Chiefs are CEOs

Recently, I was attending the local chamber of commerce meeting, when a business owner confronted me and asked why the chief of police was there as a participating member. Nearly shocked and then bemused by him, I attempted to explain my reason for being in "his chamber."

In my eyes, the police department has to be a part of the community--the entire community. What better way for the police to interact with the business community leaders, than to be a part of the local chamber of commerce? The past year, I had served as the membership chair and sat on several committees. I had addressed the chamber over public safety and spoke to several committees regarding other issues as well. Still, he was miffed that a public servant was there with business leaders, owners and, in his eyes, the more important people in the community.

Community policing and the partnerships that police must forge with all facets of society did not matter with this fare-thee-well, either; he was not changing his mind. To him, the chamber was his protected class for the business leaders of the community. I did not matter that I or any chief was the guardian of that community. Finally, it hit me: play his game. I asked him how many employees were on his payroll. "Six. Last year was such a great year. I had to add a new employee." This was such a revelation, and now he played into my hands. He asked me, "How many employees do you have?" "69." With that, he went pale. I retorted to inquire the size of his budget. He asked, "Why?" I wanted to know when and if he had gotten into the millions yet. He could not look me in the eye, and mumbled, "No."

Then, I inquired of his customer base. He actually asked what that was. I felt like a young Ali, for he was in the ropes reeling from the questions. I explained to him that a police agency has to serve everyone in the city. We also have to take into account daytime and nighttime service population swings; seasonal variations such as college students, tourists and weather issues. Then, the 24/7 moniker; for our doors never close situation--in other words; "When you evacuate, we stay and protect" scenario. Oh, by the way, does everyone know your office phone number? Everybody knows mine: 911.

Before the conversation was over, with his face reddened and I was sure this was going to be a lost cause. Finally, he shook his head and stated, "You got me." He gave me his business card and asked that we meet for coffee, which we later did. This meeting was one that I was pensive over, but one that was an eye-opener for the both of us. He admitted that he had indeed been jaded towards the police and never, ever considered what a chief had to manage. He asked about other departments, cost of equipment and other very intelligent questions. Points that I had brought up in the debate had never crossed his mind, for the police were always there and he had taken their services for granted. Now, he is a law enforcement supporter.

The conversation further evolved as I explained that my captain or deputy chief can easily be considered the chief of operations officer (COO), for his expertise in managing staffing and operations. My administrative assistant is the office manager, of not only my office, but of the operations of the several other functions within the agency. Police and other governmental agencies are often at fault by the titles we create and traditionally use. They do not translate into the business world. It is difficult for a civilian or business counterpart to equate to our job descriptions or titles. Therefore, it is imperative that we sometime explain our duties or roles to them. After a brief explanation of these and a few others, he had a basic understanding.

Prior to this, he had never been exposed to the chief of police. Yes, I am one that will state my side in less than eloquent terms at times. But, will also bring the point on in relentless fashion. I did not take guff and walk; I defended my ground. Chiefs of police are chief executive officers of larger organizations than the majority of most businesses that they protect. Their staffs, budgets, fleets, and table of operations or whatever you wish to compare will dwarf most of the local business community. Chiefs, do not take any heat from the chambers of commerce when you walk in for membership; you earn your rightful place there everyday! More so, you deserve it!