Editor's Note: Ask an ICMA Manager is a monthly blog series where ICMA asks a current or former local government manager or professional to answer a question on a management issue facing local government.

Ask an ICMA Manager: What Are the Best Interview Questions for a Police Chief?

by Lee Feldman, city manager, and ICMA past president, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 

The most visible (political) department director in any community is the police chief. In today’s environment, the actions or inactions of a police department can have long-lasting and sometimes tragic effects on a community. Ferguson, Missouri, and Charlottesville, Virginia, are recent examples. Consequently, a local government manager and police chief must be a unified team and will have a much different relationship than the typical one with a subordinate. 

There is not a more critical hire for the manager. The process should be well thought out, with the manager as the controlling force of the process. In my mind, this process cannot be delegated, though it might be augmented with a professional recruiter. Any process for selecting a police chief must include either formal or informal input from the governing body, command staff, and union and community stakeholders, while preserving the integrity of the appointment process. The process should be transparent and quick. Once a candidate is selected, an independent background check should be conducted and, if necessary, conducted by an outside entity.

To evaluate candidates for this important position, I have used the following questions in the past:

1. Describe your general management style regarding these areas, and provide examples of how you would deal with each: 

  • City Manager/Police Chief Relations
  • City Council Relations
  • Employee Relations
  • Community Relations. 

2. Describe three specific accomplishments in your local government law enforcement career that you consider to be the most significant.

3. Explain your approach to promoting the concept of 21st-century policing throughout all sections of the police department. 

4. Identify, based upon your knowledge of our city and its demographics, the program areas you would focus on and describe how you would intend to undertake the tasks of a new chief during your first six months on the job.

5. Police departments and law enforcement agencies in the county, as well as across the state, are finding it difficult to attract qualified applicants for police officer positions. Discuss your philosophy and techniques relating to recruitment and retention of law enforcement personnel.

6. Explain the techniques you would employ to keep the city manager informed about projects, problems, and issues. Provide samples or examples of techniques you have used in the past.

7. Relate the most sensitive or critical issue/crisis that either affected or had the potential to significantly affect your relationship with a manager or other chief executive officer.  What was the outcome of that issue? What techniques did you employ to resolve the issue/crisis? Please be specific.

These are by no means the only questions you should ask a potential police chief, but they do focus on the kind of relationship the candidate might create with the manager as well as with other stakeholders. For the most part, all of the candidates that you interview will have the requisite law enforcement experience. The main thing you are trying to assess is who will be the best fit for your community and your team. These questions should help you make that determination. 

This question came from the Ask and Answer section of our website. View the original question and add your own answer or ask your own question and we might use it in a future post.  

Get our content delivered straight to your inbox, and advance in the profession.

Subscribe Now

Related Resources

Past "Ask an ICMA Manager" Blog Posts. Practical advice on issues that are most relevant to you.

Checklist: How to Plan for Police Recruitment. In this 2017 blog post, the focus was on a checklist to help police departments maximize their recruitment efforts.

Lessons Learned about Body-Worn Cameras. A 2018 blog post that provides detailed learned from police departments around the United States. 

The Manager-Police Chief Relationship. This 2016 PM magazine article looks at the keys to a successful manager-police chief relationship.  

Contribute to the ICMA Blog by sending your content ideas to Niles Anderegg at nanderegg@icma.org


Get more content like this in your mailbox!

Subscribe via email

Register for the ICMA Annual Conference

Join us September 17-21 in Columbus/Franklin County, Ohio for the 2022 ICMA Annual Conference.

Register Today



ICMA provides the tools, resources and connections to help you become part of the international network of 13,000+ local government management professionals.