Desired Traits for the Future Leaders

Oct. 24, 2016
What will be the desired traits for tomorrow's chiefs and law enforcement leaders? It's not an easy question to answer, but let's figure it out... if we can.

When you read a job announcement for a chief of police today, does it read differently than the past one? As society’s (and media’s) opinions have swung hard against the police these past two years, what is in store for the future leader? What are the desired traits that the municipality and the public wants and how do these compare to what a police department really needs? When you read that job announcement for chief of police today, what are the real definitions of desired traits? There will be some boilerplate definitions of these basic traits that most can agree on. The real question is what do the municipalities’ leaders really want?  This is where the rub lies, their expectations versus the expectations (and needs) of the department. I have listed some of the traditional traits but put have my ideas on what is really needed for the betterment of law enforcement.

Real Leadership - Stop throwing the department and its officers under the bus for your personal betterment! I have grown weary of freshly minted chiefs who are building their resumes for the next job before the ink dries on their current contract. Their path of destruction on former departments looks like the path of a massive tornado. Several chiefs have matured and made those progressive moves to better or more challenging positions. These are the ones that you hate to see go, should the municipality attempt to make a second offer to retain them? Sure, these rarities of life occur now and then.  Here in lies the investment in a quality leader. Then again, some political leaders feel it is best to allow the veteran chief who is at the top of their pay range to leave. Now they are free to hire a new chief at the low end and save the money. Leadership is a long-term investment and not a commodity that the generic version will do.

Big hint for those hiring a chief, do some real research on their past stations in life. Make sure you vet your candidates, invest in a proper background investigation and site visits. If everyone tells you that, he or she is great and we do not know how we will live without him or her stop and dig deeper. You may be taking their infectious chief away from them. Their accepting a new job may the best way for the municipality to break the employment contract without financial ramifications on them. Fully investigate and review what they truly did and then decide if you want this chief to do the same to your department.

Media Savvy- there used to be a time where chiefs had to know and understand the media and public relations game. Now with the rapid changing social media and untethered social media warriors and keyboard commandos, the craftsmanship of your departments’ traditional and social media presences will be tested to new heights. In the smaller and medium sized departments, there is no luxury of having a public information office; it is the chief or an appointee. Police departments’ timelines of investigations, notifications and information gathering cannot compare today on scene bloggers and social media posters. Often times, the social media create a secondary incident to manage, which could turn into a bigger issue than the original incident. Tomorrow’s leaders will have to be aware of the media (real and social) more so than ever.

Technological Prowess- Tomorrows’ chiefs will have to be extremely well versed in technology on all fronts. Information handling and communication will be the baseline. Now with emerging camera systems and body cameras this will exponentially expand technology budget needs. How big of a server will you need to maintain the electronic files. Staffing will have to increase to keep pace with downloads, maintenance and downloads for prosecution and internal affairs use. This technology market will be one that is in constant flux. As one product emerges, it will be outdated before the warranty is up. Just in hiring officers for the future will require their understanding as well, their job descriptions will change as well.  The old comic strip of Dick Tracey, the futuristic crime fighter with space age gadgets has become a reality. 

Sense of Humor- some are taking themselves far too seriously. Take a tip here, loosen the heck up. Immerse your hand into a bucket of water. Your hand represents you in your current department. You can calm the departmental waters, you can agitate them, and muddy them or even spill them; but pull your hand out of the water. The water fills the void and your presence is gone. Not unless you leave a bad legacy behind to muck up the water. You are not the most important element in the departmental bucket; your people are your most valuable asset and never forget it. Leave the water in a better condition than you found it. Problem is with most agencies and its financial support and current infrastructure is causing our buckets to rust and leak. Chiefs, you are the keeper of the bucket and water, the purity depends upon you.

Teambuilding. The leader of the future will have to be the one to keep the department together under massive attacks by all. Troubled departments all advertise for chiefs who can be a team builder between them and the community. Primarily, you are the chief and need to be the coach, the leader and ultimate team leader of the department. I find it reprehensible that municipalities desire chiefs to toady up to the community before they know their department. No good decision has ever come from a single person in a swivel chair without having the support of their team.

Are there more traits that need a 2016 definition revision? Sure, but these are the heavy hitters in my book. I do not know what the lay of the land will be for the future of law enforcement. Looming elections and political landscapes are uncharted and could be a perilous path into the future. It is time for real leadership and not lip service.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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