Why success as a "working" police chief is all about balance

It’s not at all unusual for small jurisdictions to advertise for a “working chief” to fill their top law enforcement slot — being hired as a “working chief” brings unique challenges and pitfalls


Small jurisdictions and their departments are often underfunded, dealing with a shrinking tax base, and are striving to stretch a dollar as far as possible. Frequently, one of the means such jurisdictions use to maximize benefit and minimize expenditures is by hiring a “working chief.”

Being a “working chief” translates into “Do everything a chief is supposed to do and do everything a patrol officer is supposed to do, so we don’t have to hire another officer.” 

There are myriad expectations and demands placed upon the “working chief” by administrators and elected officials (and, to some extent, the public) who know very little about what the job of a police chief actually entails. This often creates a catch-22 for the Chief: what I call the “write tickets/get grants/drink coffee” conundrum. 

Wearing Many Hats
The “working chief” is expected to do everything a patrol officer typically does for 171 hours in a 28-day period: enforce laws, write tickets, answer calls for service, and conduct investigations. 

But the chief is also expected to take care of all the administrative duties that come with being a chief: inform/coordinate with/placate town officials; administer the department; write press releases and articles for the local paper; locate, write, and administer grants; develop and administer the budget; add to and refine the policy and procedure manual; handle discipline and complaints; sign off on schedules and the payroll; and last (but by no means least), keep the officers happy. 

The chief is also expected to be the head and face of public relations: attend community meetings; create and coordinate activities with local schools and service groups; visit local businesses and groups frequently; and, perhaps most importantly, spend time having coffee with the citizens at the local convenience stores — commonly known as “getting out in the public.”

The necessity of doing all the administrative work that comes with doing the job right, plus doing everything that an officer is expected to do, coupled with the requirement of spending time “getting out in the public,” can be a Herculean task. Being perceived as spending too much time in the office is interpreted as not being friendly/social enough. Being perceived as spending too much time having coffee with the citizens at the local convenience store is interpreted as being lazy/getting paid to stand around doing nothing. It’s not an easy balancing act.

Finding a Balance
In the final analysis, all a “working chief” can do is to try and find a balance with all the hats they are called upon to wear, while recognizing that it’s impossible to make all people happy, all the time. 

If you take a position as a “working chief” of a small jurisdiction, recognize at the onset that you won’t be working a 40-hour week — not if you’re going to be doing all you’ll be expected to do, in the manner you’ll be expected to do it. 

Find quiet time away from the madding crowd when you can actually sit at your desk and do the required paperwork. Unplug your phone, if you can. 

Maximize your face time with citizens by seeing as many of them as possible at the same time, while doing something you’d do anyway. Rather than keeping a coffee pot in your office, go drink a cup while chatting with locals at the convenience store. You’ve got to eat sometime — have lunch a few times a week at the Senior’s Center or local school, and dinner a couple of times a month with a local club or service organization. 

And in between all of the above, go out and write a few tickets! 

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