|Courtesy of Joe Evangelista Photography|
Now that's it been a few years since my retirement (two--though I can hardly believe it), I thought I might pen a few words on my time as a chief of police. The reason for this is that I've come to understand over the years that very few people know what a chief of police actually does. Whenever I encounter them in fiction they are either chomping on a stogie and bellowing for some hard-working officer's badge, or personally handling crime scenes and investigations as if they have no hard-working officers at all. Like many stereotypes, there is some truth to these examples, but only some.
I have bellowed on the rare occasion, though it was sans cigar. And yes, I have personally attended crime scenes, but not to usurp the duties of those assigned to the case. Whenever I found issues that needed addressing, I mostly did so with the supervisor on scene, and in private. I may have raised my voice on a few of those occasions, but it was probably to be heard over the screams of some guilty person wanting to confess in the next room. As for commandeering investigations, I had enough to do without micro-managing detectives, though I did receive updates on particular cases whenever I asked for them. Occasionally, I was guilty of suggesting different lines of inquiry, or investigative tactics. This was not just my prerogative as chief, but sometimes useful. After all, they were in the thick of it, while I had the luxury of standing back a bit and seeing it fresh. But the detectives and officers solved the cases, not me.
As chief I had six main duties:
First amongst them was simply to lead; set an example and establish standards for performance and acceptable behavior--policy making. The buck stops with the chief. He sees to it that his officers receive credit for work well done, and he takes the heat when his department drops the ball.
Second would be the budget. Without money being applied wisely and well, operations and effectiveness begin to suffer. I never once went over budget. It can be done.
Third is personnel. As chief, I had the final say in hiring...and sadly, sometimes firing. I signed off on the performance evaluations of sergeants and above in my department. I also had the final say on promotion to the next higher rank. The down side to this, of course, was the disappointment, and sometimes resentment, felt by those not selected. It could be keen and heartfelt.
Liaison. As the chief you become the public face of the department. You get to attend a lot functions and host a number, as well. You deal with many, many people. In my case, I answered to a mayor who was also the director of public safety. But he was only one of many masters: The county prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer at the county level in New Jersey, and so was in my chain of command when it came to criminal law, and search and seizure issues. The borough council expected my attendance at every meeting and got it. They controlled the purse strings and crafted ordinances and it was my duty to advise them when it pertained to public safety and order. Several citizens groups also asked for and received my time. In addition, I worked cheek by jowl with the fire chief, the rescue squad captain, the beach patrol, public works manager (a very useful person when it comes to major storms, flooding, blizzards, etc...), and the director of emergency management at both the municipal and county levels. I was also a member of the county police chiefs association and attended their monthly meetings, as well. These were just the ones I dealt with on a regular basis...there were others.
Discipline: It was also my duty to oversee the disciplinary process and internal affairs investigations. If you want to know what stress feels like, just picture yourself telling someone you've known for decades, and personally like, that you're suspending them from duty and taking a big chunk of their pay for a month. And don't forget to remind them that they will no longer be eligible for promotion. Oh, by the way, my wife wants to know if your wife is available to pitch in at the school Halloween party next week? Get the picture? Sometimes IA's can result in dismissals and even criminal charges. It's not for the faint of heart, trust me, but it is terribly important to the health and integrity of the department. Good officers (the vast majority) want bad officers (a tiny minority, thank God) gone. Their jobs are hard enough without them.
Finally, a category that I'll simply dub "Wearing the Hat." Whenever anything big goes wrong, or when the bad has temporarily overcome the good, you show up. It can be a major fire scene, a child's drowning, a toxic waste incident, catastrophic weather event, or civil unrest. You stop what you're doing, whether it's vacation, dinner with friends, or your wedding anniversary; put on your chief hat (sometimes only figuratively) and go to the scene. Though in many cases, there is nothing more to be done than what is being done--you still go. Why? Because citizens are reassured when the head honcho arrives, and the officers try a little harder when they know you care enough to be there. There's no down side to it. The opposite is true for the absentee chief. Sometimes, there are things that can be done, or usually, facilitated by the chief, but I'll save that for another post.
As for the resolute, square-jawed person pictured above, he has left the theatre. I am now long-haired and sporting a scruffy goatee. Occasionally people drop loose change in my coffee cup. I don't know why.