Those Who Don’t Promote …

Some of the best cops will never take a promotional exam, & that's not a bad thing

By Joseph Padilla   |   Apr 4, 2016

Some of the best cops I know have never taken a promotional examination. These officers spend their careers working patrol, investigations, or administrative assignments. They develop an expertise, become recognized experts and serve in those assignments for many years.

Unfortunately, one of the flaws of law enforcement culture is that these career officers and their contributions are frequently overlooked. They are just “patrol officers” or just a “detective.” In reality they are the backbone of law enforcement and should be credited as such. The success of their agencies depends on them.

Who Promotes, & Why

Many officers elect not to take a promotional exam. Some don’t score high enough to be promoted. The competition to advance up the ranks of criminal justice agencies can be difficult and all-consuming for those going through the process. Testing normally consists of written examinations and oral boards or assessment centers. After the testing process is completed, the final decision on who gets promoted traditionally rests with the head of the agency.

I’ve seen instances when, after all the testing is over, officers have been bypassed and not promoted. This is frequently based on an administrator’s opinion that the officer was too active or assertive in being a good or even proactive cop throughout his or her career. Some officers are viewed as not being a candidate for a supervisory position. In reality many of these people are needed to lead less experienced troops in the fight against crime.

Police officers who are promoted are often held in high esteem. There’s a misconception that they were better cops or are more talented or smarter than those of lower ranks. Some are just good test takers. Many are intelligent individuals that have the interests of the officers, department, and community in mind.

I’ve always encouraged officers to take promotional tests: It means more money, the ability to serve in other areas, and possibly a higher income in retirement. Many supervisory and command officers do an excellent job and are true leaders of their organizations. We are lucky these people chose to work in law enforcement. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with several and they have had a significant impact on me and my career. But their rank didn’t define their abilities: their performance did.

Who You Serve

As I promoted and became a part of the administration of my police department, I realized that my greatest strength and knowledge came from those that I supervised. They had been doing their jobs for years before I was placed in a position of authority over them. I think it’s important for supervisors to recognize and respect the work of those that are actually doing the “brunt of the grunt” work.

Some of the finest police officers I’ve ever met are those you never hear about. They go about their duties quietly every day, ensuring that departments run efficiently thanks to their steady, daily work performance. They deal with work-related problems and leave the public with a positive impression of police officers. They are actually the true face of law enforcement.

In the last decade or so, I’ve noticed a trend in the hiring and appointing of some police administrators. It’s apparent and obvious to those in the ranks that many of these administrators have minimal actual street experience.  It appears as if these people are chosen for their positions as politicians who are there to appease the public and the media without offering any substantial and meaningful changes to the law enforcement agency. As these police managers come and go, officers continue to do their jobs in safeguarding our communities.

When I was going to be promoted to a command position I asked a captain I respected and admired if he had any advice for me.

“When you’re gone from this job no one will remember what project you worked on or what program you put together,” he said. “All they’ll remember is how you treated them.”

Fortunately there are still supervisory and command officers who feel this way, but it appears they are becoming fewer. For an administrator to expect respect and dedication, they should try to mentor and foster the right environment to support it.


In retirement I’m now a part of the public. I know and appreciate those patrol officers and detectives who make my community safe—those who are available to me and my family when called upon and who maintain control and authority while gaining the respect they deserve.