Are you now, or have you ever been, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party? If so, don't even think about applying for a job as a Burlington cop.
In addition to the usual background queries included on the PHI, or "personal history information," section of the Burlington Police Department job application — along with aliases, bankruptcies, criminal convictions, past and present drug use, dishonorable military discharges, and (yes, this is true) every crime you've ever committed since the age of 10 — question 48 asks the following:
"ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A MEMBER OF, ANY COMMUNIST OR SUBVERSIVE ORGANIZATION OR ANY POLITICAL PARTY OR ORGANIZATION WHICH ADVOCATES THE OVERTHROW OF OUR CONSTITUTIONAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT IN THE UNITED STATES?
Whoa... Did I just back my DeLorean into a temporal vortex and land in the 1950s?
Nope. Evidently, the Burlington PD wants to know whether its job applicants have a fondness for Marx, Lenin, Castro or Kim Il Sung.
According to Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling, question 48 has been on the BPD's application at least since the 1980s. That's when president Reagan's tough talk about the Soviet Union got a number of law enforcement agencies around the country resurrecting McCarthy-era-sounding questions.
Actually, the origins of that language are even older than the Communist witchhunts of the 1950s. The federal Hatch Act of 1939 — officially titled "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities" — bars federal employees from being members of "any political organization which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government," including the Communist Party USA.
"What we're trying to vet out is anybody who is potentially trying to get into the government to subvert the government," Schirling explains. "Not that their answer is going to be all that informative if that's what they're trying to do."
The chief points out that his department's entire hiring process, including the PHI questionnaire, is under review and soon will be overhauled. That said, Schirling admits that question 48 "probably will remain" in some form — though likely without the reference to communism.
Schirling also notes that no applicant in his tenure at the department has ever been disqualified for checking "yes" for that question or for showing up to the interview with a copy of Mao's Little Red Book.
"Usually, the things on the PHI that get people in a jam is their most recent drug use, which was the week before they applied," he says, "or they stole $10,000 worth of stuff from their last employer, or they admit to a sex crime."
"People don't really talk about communism anymore, do they? It's pretty much wiped out," he says. "It's like being asked if you've ever been a member of the Whig Party."
According to Gilbert, the only time in recent memory that he's heard about such a question was when a woman who had applied for a teaching job in Vermont called to ask him whether she could be compelled to take a "loyalty oath" to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.
Considering the steady erosion of civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, jokes Gilbert, "Maybe that's not such a bad idea."
On a related note, during testimony last week in the Statehouse on police officers' use of Tasers, Schirling reportedly got into a tangential discussion with lawmakers about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator psychological assessment. The personality profile test, which is based on the work of Carl Jung, breaks down humans into 16 different personality types according to how they perceive the world and make decisions. While only 8 to 12 percent of the general population test as ESTJ, or "extraversion, sensing, thinking, judging," Schirling noted, about 80 percent of all cops qualify as ESTJ.
ESTJ personalities are often lauded as "model citizens," "take-charge" types and "pillars of the community." However, they also tend toward being "overly rigid," "self-confident and aggressive" and "value social order above all else." Consider the following portrait of the ESTJ personality:
"They live in the present, with their eye constantly scanning their personal environment to make sure that everything is running smoothly and systematically. They honor traditions and laws, and have a clear set of standards and beliefs. They expect the same of others, and have no patience or understanding of individuals who do not value these systems. They value competence and efficiency, and like to see quick results for their efforts."
Hmm... Does that sounds like life in a communist state?