So, you want to be a Chief of Police?
Ambition is a good thing but getting to the top takes more than just an excellent resume and Masters in Public Administration
Many of us dream about becoming Chief of Police in the department we are currently serving in or retiring and becoming Chief in another town or city. Ambition is good and if you have properly credentialed yourself it just might happened for you. This article is designed to provide some information about the testing process for Chief of Police and what you can do to position yourself should an opportunity present itself.
If you are vying for the Chief’s position in your own department you will have an advantage over outside candidates unless a change agent is desirable due to a perceived leadership, corruption, or severe morale issue. This is with the caveat that you have the outgoing Chief’s blessing and that of local politicians. It has been my experience with internal candidates that A.) the testing process is bypassed and a new Chief is promoted almost immediately, or B.) there is a nationwide search and then the candidate from inside the department is selected.
Once in awhile a person from another department is selected to be the next Chief of Police, but statistically across the fruited plain someone from inside of the department is chosen to lead the agency. However, there does seem to be an increasing trend to select candidates from outside of the department as if someone from a Florida department, for example, has garnered magically wisdom that a inside candidate here in Connecticut doesn’t have.
The Testing Process
As a test consultant, national searches are a nightmare for me because there is so much talent within our profession and it’s not unusual to receive hundreds of applications for the position from command officers who have backgrounds and credentials which, on paper, would qualify them to be a Chief of Police anywhere. Don’t forget, people who already are serving as Chief of Police may be applicants for the Chiefs position in your city or town or in the agency you are applying for. So, the first “test” is to vet these applications down to a sizeable number. Such factors as the size of the department the applicant has served in, length of time in positions providing command level experience, training and education, and a perceived, subjective “right fit” analysis will begin the process of deselecting many of the applicants. The goal may be to get the selection process down to five or six viable applicants.
Often, the next stage of the process is a telephone interview and/or having applicants respond to a series of essay questions. Both are “tests” and are graded. In either case the candidate is notified by letter and/or telephone that a “telephonic interview” will take place on a specific date and time. In the telephone interview the candidate may be asked questions such as “What is your experience in community oriented policing” or “what has your experience been in dealing with a highly union dominated work force,” or “what leadership style do you feel most comfortable using.” In addition to grading for communications skills this provides the person doing the interview with a host of subjective grading options. I prefer to have candidates answer specific essay questions which makes the initial process somewhat more objective.
Either way, the number of candidates can be whittled down further using this process. Asking candidates to proved notarized letter from a physician indicating that they have passed a “stress test” also eliminates some candidates. An applicant being given a job offer will have to take another medical stress test with a town or city designated physical, but that is much letter in the process. After the list of applicants has been reduced to a manageable number candidates are invited to participate in the next stage of the testing process. Although a written examination is still sometimes used the assessment center testing process — or parts of it — is the methodology more often than not used to differentiate between candidates and get the list down to three qualified persons.
The Assessment Center
After the assessment center or some other type of process the top three candidates now enter an arena in which the city manager, mayor, and/or town council selects who will be the next Chief of Police. Candidates may individually be invited to a meeting with the Town Council who ask the candidate a series of questions. These may range from “If you are selected as the next Chief of Police, how will you reduce crime in our town/city?” In this case, for example, it would be a good idea for you to have looked up the crime statistics prior to the meeting.
Or, “I believe the Chief of Police should live in our town. Are you prepared to move your family her”? So, they are looking for “right fit.” Candidates may be invited to a “town meeting” where residents or members of specific groups ask the candidates questions will the city council looks on.
This “political arena” is what separates successful candidates from those who just aren’t good at this type of process. They may be excellent leaders and more than capable of running the department, but have little experience in this phase of testing and are not offered the job.
I asked her why she didn’t say anything earlier and she said, “I never thought you would get the job.”
I called the town manager the next day and informed her I would not be accepting the position.
As it turned out, I began teaching instead and it was the best thing that ever happened to me since I pulled the pin.
The moral of the story is to check with those you love before you jump into the race. It may not be just about you! This article was designed to provide an overview. Future articles will cover how you can excel in the process.
Be safe out there!
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