We Don’t Owe Jobs to Grandkids of Fallen Philly Police, Firefighters

The case against a sentimental yes vote on ballot question #3.

The sacrifice that Philadelphia’s police and firefighters make for this community can be an amazing thing. In the last few years, we’ve seen multiple members of both fraternities die in the line of duty, losing their lives to preserve the city as a safe and orderly place for its residents.

We owe them a lot. We owe their families a lot. But we do not owe a job to their grandkids.

When the city’s voters go to the polls on Tuesday, though, they’ll be asked to provide exactly that. Ballot question #3 makes that request:

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter—which allows for a preference in the civil service regulations for the children of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or who died in the line of duty—be amended to further allow for a preference for the grandchildren of such firefighters or police officers?

No it shouldn’t.

This is probably not the majority opinion. The Daily News, after all, endorsed the measure with these less-than-stirring comments: “The families of fallen firefighters or cops have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us. It’s hard to see a down side here.” The Committee of Seventy decided to take no stance at all. The city’s police and firefighter unions, obviously, are very much in favor of the measure. Why get on their bad side?

Because it’s hard to see an up side here.

When the resolution was discussed before a City Council committee back in June, it was striking that none of its endorsers—there were no opponents—really made a case for why such a measure would benefit the city itself. The reasons for approving it, it seems, are entirely sentimental.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers: “The sacrifice and dedication of these members should always be remembered and honored.”

Police Capt. Fran Healy: “The very least we can do—the City of Philadelphia can do, for its fallen heroes, is help continue their legacy of service for their children and grandchildren.”

Bill Gault from the Philadelphia Firefighters and Medics Union: “The City owes the family of officers killed in the line of duty a debt of gratitude, a debt which can never be fully paid.”

Eugene Blagmond, from the Fraternal Order of Police: The willingness of a fallen officer’s relatives to serve “is an incredible testament to their dedication to the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Again, there’s no doubt we owe much to fallen officers and their families. No one doubts that. The fact that Philadelphia voters approved a similar measure in 2006, giving preference to the sons and daughters of police and firefighters killed on duty, makes sense. Those kids were directly affected by the loss of a parent. After that, though, the question is less clear—if we’re going to give grandkids a leg up in city hiring practices, why not great-grandkids, too? How far down the genetic line can we go? Do we ever get to stop providing full-time employment to the descendants of the fallen? If we can never fully repay the debt, does that mean we have to pay it forever?

We all know the police and fire departments are filled with “legacies”—folks whose parents and grandparents served before them. That they want to serve speaks well of their families and traditions—but taken too far can choke the system with people who were given jobs they didn’t necessarily earn. The ballot question gives a leg up to, frankly, marginal job candidates: They’d get 10 points added to their civil service exam score, provided they pass all the exam’s parts. Bottom line: That preference would elevate the grandkids past more qualified candidates.

Philadelphia voters have already decided we owe that preference to the kids of the fallen. Fine. But it should end there. If a grandkid can’t earn entry into a department on their own—no matter the sacrifice of a grandparent—then traditions should give way to new blood. Ballot question #3 should be rejected.