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A Chief's Legacy

I have been a chief of police for over a decade now. There are lots of reasons that a man or woman pursues such a station in life. Everyone at one time or the other has said “if I was the chief I would...” and that is easy enough to spout out. Usually here they would probably change something for their own needs or likes.  Most think this job is for the prestige, others get it bestowed upon them and some do it for the real reasons. But, what are today’s chiefs really doing for the vocation or are they in the biz for themselves?


For most who really know me know that I do not hang out with chiefs that much, never really attended their big conferences. When I do attend conferences they are trainer focused and designed to get the news out to those who handle business. I guess the problem is that I would rather work with trainers, teach and focus on getting life saving skills out. Nothing wrong with that in my book! One of the first things I was taught about leadership is to take care of your troops, your goal as a leader is to make them successful. If they are successful then you have served them well as a leader.


What disturbs me is the growing ranks of the new generation of chiefs that are only here to buff their resume. They come in and whatever the program de jour is to get the politicals to embrace them, love them and endorse them for the next bigger gig is their focus. The current department is a mere stepping stone to their success.  I cringe when I hear one of the new generation chiefs taunting their brilliance as to why a case was broken or why the city is a better place to live for them being there. Not once do they offer any praise to their officers who are taking care of business in the streets. This perturbs me greatly and goes against what I was taught by my old chiefs and those who mentored me. Give credit to your staff, those in the streets; they are the ones making all of this work for the greater good.


One retired chief who I admire once told me that he had “created X number of new chiefs”. When I asked him what he was talking about he told me. Nobody will ever remember what your Part 1 crime index was then, nobody ever recalls what percentage your budget was over or under. In his eyes your legacy as a chief will be the number of future leaders that you create. He was proud of his numbers and I hope I was counted in his fold. Now, this is the chief that I wanted to be like, the number of future leaders that you create will carry on the legacy of good police work not the smoke and mirrors. This is what great leadership is about to create an environment of quality work, honoring the traditions and caring for all (even the employees). Have you ever read a mission statement and/or core values of a department? Rarely do they ever mention the employees. It always mentions caring for the citizens, businesses and others but rarely is the employee ever mentioned. Read yours and if your mission does not uplift the staff, it’s time for a rewrite.


I hope that I am not a dying breed of old school chiefs that care about the vocation rather than my next employment gig. To me, a chief has to be a cheerleader for the department as well as its coach. A chief needs to ask the staff of what can I do to make you successful rather than what we can do to make me (the chief) look good. Stop and think young chief wannabes. When you make chief you have made the top rank, why are you trying to promote yourself? This detective that is working this case, the sergeant that calls you in the middle of night and the young officer in the middle of call who you happen into needs to know that you are there to make them successful. Big hint here, if they are successful then the department is successful, then you, chief, will be viewed as successful. Share the victories and success with them. When things go bad, you need to put on your uniform, field the questions from the media and do not throw your staff under the media bus. If there are problems in policeland, you make the big bucks  to handle them.


Yes, I have had a few under my tutelage that have gone forth to become chiefs or commanders. I am very proud of each of them. Have I made enough, no way! One of the biggest obstacles is that your bright shining stars have the moxie to be a chief. Some may try to hold them back, no do not leave me; it is dangerous here in chiefland. What they are doing is holding them back and hedging their own safety.  The obstacles that get in the way of a first round draft pick for chief are the great collateral risks involved. The house is about paid for, the kids are situated in school, you have close friends, family and the spouse has a great job. To move now is truly a leap of faith and disrupts the lives of many, is it really worth it? What I tell you is that it takes a lot to encourage one of your best to try their wings and leave your department and go out on their own. This can affect you and your current situation. Never hold back one of your climbing stars, they will make you proud some day, as I hope I have made my old mentor.