10 keys to effective police leadership

The following 10 points are what I have used in my tenure as chief of police

I am a chief of police of a 42-employee department in Northeast Ohio. I worked my way up through the ranks and was promoted to chief of police in June of 2014. I am honored to be able to provide information or assistance to both present and future law enforcement leaders.

A good starting point is a brief summary of a paper I authored in 2007. This paper was for a leadership course but was (and remains) my core belief in how to build a successful agency. The following 10 points are the framework of effective police leadership that I have used in my tenure as chief of police.

1. Defined and effective chain of command
If there is not a defined level of chain of command, then how can one evaluate the effectiveness of the senior staff/administrative staff? Patrol division needs to know how the chain of command works so no breakdowns occur. The goal is to avoid “horizontal” communication. This is when communication “leaks” out to or from various command levels and the message is not consistent with your vision. Complaints and concerns go up, directives and praise go down.

2. Effective use of personnel
You must recognize the abilities and aptitudes of your employees. Assigning personnel to areas where they have demonstrated an aptitude for and supporting and empowering them guarantees success, and they will amaze you with what they can do.

3. Effective use of support personnel
Support personnel must have defined functions  – the support function should not be able to enter into the day-to-day police operations. An example of this would be clerks reviewing reports for prosecution (yes, it happens). This causes a breakdown of the chain of command and morale among personnel. Support personnel, as the name suggests, are in place to support (not control) the policing function and mission.

4. Effective supervision
Each and every supervisor should know what is expected of them. Supervisors and leaders must be empowered to do their jobs. All supervisors should be developed to the same level and provided the same operational and educational opportunities. An example would be sending all supervisors to the same leadership schools, which helps both the leader and the agency build well into the future with consistent ideology.

5. Build an effective training program
Training costs money that does not come easily and may have to be fought for in budget meetings, so you have to think smartly here. You can maximize opportunities by hosting schools, where you can receive free slots in exchange. Send officers to instructor schools so they can instruct your agency at reduced costs. Send officers to schools that benefit the department, not a resume. Require supervisors to train their officers – which is a key function of a supervisor – and hold them accountable for lack of training. When it comes to training, there are no shortcuts. Once you allow that, you open yourself up for liability.

6. Defined and effective disciplinary procedure
This is one of the most important things you can do as a law enforcement leader. Develop a clearly defined fair procedure which corrects behavior by training and in extreme cases allows for officers to work back into the good graces of the agency. You have to address issues quickly and fairly but you have to understand each violation is a separate issue and cannot be handled the same. The purpose is to correct behavior while nurturing them – an iron fist in a velvet glove approach.

7. Defined and effective use of resources
Resources – monetary, equipment and personnel – must be utilized to the best of their capabilities. Any misuse of resources is ineffective and essentially a waste of money. Provide a defined maintenance schedule for vehicles and utilize personnel effectively. A leader must also monitor overtime costs and make adjustments if needed. Monitor sick time abuse and address it. This will make you unpopular, but your employees that do the right thing every day will certainly appreciate it.   

8. Effective program development
Development of new, innovative programs is crucial for operational success. Explore the need for and develop programs that are designed to address crime problems or educate. They can be programs to deal with homeless or addiction issues. Whatever programs you can identify a need for, just make sure you plan for any and all costs and resources needed to be successful.

9. Utilization of outside resources
A police leader must demonstrate fiscal responsibility. We have to work within our budgetary constraints as well as seek out outside funding sources. Even as a first line supervisor this should be a priority. There is no open check book, we must think outside of the box sometimes to provide the best service to our communities. An example would be forming a relationship with your Municipal Court Probation Officers and Adult Parole Authority and take them on patrol with you. They know their probationers and parolees and can identify them for violations that we could not take enforcement action for. This one example can greatly reduce the opportunity for violent crime to occur.

10. Most importantly, take care of your employees
If you expect your employees to go out every day and perform to the level and standards you as a police chief expect, you must give something back. Even the most motivated officer will fall if he or she feels that there is no reward. Similar to Pavlov's Theory, action is rewarded, thus solidifying that action, and making it a repeated action. This includes giving them a "clean" and organized area to work. An upgrade of equipment or uniforms can be very effective. Remember the officers are the ones out doing the job, they can make you look good or make you look bad.

I use these key points every day. As leaders, we will make unpopular decisions at times but if those decisions are made for the right reasons – consistent with your and your agency’s vision and mission – then that is the right decision. The part can never outweigh the whole and should never be an overriding factor for decision making. 

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