OK, you are planning your retirement from your current job. Now the time has come for you to leave the city and move to a quiet little town and enjoy retirement. You still want to be active and supplement your retirement, so now you are considering becoming a chief of the local agency. This is great... or is it? If you were seeking a quieter lifestyle, skip this idea immediately. Fact of Chiefland - the smaller the department the more the chief has to do. There are things in a smaller to medium size agency’s chief’s job descriptions that defy logic and would shock most. Let’s explore this some more.
First of all, the demands on a chief are more than you may think. What skill set do you have for management? No offense here but what seems like a small Mayberry RFD setting can be a legal quagmire. If you have never dealt with this before, with no training or exposure, this can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Budgeting and small town governments are two more obstacles to climb. If your current or past job has prepared you, then fine; grab on. However, I have seen and assisted several second career chiefs that were great street cops, troopers or deputy sheriffs but had no clue about management. This does not make you a bad candidate but here is the reality statement: If you are a first time chief in a medium sized department, you will have staff to support you and mission. In a smaller department, there will be no buffer from the public; you will probably be the lone person to face the fire. You are the final and end all; it’s on you. In some states you are the only non-union person in the department; it can get lonely at the top.
Certifications - what more school? Yes, you will have to maintain your current law enforcement certifications if in the same state. Cross state lines and there are some certifications that will need to be tended to. You could end up back in the police academy again. Some states have additional training requirements for the chief executive officer, so more training to attend as well. Some smaller agencies may require you to wear more than one hat. For instance, I serve as the emergency management coordinator. I know other chiefs who have to serve on other governmental boards, committees and work with non-police programs that the town has assigned them to. If you are still thinking a quiet retirement job, rethink.
What me work the road or work special events? Yes, you may wish to enjoy the small quaint little festival but you are going to be one of the boots on the ground. If you are working a vacation or resort area, this is the busy time of year; you will be working while others are vacationing. Did not expect that did you? What about everyone checked off sick and you are going to have fill-in. Fill in on open shifts and hey wait a minute I retired to ride the streets again!
Council meetings, budget meetings, ribbon cuttings and afterhours phone calls. If you retired to enjoy life, your calendar as a new chief is a 60 hour week average for the first year or so. If you add up all of the meeting times, calls, commitments and then the regular hours, this is not the joyful retirement gig you’d thought it would be. You will be invited to every community event and expected to be there. Every ribbon cutting, speeches at the meetings of the Wild Kingdom (Moose, Elk, Eagles, etc), give safety talks to the Bible Schools and so forth. Additionally, you will be expected to join one if not most of the community service/philanthropic clubs for your immersion into the community. Did you want to retire and play golf, great you will be invited to play at every fund raiser golf tournament for you are the easy target. Recall you are drawing down big retirement bucks from first gig and now making even more money, so you are considered a high roller to most.
Loss of autonomy can be the greatest hurdle to face. If you worked as a sergeant or lieutenant in a larger city, you were more than likely a mere face in the crowd. Find Waldo, how about find you in the crowd? So you and your spouse go out to eat, try to have a nice dinner without interruption. You will know when to go shopping and to gym to avoid the constant questions and ‘let me tell you something chief’ comments. The chief in a smaller jurisdiction may as well wear a neon sign on their back. You will be noticed, now if you like this attention, you will be fine. If you want to be ‘away’ from the limelight, have some peace and privacy, you will find it easier to go out of town to eat and decompress.
My intent here is not to frighten away anyone who wants to do the small town chief’s gig as a retirement supplement. If I have made you think, my job is done. I am not here to frighten you off but to help you make the best decisions for not only you, but your family and a small town.