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New Chief’s Guide…Tips and Resources for the New Chief

Written by William Kushner

Maybe you have had the itch since your first day as a police officer. Maybe the itch came to you later as you began to climb the ranks. Maybe you didn’t really want the job but were “volunteered” for it by well-meaning city officials. Whatever the case may be, you have been sworn in as the new chief of police. Congratulations! So, now what do you do? Where do you turn for training, advice, guidance and just plain help?

After serving 29 years with the Chicago Police Department, I had the “itch” to become a police chief. I applied for the position in Berwyn, a suburb just west of Chicago. The vacancy was created by the retirement of the previous chief. At the request of the mayor, the application and vetting process was carried out by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. At the conclusion of the process, I was offered and subsequently accepted the position, becoming the first “outsider” to be appointed to the position.

I felt exceptionally well prepared for the task ahead of me, having successfully completed the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, the Chicago Police Department Executive Development Program, and holding both undergraduate and graduate degrees from accredited institutions. In spite of all this, there were still those “moments.” You know, those moments that catch you with your mouth agape and eyes bugged out of your head, with your mind racing for the solution to the problem at hand. I

f you find yourself in that position, and you have the luxury of time, avoid the temptation to shoot from the hip. Take your time and do your research before dealing with the issue. More resources are available for the chief and his staff members now than in past decades. Most are right on your computer.

Join professional organizations geared for the chief and sheriff. The most obvious is the International Association of Chiefs of Police at www.theiacp.org. Besides the annual conference, the IACP offers a mentoring program for new chiefs. I would strongly urge you to take advantage of it as soon as possible. Mentors are a tremendous resource. Additionally, the IACP offers the Police Chiefs Desk Reference. This handy reference addresses many of the day-to-day issues that arise. It can be ordered at www.policechiefsdeskreference.org.

Take advantage of membership in IACPNET at www.iacp.net This online service can help you research and develop policies and other administrative documents by researching those of other agencies. It is definitely worth the minimal cost per year.

Join your state chief’s or sheriff’s association. In Illinois, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police conducts, in concert with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, an Executive Institute that covers various topics of interest. (www.ilchiefs.org)

The state associations also conduct annual training sessions at reasonable costs. Join your local or regional chief’s associations. Ours meets monthly, except during the summer months. The opportunity to meet and develop working relationships and friendships with other in the area is priceless.

Get formal, high-level training for the tasks ahead. Have you attended NUCPS Staff and Command yet? (www.nucps.northwestern.edu/main.asp) This program will help you in most, if not all administrative function, from budgeting through contract negotiations. Classes are offered all year long and throughout the U.S. Command level courses are also offered by other institutions across the country.

In addition to the School of Police Staff and Command, Northwestern University offers several programs to assist in the development of management and leadership skills. Many can be taken online, without ever leaving your office. More information is available through www.NUCPS.edu.

Use the international, state, and local associations to network. Pick up the phone, call chiefs from surrounding agencies, and go meet them in person. Each one of us was the new guy at some time. You remember that old saying about the “brotherhood of blue?” Well, it’s been my experience that it exists even in the upper ranks of agencies.

Take a class on media relations! Don’t try to starve the sharks. Learn how to feed them without being eaten. There are many great courses out there, and information can be obtained from the IACP or from your state chiefs association.

Use your memories as a resource. Remember the best and worst bosses you have worked for. Use the good techniques. Discard the bad ones. Remember, you are a leader, not a dictator or emperor.

Just like working the street every day, you should never get “comfortable” as chief. You should be confident in your abilities but still be uncomfortable enough to remain alert and attentive and eager to learn. When we get comfortable, we get complacent, and we all know that complacency can lead to tragedy.

Sometime back, someone told me the story of the newly appointed chief who opened his desk drawer on his first day in office and found three sealed envelopes, bearing the inscriptions “open after first major mistake” and “open second” and “open third.” A short time went past, and the new chief had a rather embarrassing incident. Prior to his press conference, he remembered the envelopes and opened the first one. He removed the neatly type written sheet of paper, and read the simple words “blame prior administration.” He went to the press conference and blamed the prior administration.

Sometime later, another embarrassing incident occurred. Again, the chief resorted to the envelopes, and opened the second. On the sheet of paper was the phrase “poorly advised by staff.” Utilizing the response, the chief deflected the criticism of his management.

When a third incident occurred, the chief, now adept at using the wisdom of his predecessor, went to the drawer and removed the third and final envelope. Opening it carefully, his heart sank when he saw the words: “prepare three envelopes.”

If you utilize all the resources that are available to you, through the various associations and educational institutions, you will never have to open the envelopes.

William R. Kushner is a 30-year law enforcement veteran and currently is the chief of police with the Berwyn, IL Police Department. He is also the executive director of the West Suburban Gang Task Force. He can be reached at wkushner@ci.berwyn.il.us.

Published in Law and Order, Feb 2009

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