The Police Promotion Process and Cops Who Chase Rank

High Ranking Cop

Yes sir

I have never been one to sugar coat or mince words. Sometimes these words have gotten me in trouble.

The trouble always comes from those of rank.

More specifically, above my own.

Now all of us have heard or uttered the obvious “wow, he’s (or she) has changed since they got promoted”. I’m sure the same has been said about me.

But we all know that one, or several cops, who become complete unbearable assholes once they get a couple of stripes or bars.

Why does this happen?

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I recently saw a meme on a financial page with a quote that had me thinking for several days. The quote posed the following question,“does money or wealth change a person or does it bring out who they really are?”

I believe the parallels are similar.

With money comes a certain amount of power.

The same can be said about those cops who chase rank.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with going up for promotion to better your organization (and make a few dollars) if your knowledge and leadership are ready for the next level.

Sadly, many cops who chase after promotion have motives that are self-centered and completely self-serving.

It is not leadership, responsibility, challenge or even money they seek.

It is power.

And they will step on the back of your neck to attain it.

Today’s promotional process may be helping them get there.

A rocket ship

I would bet a years salary that every police or sheriffs agency in this country has one.

I call them the “rocket ship cop”.

They bust on the agency with a tsunami of enthusiasm and education.

They destroy everyone on every promotion board and get promoted in lightning speed.

These “rocket ship cops” get promoted so quickly one would think they were sent from some outer space police planet similar to Krypton but for cops (first Superman reference).

They are masters of persuasion and even better at the one gift most cops, the genuine-non-self-serving-keep-their-head down-get-the-job-done-cops, don’t have.

The gift of gab.

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Yes indeed these “rocket shippers” are truly blessed with the ability to talk you into submission.

A small few of these “rocket shippers” do a good job as they make their way up the ranks and seem to catch on quickly to the next rank and next job.

Unfortunately most are flat-out terrible.

The worst.

And because of their rocket ship meteoric rise which has hijacked the tried and true process of time on the job and experience, the predominant unbearable asshole side of their nature comes out full tilt.

Many “rocket shippers” get taken care of.

What I mean is that on the rare occasion that staff recognize the absolute shortcomings of these asshole bosses, they step in.

They are usually assigned some cushy headquarters job with the other “mothershipper’s” where their assholery (I know it’s not a real word) is limited to just a few and their fuck ups are minimized.

What can be done

So what can be done to keep this from happening in your agency?

The first priority is to make the promotion process as fair as possible. What exactly do I mean by fair?

It seems that one of the biggest complaints I hear from my department and others are the pre-screening points allotted for certain qualifications for each cop going up.

Most agencies will award points for seniority, education and other training the officer has completed. Some say a disproportionate number of points are awarded for formal education.

Most do not award points for military service.

This has always baffled me.

Most police departments are modeled after the military. This model is branded as a para-military organization. This is even more true for many state police agencies.

It would only make sense to award points for prior military service.

Or maybe everyone should start at zero.

Just a thought.

Assessment centers

The biggest and probably most controversial way to ensure these douche bags don’t contaminate your agency is to do away with assessment centers.

Yes, assessment centers.



I know that a lot of departments swear by these. I believe they serve a purpose but are dangerous to an organization.

Essentially you are letting complete strangers come in and shape and dictate to your agency who will lead you. Am I crazy or does that sound strange.

Do you really think that Google or Enterprise Rent-A-Car would promote their people this way. Not in a million years!

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It’s like I’m waiting for Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone  to suddenly appear with a short but succinct monologue about some alternate universe we are about to enter.

“Rocket ship” cops love assessment centers.

And why wouldn’t they?

They can go in to each scenario and tap dance like a champ and look amazing to Sgt. Monday who has no clue how you function in real-time at your agency.

You could even lie and no one would know.

No one.


I know a lot of you assessment center apologists are ripping your garments and cursing my name for even challenging this popular process.

I strongly support having members of your own agency having say in who gets promoted. Now I know that some will cry good ole boy foul on this one and trust me I know.

Some may think, those from small departments, that this article supports nepotism and cronyism. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Possibly a mix between outsiders and insiders ranking potential candidates?

Humans are very smart creatures.

I’m quite certain if we can develop technology that allows me to Facetime with my brother in Australia, at no cost,  we can certainly come up with a fair promotion process.

A process that can curtail some from shooting up the promotional ladder without knowing how to do the job.

A process that doesn’t foster an environment where these shape-shifting demigods become the leaders of your organization that destroy morale like some pandemic virus.

Or worse, letting someone else, outside of your family, come in tell you who will manage and run your police department.

You can find other ORIGINAL articles like this one and more at The Salty Sarge Facebook Page.


  1. A whole lot of agencies suffer from nepotism, big time. I finished third on my lieutenant’s exam and interview and was passed over 5 times for for that promotion by candidates with lower scores than mine because they were: #1 – related to some higher up. Two of those routed around me were cousins of Car 2. #2 – The three other were major ass kissers and yes men (something I have never been nor will ever be). The only way around this particular situation is to promote by order of finish only, and all interviews are done by blind, number only identifications. Good old boyism and nepotism should have no place in police work, but unfortunately, I don’t think it will ever change.

  2. I’m the definition of a rocket ship cop lol. I do have a formal education, but I also have 9 years as an NCO and I’m not an idiot. My rocket ship abilities are mainly attributed to a common issue in departments everywhere- turnover. My choices were either promote or be led by incompetent assholes, and the latter wouldn’t be fair for everyone else I work with. You can have a good cop and bad leader, but you can’t have a bad cop and a good leader. You can’t lead if you don’t know how to do the job. My advice at every promotion ceremony is don’t forget where you came from.

  3. Yeah, but regarding assessment centers you are forgetting one crucial detail. Without this system the COP would have to assume responsibility for the promotion decision. Remember the old adage in government: if enough people are responsible, no one will be held to blame.

  4. I’m. Sorry your agency is like rhat, but neporism isn’t the reason. You’ve got lousy or no rules. Mine was just the opposite. I was in charge of hiring, my sister scored a 99% and had 2 nursing degrees. She couldn’t even ve interviewed because vets go to the top, so a vet with a 70% beats a nonvet with a 99. (I’m a DAV myself.) Lots of civil service agencies up north are full of relatives bc the rules give them 0 advantage. Change the rules.

  5. You will continue to be passed over until you learn to play the game. Just from reading your post you sound like a “by the book guy”, which IS good and admirable. Unfortunately you need good relationships with the higher ups. And if those people don’t feel you’re personable enough or the perception is that you’re ungrateful for the promotion you most likely will be passed over. We deal with each person on the street differently than the next. Do the same in the office. BTW, The guys YOU see as ass kissers might just be really outgoing and personable. Good luck

  6. Maybe if the assessors receive a short resume of the candidate’s accompliments and assignments prior to the interview a better grade or choice could be made.

  7. The promotional process in all departments is a joke, i agree with a lot of stuff said in this article, however most places like Google or whatever company, promote on the ability to do the job, and other traits that make a good leader. Police promotional exams are based on those who can memorize the most information and fool the interviewers with answers to worthless questions.

  8. As sad as it is, often agency politics outweigh knowledge and leadership.
    If someone plays golf with, went to the same church or school as the people making the decisions they are more likely to be selected.
    The joke of the process is claiming impartiality in the outcome.
    The poor selection some agencies make continue to perpetuate the cycle. The officers suffer the consequences of failures in leadership from the top, but should do their part to provide leadership from the ranks.

  9. Ass kissers are the worst! I had a kid on my department get hired and had only the experience as a school cop and 6 months with us on the street promoted to some titled position such as community watch blah blah blah. We all
    laughed at how brown his nose was and couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Boom, after more ass kissing of a chief who was later ‘let go’ on basis of corruptness, next he was promoted to Sgt!!! Personable my ass Nick Shafer.

  10. I had never heard of assessment centers before, must be something in other parts of the country (I’m in California). We have a unique promotion process on our department. We take two written tests and an oral board. Then it gets interesting. For Cpl, Inv and Sgt; all of the sergeants, LTs, a Capt and deputy chief go into a room. They argue for the entire day over how good a candidate you are and a score of 1-30 is given. The entire process is smoke and mirrors. All the wires records are destroyed, everyone is banned from ever talking about it, and points can be changed by the administration. The process is called “Promotability”. We all call it likeability. Leadership sits in a room and talks s@#$ on people they do or don’t like. Points are awarded for time on the department and education but you also get points for working divisions such as personnel. It allows the administration to control the process so that they can promote who they want.

  11. Unless and until departments start using a blind process, this type of favoritism will continue.

  12. I retired as a captain, but it took me awhile to get there. Made sergeant @ 10 years, lieutenant @ 15 and captain @ 22 years. I walked a fine line between the legit needs of the officers and the hard & fast rules of the agency. All of my promotions came via the assessment center process and it does have its weaknesses, but it does get around the good old boy network. When the captains’ process was over I was called to the chief’s office. He congratluated me, handed me my new badge and said if he could promote anyone he wanted it would be so-and-so, and not me. Well, so-and-so was his ass kissing buddy who eventually made it to deputy chief after I retired. Imagine my suprise.

  13. It does not stop good old boy promotions. I finished 3rd after an assessment for lieutenant. The top finisher was promoted immediately and right after him, #2, an ass kisser friend of the executive officer was promoted. No problem, he was second. Now for the fun. I was passed over 5 times for the execs two cousins and three more democrats. The list which was supposed to last two years, was killed after a year, because our then sheriff sold out the department to a merger with the city police department. So, does it stop good old boy promotions? Not really.

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