.
“It bypasses veterans, outright,” Durham wrote in an email to director of diversity Neil Osborne.
Durham says his concerns were dismissed by Osborne. City officials say it is, and has been, the administration’s policy to offer employment to veterans first.
“Let me be extremely clear: this petition does not or will change the priority ranking of Medford veterans, and we never seek or will seek to bypass veterans. Period.” Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said in a prepared statement. “Any statement to the contrary is absolutely false.”
“We are 100% committed to increasing diversity in the workforce,” said Jackie Piques, spokesperson for Lungo-Koehn.
The administration believes that interactions between the public and police officers who speak the language of the population would result in better interactions for all.
“Our policy is always to hire veterans first,” Piques said. “If we needed 10 officers and there were five veterans at the top of the general roster, we would offer them a job first before moving on to the roster generated by the special certification.
The special certification is not binding, Baker’s spokesperson said, adding that city officials could hire both on the special list and on a general list.
What is a special certification?
The need for special certification must be carefully documented by a community, administration spokesman Baker said. City officials cannot just look at the people and decide to apply for the special certification.
This documentation could include providing data on the number of community members who, for example, speak Haitian Creole, and the number of service calls in that community.
According to the state’s website, the Human Resources Division allows special certification applications for language skills, gender, and race. Many communities, for example, require special certification for applicants who are licensed paramedics when hiring firefighters. Government officials receive “a handful” of special certification requests per year.
If the state approves the special certification, the hiring authority reviews a list of only candidates who meet that particular characteristic. If any veterans qualified as having multilingual skills, they would also be at the top of this list.
Public service jobs – jobs in federal, state and local governments, including police and firefighter positions – are perfect bridging jobs from military life to civilian status, Durham said.
“These jobs save lives,” said Durham, explaining that while military service instills a certain skill set, those talents don’t always translate well in the civilian workforce. There is a stigma and a financial cost to hiring veterans. From lack of work experience to keeping positions open for years if a veteran is called back to active duty, many private employers avoid filling vacancies with veterans.
“Government service jobs are great for vets,” Durham said.
Whether the list is a special certification or a general certification, employers must follow the 2N + 1 formula when examining candidates; for each vacant post, the city must look at the top three candidates at the top of the list. He can choose between these three. If the city is looking to fill three positions, it can choose between the top seven candidates.
The city’s police department currently consists of 96 sworn officers, with an approved budgeted force of 112 officers. This year, the city has already hired six officers, currently at the academy, and has extended letters of intent to three more who would enter the academy in September. These recruits were hired from an existing roster which will expire in the fall.
Even with the nine recruits, the city has seven more vacancies and plans up to eight more due to retirements and transfers over the next calendar year.
The distribution of the department of Medford consists of:
- 7 female officers (including 1 of Colombian origin)
- 3 black officers
- 3 Asian male officers
- 1 male officer of Brazilian origin
- 33 veteran or military service officers
The recruits will add two language speakers into the mix, one Spanish and one Haitian-Creole. There are two Latinx men, two black men and a woman in the academy. The rest of the recruits are white men.
Protected classes include veterans
The state’s human resources division, also known as the civil service, administers a test for police officers every two years; the last one took place in the spring and will generate a new list this fall. When candidates apply to take the exam and throughout the process, they indicate their particular characteristics, residences and the communities in which they prefer to work.
In case of circumvention, candidates remain on the list until it expires. Many Massachusetts communities require potential employees to live locally. State regulations require residency to be established for a full year before applicants take the exam for the community in which they reside. Medford has a residency requirement.
A general certification list ranks candidates based on test scores, but also adds points to those in certain protected classes. The rankings are:
- Chapter 534 candidates: those who were placed at the top of the list by the State Civil Service Commission based on its decision after a hearing
- 402A (resident) any child of police or firefighters killed in the performance of their duties
- 402A (non-resident)
- Disabled veterans (resident)
- 402 B (resident) surviving children of police or firefighters permanently disabled in the performance of their duties
- 402 B (non-resident)
- Veteran (resident)
- Disabled veteran (non-resident)
- Veteran (non-resident)
Even as a protected class, many veterans find the transition to civilian life difficult, Durham said. An eight-year hitch in the military, along with three years of active service and the ability to be recalled to combat at any time thereafter, makes it difficult for the military to compete in the workforce with their peers; many who have spent those eight years getting an education, upgrading their skills and gaining valuable work experience.
“If we take away protected status for veterans, the ‘thank you for your service’ is just a blank sentence,” Durham said.