Why you're not ready to be chief (and how you can be)

Here are two things you can do to prepare yourself to be a more knowledgeable — and therefore more attractive — candidate for the position

So you want to become chief of police. If you’ve never been chief, it’s a pretty safe bet that despite what you may think you know about the chief’s job, it’s not what you think it is. For example, have you said (or heard) any of the following about a chief — or chiefs in general — during your rise through the ranks? 

“He just sits in his office all day.”
“She doesn’t do any real work, and gets all the glory.”
“I can do things better than him.”
“He doesn’t remember — if he ever knew — what it’s like on the street.”

Once you’ve held the position of chief for more than a few weeks, you get a very clear understanding about how discordant those statements are with reality. So as you prepare to make that career move to becoming chief, try to get a lot of your early learning curve out of the way before you become a chief. Here are two things you can do to prepare yourself to be a more knowledgeable — and therefore more attractive — candidate for the position.

1. Ask your current chief questions about the job. One of the best things you can do as an aspiring chief of police is to observe and ask questions of your current chief. Unless your chief thinks you’re gunning for his or her position, they will likely be only too glad to share with you the realities of their job. 

If the chief has an administrative assistant, pick their brain. In many departments, it is the administrative assistant or office manager who’s been the real ringmaster of the circus the chief has to operate in. A competent assistant or manager can be a real fountainhead of information about the realities of the chief’s job. 

If the chief is required to attend Town Council meetings, attend those as a spectator to get a feel for the issues and dynamics that the chief is dealing with. Observe the dynamics that accompany those presentations. 

2. Educate and expand yourself as much as possible. The more skills and abilities you bring to the table, the better your chances of getting a job. If you become chief of a smaller department, you will have to wear a lot of different hats in addition to day-to-day administration. The more you personally are able to do in and for the department, the more the needs of the department can be handled in-house, and the more you will be able to save the jurisdiction money. 

Any useful training that you already have before your ascent to chief of police — and any training that you can provide that won’t necessitate sending officers to outside sources — saves the jurisdiction money. Saving money is a big thing in smaller jurisdictions. The folks who are considering hiring you will be thrilled to hear all the ways you can save them money.

Get certified as a law enforcement instructor with specialties. Become a TASER instructor, a firearms instructor, or an armorer. You may not know when it will come in handy, but you can be certain that it will.

Take an Internal Affairs Investigations class — it will come in handy, and will enable you to present yourself to the interview panel as a well-rounded potential chief with the ability to address any issues that arise. 

If you’re not a Millennial, take a class to learn about leading them — they are a very different breed of cops who present very unique challenges (more so, once you become Chief). Be prepared to discuss the difference, and how your training has prepared you to lead such a diverse work force.

The more you invest your own time and money in your education and training, the more attractive you will become as a candidate for chief. 

Just as there is a lot more to being chief than most officers know, there is a lot more to do to become the best candidate for chief than is outlined above, but by doing these two simple things you will do a lot to improve your chances of achieving that career goal. 

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