In any police department, the chief of police is the head of the organization. These highly experienced, veteran law enforcement leaders are instrumental in developing the crime fighting strategies that help ensure public safety within their jurisdictions.
Most chiefs of police have been appointed to the position by their local government, typically the mayor’s office. The success and longevity of police chief careers are heavily dependent upon the performance of the police department. This means that a police chief can be replaced due to a rise in criminal activity or in the wake of departmental improprieties committed by the officers in his command.
Unlike other police careers within the department, the chief operates within a political environment. They must answer to the civilian leadership and be able to produce results on that can be felt throughout the community. Even a single crime involving bad publicity can undermine the public perception of the chief, and his job security.
Chiefs of police are devoted to the job, their department and the community. It is not unusual for chiefs to spend 14 hours a day at work, and many are unable to completely leave their professional responsibilities behind. With email and mobile devices, most chiefs are on call virtually 24 hours a day.
Most of chiefs of police possess at least a bachelor’s degree, and a large number have advanced degrees, like a master’s or a doctorate.
Responsibilities and Jobs Duties of a Police Chief
In order to effectively manage the law enforcement organization over which they preside, police chiefs must perform the following duties:
- Develop budgets that adequately support law enforcement objectives
- Institute professional performance standards
- Develop training programs and ethical standards
- Introduce standards for promotion and salary increased
- Define penalties for inappropriate conduct
- Produce policies regarding cultural sensitivity and other socioeconomic issues
- Develop patrol and crime prevention strategies
- Maintain and upgrade equipment
- Coordinate policies with other emergency responders including county police, fire and medical
- Maintain and improve relationships with the community
Education Requirements for the Chief of Police
Despite the heavy demands placed on police chiefs, there is stiff competition for these jobs, both from within and from outside of the department. Many of the most high profile police chief jobs in the PDs of major cities draw hundreds of applicants. Furthermore, city officials often conduct exhaustive searches throughout the country to identify and recruit the most qualified police veterans.
In order to compete among this pool of highly qualified candidates, prospective police chiefs should obtain as much academic expertise in law enforcement as possible to meet the job requirements. Not only do advanced degrees indicate the intellectual proficiency to manage a police department, but a college education also helps provide graduates with the latest methods and techniques used by other law enforcement agencies in combating crime.
There are numerous majors that police officers can study that will improve their chances of obtaining a chief of police career, including:
- Public administration
- Police leadership
- Information systems
- Criminal investigation
- Justice and security
- Justice studies
Ascending Through the Ranks to Become Chief of Police
There is no set path to becoming the chief of police. All police officers begin their careers as uniformed officers, but they may advance their careers through a variety of departments including financial crimes, homicide, or narcotics. It is often highly beneficial to have a diverse professional history within the department that includes, patrol, administration and investigations. This experience enables police leaders to understand the needs and processes of the three major branches of police organizations.
Most police organizations have a tiered structure in which officers must advance before obtaining the chief of police job. Although it is important to have a diverse background, it is more important to demonstrate leadership capacity for these jobs. This involves demonstrating skill in supervisory jobs at the sergeant, lieutenant and captain ranks.
Most organizations require several years in the rank below that of chief. This enables candidates to recognize the hefty responsibilities associated with the chief job as well as gain an understanding of the political ramifications. In some smaller police forces, there may only be a limited number of ranks, so that ascension to the police chief position is available at an earlier stage in the career of senior officers.
There may be requisite skills that a police chief must possess in order to perform their duties. In some communities, multi-lingual proficiency is a necessity. In others, city governments may be seeking candidates with experience fighting specific types of crime like gangs or organized crime.
Police Chief Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), first-line supervisors of police and detectives, including police chiefs, earned an average salary of $98,760 as of May 2021. Police chiefs working for local law enforcement agencies earned an average salary of $96,450, while those working for state law enforcement agencies earned an average salary of $104,390 during this time.
The following BLS table reveals what police first-line supervisors of police and detectives were earning at all levels, by state, as of May 2021:
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for first-line supervisors of police and detectives. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.