Selecting a Chief of Police

Selecting a Chief of Police

Here is a recent ad looking for someone to lead a large city police department.

Read it carefully…

“The City of ______ is the State of ______ largest city, with a population of ________ and a land area of approximately ___ square miles. _______ has made great strides in reducing crime over the last several years, and [the mayor] plans to continue moving in this trajectory going forward. In the last year, [the city] reached 

its lowest homicide count in the last 35 years, and reduced homicides by 17% in the last two years alone. Overall violent crime has dropped 7% over the last two years, which equates to 679 fewer victims of violence. Juvenile violence has dropped by 37% since 2009. [The mayor], who was elected… in November 2011 with 87% of the vote, is looking for a seasoned law enforcement professional with the drive and vision to continue leading ___________ in swift crime reduction.

“The Police [Chief] oversees the ________ City Police Department, which is staffed by nearly _____ employees, including _____ sworn officers, and operates with an annual budget that exceeds $___ million. The [Chief] reports directly to the Mayor’s Deputy … and operates with general guidance from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The selected candidate will run the nation’s __th largest municipal police department, focusing on a number of priorities, including reducing violent crime and gun violence; fostering community engagement; police recruitment; training and integrity; and the use of technology to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. The City’s next [Chief] will be challenged to continue reducing crime to improve [our city’s] position among large cities. While budget challenges will continue in the current economic environment, the sworn component of the organization is expected to grow. The successful candidate must manage the implementation of technology solutions to Departmental operational issues and the ability to motivate officers and employees…”

You might ask, this is the job? Swift crime reduction, technology solutions, and ability to motivate?  Now this may pull the wool over the eyes of most people who don’t regularly think about police, after all, who can be against reducing crime, technology or motivators? The follow-up question that needs to be asked is how is that to be done and at what human cost? At what price are we willing to give up freedom for safety? I have often said that when I was a chief of police that I could actually reduce crime, but we wouldn’t want to live in a city like that.

The problem is that leading any police organization is more about the things I talk about in my book than what this city posted as its job requirements for their chief of police (Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, April 2012). Instead, I list vision, selecting the best and brightest officers, listening to the community, collaborative problem-solving, providing high quality leadership and training to the officers, continuously improving, honest evaluation, and sustain good efforts into the future than about reducing crime numbers, implementing technologies or being a motivator. It’s rather about honest, collaborative, and visionary leadership.

An effective police department today is one that is willing to work with all the communities which exist in most American cities — all, everyone! And when “reducing crime” [read: those crimes which are reported to the police] is the focus, then all kinds of trouble can result from “jukin’ the stats (manipulation of crime data) to disregarding the civil rights of those who are labeled as “criminals” (read: blacks, Latinos, and the poor and socially disfranchised).

What instead? The following is from Arrested Development and the expectations that every city should have about their chief of police. [See also and earlier book of mine, How to Rate Your Local Police (Police Executive Research Forum,1983)]

There’s more to being a chief of police today than juggling the numbers. I suggest that cities take a look at this and use it to write a more realistic job announcement!

Professional Leadership Expectations: Chief of Police

Tenure. A binding employment contract of at least seven years. A police department that needs improvement must be assured that there will be a continuity of top leadership. To think about transforming a police department in less than this period of time is foolhardy.

 Leadership. The department leadership style must ensure the growth and development of its members. Not only must the chief officer be assured of an appropriate amount of time necessary to do the job he or she was hired to do, but the style of the chief’s leadership (and that of his or her subordinate officers) is critical. To permit a chief officer to coercively lead the department and instill an atmosphere of fear within it is to shut down the kind of open and collaborative communication that is necessary for any organization seeking continuous improvement of its operations and functions.

 Training. Even if the chief officer has tenure and is committed to an open, participative leadership style, the department must also be committed to providing high-quality training for everyone, and also have the same commitment to providing on-going training through an officer’s career. Training is what develops and maintains the skills expected of a professional police officer.

 Experimentation. Police in a democratic society must be willing to experiment with new ideas and concepts. This means that a police organization must develop a culture that encourages innovative thinking and challenges current practices. This is a rapidly changing, technologically oriented world and those who serve as police must be aware of social and cultural trends and understand the diverse thinking that holds a free society together. In today’s world, to remain in place is to fall behind.

 Evaluation.A commitment to experimentation must be concurrent with a commitment to evaluation. A department must be willing undergo constant self-evaluation and open itself to outside research and evaluation as well. It must have a way to evaluate the results of well-thought experimentation and be open to new ideas and practices that this kind of evaluation will suggest.

(From Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.)


You see, when it comes to picking a police leader, a city has simply got to do more than focus on reducing reported crimes. Because, as I said, when you do, you start courting trouble.

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