What's A New Chief To Do?

Recently I had an officer call me for some advice. He was a finalist for a chief of police job and he had a simple question of me. "If I get the job, what do I need to do in the first few days as a chief of police?" I laughed out loud over the telephone and asked him if he had a legal pad ready. It is not that easy; but here goes.


If you are moving within your state, this is not that big of an issue. If out-of-state, then you have to hustle. My biggest advice would have been not to apply to a state that is not amenable to out-of-state transfers to begin with. Start your certification process as soon as you possibly can. Every state is different and has its own gauntlet. Some have their executive certification processes as well; research pays off. Contact your state chiefs of police association; get your membership and networking started, too--they may have some tips. You must comply with this state's mandates first; there may be time restraints- don't procrastinate. The paper process can be maddening and time consuming but must be done right out of the chute.


You will have to totally immerse yourself into several distinct groups: the new department, the new governmental agency (new employer); the citizens; and the business community. Each will be time-consuming and each has its own sub-groups. Any chief that has made this transition will tell you these are going to be long days and nights; don't expect a 40 hour week for several months. Did I forget to mention that you are doing this while moving to a new city as well? If you are moving your family and they are having family moving stress--add more headaches to your plate.

In your new department, you will have to learn new names and faces. Every department has different colloquial terms and ways of doing things. Police work may be police work, but it will be different here. Don't compare your old department to the new one; it is like comparing ex-lovers.

Immediately read the personnel files, training files and IA files of your command staff. These will be your trusted confidants and you need to know what makes them tick. The rest of the department can wait for now. I only hope you do not have any promotions, discipline, hiring, or transfers pending in your first few days.

Familiarize yourself with the department's rules and regulations, SOPs, and reporting systems as soon as you can. Why? As soon as the media releases your name, every disgruntled citizen that has had a beef with the last administration will be at your door within the week. Know the ground rules--fast. The complaints will be coming--know your IA system. Did I mention the media? They will give you a pass on your new appointment. However, at the first newsworthy story, they will hound you and they will try your media savvy. Have a media policy set and ready for them.

You will have to know and work with the other bureau heads within the governmental "sand box." For example, you will have to deal with the chief financial officer, who is the one that you will have to befriend come budget time.

The citizens groups and the business community will seek you out for speaking engagements for the "Wild Kingdom" (Lions, Elks, Moose, etc). Big hint here--do not use the same speech! Most of the fraternal, service, chamber of commerce or similar organizations have members that have multiple memberships--if you recycle speeches, they will hammer you!

In your contract or work agreement, I suggest that you are not to join any groups for at least one year. The reason is that as you attend these "rubber chicken" dinners, most likely each and every one will insist that you join their group. Each group wants the chief of police in their membership. You may feel pressured, you may not wish to join, and probably have better things to do with your time and money. If a ban on joining is in your agreement, it cuts the pressure right away.


I have always used a Franklin Covey daily planner to document my daily meetings and notes. From day one, you will need something to jot down names and goings-on. Keep notes on your time; later on, it may frighten you as well. You hear haggard old chiefs tell you of the double digit hour days that drag on for the first few months--you say "no way." Look back when you are settled and you can add them up for yourself and say he was right, but the invested time was worth it.