Selecting the Next Generation of Police Chiefs

Jul 27, 2017 | ARTICLE

By Timothy Gillette

How are emerging trends impacting law enforcement in the United States? Are today's police chiefs equipped with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics needed to succeed in their police leadership role? Will the selection criteria for future police chiefs need to change to accommodate an evolving society that reflects a growing distrust and disrespect for police officers?

These are all critical questions confronting local government managers responsible for hiring police chiefs. In a national law enforcement study I conducted for my dissertation in 2015, 264 local government police chiefs representing each state in the United States were surveyed in an attempt to answer these same questions.

Specifically, the police chiefs were asked to assess how emerging social, economic, technological, and domestic terrorism trends are impacting their role and influencing the qualities needed to carry out that role. Emerging trends examined in the study included growing diversity in the community and the workplace, prevailing economic constraints, rapidly changing technology, and increasing threats and acts of domestic terrorism.

Here is a broad overview of the qualities these police chiefs identified as important.

  • Having knowledge of high-liability issues, community policing strategies, changing community and workforce values, budget resource management, and technology systems and applications.
  • Demonstrating skills in leadership, communication, collaboration, decision making, problem solving, finance and resource management, strategic planning, and emergency management.
  • Possessing the ability to establish trust and confidence, create and sustain an ethical organizational culture, enforce the laws fairly and impartially, apply critical thinking to problem solving, exercise good judgment in decision making, develop effective community relationships, provide visionary and adaptable leadership, and assess and respond to community concerns.
  • Having more than 10 years of law enforcement management experience.
  • Possessing advanced education (e.g., a master's degree in public administration, organizational leadership, or criminal justice) and management training through the FBI National Academy, IACP Center for Police Leadership, University of Louisville Southern Police Institute, or Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.

To further verify the reliability of the study's findings, I interviewed Cedric Alexander, deputy chief operating officer for public safety, DeKalb County, Georgia. Chief Alexander served on President Obama's 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force outlined its own recommendations for future police chiefs (see https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/president-s-task-force-21st-century-policing-recommendations-print-action).

Chief Alexander emphasized the importance of promoting diversity in the workplace to include cultural diversity and diversity in thought processes and philosophies to allow for creativity and innovation; obtaining access to federal resources; protecting youth from feeling marginalized and being susceptible to recruitment efforts by terrorist groups through social media; and leveraging technologies to benefit the law enforcement mission.

Study Blueprint

My 2015 study sets forth these recommendations for the hiring of police chiefs:

1. City officials should obtain the input of their communities in determining the criteria to be used in selecting a police chief. They also should afford the community the opportunity to participate in the selection process, thus ensuring the candidate understands the needs of the community and possesses the experience, training, and education to lead the community's agency in the face of social, economic, technological, and domestic terrorism trends examined in the study.

2. In developing the selection criteria for their future police chiefs, local officials should examine their current job descriptions to ensure they reflect the changing times and needs of the community, especially in consideration of emerging social, economic, technological, and domestic terrorism trends.

City officials should also modify their selection criteria and include the critical characteristics most relevant to the changing and expanding role of the police chiefs in the midst of these emerging trends.

3. In establishing selection criteria for future police chiefs, city officials should consider critical and sometimes new criteria regarding the type and level of law enforcement that police chiefs should possess. Such selection criteria should consider the candidate's:

  • Knowledge of high-liability issues, community policing strategies, changing community and workforce values, budget resource management, technology systems and applications.
  • Skills in decision making, collaboration, forecasting, strategic planning, finance and resource management.
  • Ability to exercise emotional intelligence, to build community relationships based on trust, to create and sustain an ethical organizational culture, to build learning organizations, to implement and facilitate change, and promote social justice by treating all persons fairly and equally.
  • Personal characteristics, including honesty, intelligence, credibility, trustworthiness, adaptability, and forward thinking.
  • Prior experience in building community partnerships, working on community committees and projects, securing federal resources, and responding to acts of domestic terrorism.
  • Advanced education.
  • Specialized police leadership and management training in ethics and integrity, emergency management, cultural and generational diversity, problem solving, and community policing.

4. In training and selecting the next generation of police chiefs, the most important criteria to consider is the ability of the chief to lead a police agency in an ethical manner that ensures public safety, provides social justice, and instills public trust and confidence.

For this reason, managers must ensure their selection criteria include the ability to apply effective leadership models that can promote change, build community partnerships, and improve the effectiveness of their police organizations in meeting the needs of their communities.

5. When selecting and evaluating police chiefs, managers should always consider the character and integrity of the candidates, as well as their commitment and ability to serving all persons in their community fairly and equally.

Timothy Gillette is professor of criminal justice and leadership programs, Nova Southeastern University and Broward College Institute of Public Safety, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (timgillettesr@yahoo.com). He served as police chief for the cities of Pembroke Park and Weston, Florida.

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