Just Accepted a Position as Police Chief? Here’s Who You Can Turn to for Advice

Robert Davis

It’s surprising how many times police chiefs have asked our law enforcement consulting team for advice on who to reach out to for information, feedback, and guidance on addressing technical police-related matters or community crises.

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It’s surprising how many times police chiefs have asked our law enforcement consulting team for advice on who to reach out to for information, feedback, and guidance on addressing technical police-related matters or community crises. After all, heading up a police department is not easy and, at times, can even be a thankless role.

What you don’t want to do on your first day of work as Chief is shut your office door, pull out a sheet of paper and fill in two columns: “Friends” and “Foes.” While you may not actually write such a list, I’ve seen this approach taken too many times when a new chief tries to determine who they can work with to enact their vision for the department’s future. Taking an “us versus them” attitude has yet to produce the types of long-lasting, collaborative relationships with community stakeholders that lead to a law enforcement agency’s success.

Both new executives and seasoned police chiefs should have a call list that includes people in the following categories.

1. Police Colleagues and Peers

The first group is what I refer to as your “internal circle of peers.” These are individuals with whom you share common education, training or work experiences. This could include your colleague from the FBI National Academy Class you attended years ago, the Chief in the jurisdiction next door or another police leader with whom you collaborated on a joint law enforcement initiative. Consider these individuals your private, unofficial team of advisors, as it will be easy to talk with them “off the record.”

2. Police Associations

International, national, regional, state and local police industry associations are excellent resources for members to obtain information and feedback on police matters. Attend their conferences when you can, expand your network, and then leverage it when you need assistance. Organizations include:

  • County or State Chiefs of Police Associations
  • Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA)
  • International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP)
  • Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA)
  • National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE)
  • National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)

3. People You Perceive as Critics

Although I am currently an independent consultant helping agencies navigate crises, I was once Chief of Police in San Jose, California. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to the individuals most critical of law enforcement agencies to learn about their recommendations for addressing valid concerns. I consider some of those critics my closest professional friends now.

Reaching out to someone with opinions and perspectives seen as adversarial to your vision, actions, decisions and initiatives can be enormously rewarding. First, if you are a good listener, you’ll gain valuable insights into perspectives that differ from yours – for example, why a particular segment of the community is opposed to a certain police policy.

Second, you’ll provide the other party with an honest opportunity to hear from you. You may even find grounds for agreement or, at the very least, a mutually respectful “agreement to disagree.” Third, you’ll establish a working relationship that may bear wonderful fruit over time. And remember, these “critics” may include labor organization leaders representing your agency’s rank-and-file. They too need to be heard and have their concerns addressed.

4. Neighborhood Organizations and Associations

There are many grassroots groups and non-profit organizations with missions, budgets and strategic plans complementary to those of your department, such as local chapters of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA, YWCA or Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. These groups try to improve the lives and livelihoods of people living in the communities you police. Have your officers reach out to these groups to build ongoing relationships and discuss issues relevant to current policing policies, law enforcement career tracks, or youth and education priorities.

Don’t Go It Alone

Who else should be on your call list? At times, it might be everyone. The most successful chiefs have their fingers on the pulse of stakeholders in every part of their jurisdiction – from business owners and government executives to religious leaders and community activists. Don’t wait for a crisis or until you need something. Connect with them now and keep those relationships alive.

Most of all, recognize the importance of reaching out to others for assistance. You have a tough job, but no one is asking you to do it alone. My experience as a police chief and law enforcement consultant has taught me that those who want to “go it alone” leading policing organizations will indeed find themselves alone when times are tough.

Learn more about Jensen Hughes law enforcement consulting services.

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About the author

Robert L. Davis
Rob Davis is a highly regarded and innovative national leader and expert in policing and public safety with a special emphasis on ethics and integrity programs.

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