Clown World

As we all learn as children, “In an emergency, dial 911.” One likes to think that this essential service will work when you need it. Indeed, it needs to work all of the time. And it would, but for the fact that we live in Clown World.

The Creshenda Williams saga reveals the dangers of making the government a jobs program for the politically favored classes, rather than a place with high standards and a thorough-going commitment to excellence.

As reported last week, the Houston 911 dispatcher “didn’t have time for that”:

Crenshanda Williams. “Houston 9-1-1, do you need medical, police or fire?” she asked.

“This is a robbery,” Li blurted out.

Li heard a sigh, then nothing. The call had been disconnected again.

On Wednesday, Williams was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 18 months on probation after she was convicted of hanging up on thousands of calls during the 18 months that she worked as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Williams’ incompetence jeopardized thousands of people because she was given a job that she had no business doing. The exact circumstances through which she was hired can’t easily be known, but we do know that Houston has announced: “[t]he goal of the City of Houston is to have a diverse workforce that reflects the ethnic and cultural makeup of the community it serves.” The city’s priorities, and those of too many others, are clear.

This commitment is not cost-free. Former New Orleans Police Department officer Len Davis was convicted of arranging the 1994 murder of a woman who had filed a brutality complaint against him. Officer Mohammad Noor in Minneapolis was a highly celebrated Somali police officer, right up until he was arrested for the trigger-happy killing of an Australian woman. A connected and diverse engineering firm’s pedestrian bridge fatally collapsed days after opening in Miami. The engineers decided to sound the alarm with a mere voicemail.

The thread that unites these failures is government hiring characterized by a lack of commitment to standards and excellence. Those standards have been displaced by political goals, whether small ball ones like patronage and partisan politics, or larger ones, like systematically discriminating in favor of whole populations at the expense of others.

Restore Civil Service
The abandonment of excellence is never more dramatic than in the case of affirmative action, where the entire concept involves favoring individuals of demonstrably lesser ability, skill, and qualifications when hiring for important jobs where there is little margin for error. Whether the position is air traffic control, police work, firefighting or the
Marine Corps, mistakes in these fields cost lives. In these types of jobs, the only consideration that should prevail is moral and technical excellence.

Once upon a time, government hiring had a means of ensuring excellence, or at least meritocracy. The civil service exam system was designed to regulate government hiring—long mired in corruption, patronage, and randomness—with standardized criteria. This system allowed the selection and placement of talented people into jobs for which they were qualified regardless of race. Indeed, under the civil service exam system, a classification was made not only regardless of race, but regardless of political party, political machines, good or bad interviewing skills, or nepotism.

The federal government had a universal civil service exam until 1981. As Steve Sailer has reported, “the feds themselves once had an excellent test for entry-level job applicants. One of the last malignant relics of the Carter Administration is the enduring hash it made of civil servant hiring by abolishing the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE) in January 1981. That this disastrous step has disappeared down the memory hole exemplifies the reigning prejudice in modern America against publicly discussing about how best to select people.” Instead, for federal hiring, we now have the pseudo-meritocracy that comes from interviews, diversity statements, and “KSAs.” As we see in Houston, things fare little better at the local level.

Not Everyone is Qualified
When cities and states have tried to use standardized tests, they run into an artificial obstacle: endless lawsuits under the rubric of disparate impact. No test has been invented that can achieve a perfectly proportional outcome between the various races, and the “gap” has surfaced in such varied tests as the
SAT, firefighting exams, and the old civil-service exam.

Our society is at a crossroads: it must decide if the highest goal is equality, to include the pretend equality generated by affirmative action, or if it believes in prioritizing excellence.

There are no doubt a great many people of all races who could meet the minimal qualifications to be a 911 dispatcher. But not everyone can, and it is better that this essential system be manned by the most qualified and conscientious people, than that the makeup of dispatchers—whom no one sees and most people rarely interact with—matches Houston’s demographics.

While endemic, multigenerational poverty is frustrating to people of good will, the solution must be some combination of realism about what is possible, moral renewal, the reduction of wage pressure from globalism and immigration, and controlling the “bad apples” who prey on their neighbors. Make-work jobs in life-and-death fields like police work and 911 dispatch is a costly solution with real and deadly consequences for the people who it is supposed to help.

This problem with 911 is apparently of longstanding, and the victims of this kind of affirmative action include the disproportionately minority population in poorer and higher crime neighborhoods. As the great philosopher Flava Flav taught us:

Now I dialed 911 a long time ago
Don’t you see how late they’re reacting
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get the morgue truck and embalm the goner
They don’t care cause they stay paid anyway

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About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, The Journal of Property Rights in Transition, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

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