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Back to Archives | Back to November 2004 Contents 

Metropolitan-Nashville Police Department Transfer Policy: Selecting Right Officers

By Mickey Miller, Assistant Chief, Metropolitan-Nashville Police Department, Nashville, Tennessee

s in many other departments across the country, Metropolitan-Nashville Police Department’s (MNPD) policy on transfers, and the procedures in which they were accomplished, had changed often over time. The policy and procedures were inconsistent, and employees believed that transfers were made with partiality and were unfair. Leaders of the MNPD decided to develop a transfer policy that was predictable, fair, and consistent.

The MNPD’s policy vision includes a set of predictable standards and testing methods, based on “knowledge, skills, and abilities inherent in each particular assignment.” The standards are used as a guideline for selection, providing officers with advance knowledge of what expectations and information the selection panel would consider in making their selection determination.

The MNPD recognized that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. For example, if an officer’s self-initiated work was high, if his or her reports were neat and correct, and if he or she did not engage in activities that resulted in disciplinary action, he or she would most likely be effective in a new assignment. To make the process fair, time limits on work and history would be established so that officers who needed to correct their behavior would have the opportunity to modify their performance and become eligible for selection. MNPD considered this a win-win situation for both the officers and the department: officers would know what they had to do to get selected for a posted position and that any mistakes they had made and corrected would not stop a transfer. The department would benefit from officers performing at a higher level and not engaging in activity that would land them in trouble.

The department had several vacant positions in specialized areas, and agency leaders considered it essential that the new policy be in effect before they made any new transfers. The change process began by surveying other departments to determine whether a method of transfers already existed that would satisfy MNPD need. Unfortunately the policy could not be borrowed from another department; it had to be developed from scratch. The following describes the basics of the MNPD’s new transfer policy. Departments interested in the policy and process are welcome to contact the MNPD for details.

Composition of the Selection Panel

The selection panel applying the selection standards and selection methods is the heart of the MNPD process. For an officer-level position, the selection panel consists of the section or division commander (a captain), two supervisors (lieutenants or sergeants), and an officer assigned to the position that the applicant is seeking. For supervisory and management positions, the ranks adjust accordingly. MNPD believes that it is important to have persons knowledgeable of the job and managers who know the vision of the unit make the transfer selections. Otherwise, accountability for the unit is compromised.

Length of Review

Several different timeframes were established to facilitate the review of applicant performance. Initially, the MNPD considered making the time periods for each evaluated category long (five years on self-initiated work, for instance, and 10 years on disciplinary action), but that would defeat the purpose of the new policy. MNPD wanted an applicant to have an incentive for correcting work patterns and behavior. If an applicant does not meet requirements, the time period to make the changes had to be enough to promote a behavior change but not so long that the applicant would be discouraged. If the panel reviewed a measure for the past 10 years, the applicant would lose incentive for making the change. The ability to change and reach higher levels had to be within the employees’ grasp.

Selection Standards

Selection standards were developed based on past performance and department history of the employee. The selection standards are comprehensive and wide ranging to ensure the best officers are selected for the position while maintaining fairness, consistency, and predictable results.

Personnel Records: The selection panel reviews personnel records, including complaints against the officer, for the applicant’s last two years to determine the suitability of the applicant for the posted position.

Complaints related to the responsibility or duties of that position will be weighed heavily for specific positions. For example, complaints of rudeness or other improper contact with citizens will be weighed heavily where maximum contact with the public is a part of the job description. This could be related to a motorcycle officer position or a bike patrol position.

Attendance: The selection panel reviews the attendance records and consider the applicant’s use of sick time, court appearances, and overall work attendance for the last one year. Extended illness may be a mitigating factor in determining whether sick time has been abused or not.

Work Product: The applicant’s work product is a major selection standard reviewed by the selection panel in relationship to the posted position. The timeframe for reviewing the applicant’s work product is one year. The review can consist of any work product and often covers self-initiated work, police reports filed, and arrests made. Although the type of work product reviewed is at the discretion of the selection panel and does vary according to the position, the work product is related to the position and provides an indication of the quality product to expect from the applicant in the new position.

Physical Ability: Physical ability may be assessed where the position requires a certain standard of physical capability. For example, selection to tactical units will require different physical abilities as compared to positions in less physically demanding positions.

In-Service Scores: The selection panel reviews the applicant’s inspection reports and in-service scores for the last two years.

Specialized Training: The applicant’s personal preparation for the transfer is an important consideration and includes any training or work experience the applicant had received that would prepare them for the new position. The training and work experience can be from any law enforcement agency or institution that is related to the posted position. The training and experience can be initiated by the applicant in their own course of study and preparation for the assignment or obtained through the departmental efforts.

Background Evaluations: The selection panel uses background evaluations completed by one designated member of the panel. In compiling the background evaluation, information is obtained from three of the applicant’s supervisors or managers and three peers. By including both peer workers and supervisory personnel, the panel can obtain a clear understanding of the applicant.

Annual Evaluations: The transfer policy places new importance on the employee’s annual evaluation, since the selection panel may review the applicant’s past annual evaluations for the last two years.

Achieving Diversity

The MNPD realizes that the selection panel should consider diversity needs for each unit where a vacant or new position is open and the transfer policy provides the panel with some latitude to accomplish this objective. Although diversity is sought, the policy requires that the selected applicants must meet the standards established for the position. In addition, the MNPD attempts to select a panel that exhibits diversity, but will ensure that the panel is made up of personnel who are assigned to the department element where the vacant or new position exists.

Selection Methods

Every specialized position within the department was addressed in the new transfer policy and assistant chiefs developed selection methods specific to positions within their respective bureaus. Selection methods for a specific position included selection standards most applicable to that position, along with other testing methods. The selection methods could be a combination of written examinations, oral interviews, role-playing scenarios, physical testing, and professional certifications.

The selection panel uses the selection standards that were defined under the selection methods for that position, but could also use any other of the standards that they believed were applicable. Each position’s selection method, defined in the order, would be placed on the position posting. This would allow officers to know ahead of time what attributes the selection panel would consider, whether they had acquired the skills to meet the standards, and, if not, what they would need to conform to the standards set within the order.

The department wins in this situation because the selection is fair and the MNPD gets the best employee for the assignment, and because officers seeking to transfer into one of these positions would acquire the necessary attributes and skills and would modify their behavior in a positive manner, thus increasing the productivity and professionalism of the department overall.

Applying the Selection Method

To illustrate how this process works, the selection method for a motorcycle officer (as shown in General Order 04-02) includes the following:

Written Exam: The exam may include any traffic related law or code, and alldepartment orders related to traffic enforcement, motor units, or traffic investigation.

Police Motorcycle Rider Certification Course: This certification course needs to be successfully completed before the applicant appears before the selection panel. Only applicants who pass the course will proceed to the selection panel. The selection panel may consider the rider’s course ratings. MNPD employees teach the course.

Oral Examination: Applicant’s for a supervisor position are subject to an oral exam. In the oral examination the applicant is provided a scenario where they must coordinate a group of motor officers for a particular special event.

Selection Standards: Selection standards are tools that the selection panel can use to assess the applicant for this position. Work product and department history (records), will be weighed heavily by the selection panel in this process. The selection panel will review the applicant’s work product and department records for the period of time specified in the selection standards found in General Order 04-02, Section V. Major consideration is given to: the quantity of self-initiated work by the applicant (such as traffic citations, parking citations, DUI arrests, and so on). In addition, the quality of traffic crash reports written by the applicant will be reviewed. Exceptions will be made only if the applicant was working in an assignment where traffic citations, parking citations, and traffic collision reports were not a part of his or her assignment during past year. In this case, a substitution may be made for other self-initiated work and report quality, consistent with the applicant’s present assignment. In addition, the panel may choose, in that situation only, to also review past traffic-related work product (such as traffic citations parking citations, DUI arrests, traffic collision reports, and so on) beyond the last year, as designated in General Order 04-02 for self-initiated work. Disciplinary action and complaints will be reviewed (specifically as they relate to rudeness, abuse of power, adherence to law, and so on). This should be a major factor in consideration for selection because motor officers have extensive contact with the public. Inspection reports, sick time use, attendance records, in-service records, and court appearance records are also used in making the selection. The applicant must also have a valid motorcycle license prior to appearing before the selection panel.

The selection panel, using the selection standards defined for a specific position, would look at disciplinary, personnel actions, complaint records, inspection reports, and in-service scores, for the last two years. Disciplinary records, or complaints, showing a pattern of proven findings of rudeness, abuse of power, or other charges that the panel believes would negatively affect the applicant’s performance in that assignment would be given major consideration. The panel would also look at the number of tickets the applicant wrote, traffic-related arrests made, and the quality of accident reports written for the past one-year. Finally, the applicant’s use of sick time, attendance records, and court appearance records would be reviewed for the past one-year period.

A motorcycle position inherently involves issuing tickets, making traffic-related arrests, and completing traffic accident reports; as such, evaluating the applicant’s suitability for the assignment should be based on measuring these actions. Past performance in writing tickets, making DUI arrests, and other enforcement actions is thought to be the best indicator of how the officer will perform after receiving this new motor assignment.

A lesson learned from the past testing process is worth noting and illustrating why a change was needed. Before this new transfer policy the past testing processes included filling out a report during the testing procedure. The problem discovered was that while the applicants may be able to do it correctly, and neatly, and will do so during the testing process, the actual field performance after being selected did not hold up to the standard. Thus reviewing the actual fieldwork is a better indicator of future performance rather than the one time test.

This example identifies the process used by the panel in making any selection.In addition to the selection methods used, the panel’s background assessment on each applicant, including interviews with the applicant’s peers, supervisors, and management, is extremely important. MNPD has found the single most important factor to weigh is the past performance and department history as defined by the selections standards reviewed in the process.

Applicant Review of Results

To ensure fairness in the process, and to confront the issue of rumors, applicants who are not selected can review the data that the selection panel used for that applicant, as well as, applicants that were selected. This insures the applicant that fairness was used in determining the selection, and provides the applicant with a guide to use for future openings.

Involve the Troops

After several executive staff reviews and changes, MNPD invited the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Peace Officers Association to review the order and provide input. The vast majority of their recommendations were excellent and incorporated into the order. MNPD believes this involvement was a critical factor in the overall acceptance of this new process by the departmental personnel.

Because this process is new, time will be the deciding factor in determining its positive or negative effect on the transfer process. MNPD is committed to making any necessary modifications as the process continues to develop. The selection panels are charged with the duty of recommending modifications that they believe are needed based on their experience with the process. Additionally, as skills and requirements for a position changes, then the selection methods will change to applicable. For now the MNPD has a transfer policy that is predictable, fair, and consistent and one that will help to ensure that transfers are based on merit and provide officers with definitive guidelines to obtain the assignment of their dreams.


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 11, November 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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