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Ten Deadly Sins

Written by Collins, Jack

The police chief has a three-way responsibility to the rank-and-file police officers, to the public and community, and to the municipality leaders. Sooner or later, the chief is held accountable to each group for his/her actions. Here are 10 of the most likely reasons for a chief to get in enough trouble with one group or the other to end up dismissed from the top job. 

One, criminal misconduct. The chief commits a criminal act like theft, drugs, DUI/OWI, domestic violence, bribery, cover-up/mislead investigation, lying/perjury, embezzlement, any criminal act—misdemeanor or felony. No one is above the law. In fact, officers are held to higher standards and chiefs even higher standards.

Two, conflicts with municipal officials. These conflicts can be over budgets, opposition to a pet project, open support of others in an election campaign or political battle, open opposition of a campaign theme, failure to carry out campaign promise made by elected official. Picking your battles reduces headaches and bruises.

Three, medical issues. Many medical issues like heart disease, lung cancer, liver disease and even stroke and psychological stress are (rightly or wrongly) considered as preventable. Smoking and excessive drinking are obvious. But controlling your weight, monitoring blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol are all part of it—the basic diet, exercise and lifestyle thing. Know the disability retirement rules in your state; check the work-related disability options.

Four, retired on the job. This is a loss of focus, loss of interest. Simply not caring anymore, and the willingness to let someone else run it. You have lost the internal fire to learn, no longer committed. This fosters the attitude, If the chief doesn’t care, why should I?

Fifth, battles with the union. This can range from budget issues on overtime and hiring to the election of anti-chief union president. It can be due to a closed-minded, closed-door attitude or a My Way or Highway attitude (strong management rights stance) on everything. Talk to the union, negotiate with the union about everything.

Sixth, unethical conduct. This starts with conduct unbecoming—chiefs are held to an even high standard than police officers, both on-duty and off-duty. Know the conflict of interest laws and strictly follow the gifts and travel policy. For everything you do, think: 1) What would the municipal officials think? 2) What would the officers on the department think? 3) What would the press and the public think?

Seventh, mishandling money. This can range from hidden slush funds to outright embezzlement. You are in a powerful position and there are many temptations the closer you are to handling cash from fees and the more control you have over the transfer of money. In fact, of the Ten Deadly Sins, money is one of the Big Three. The love of money is the root of all evil.

Eighth, sexual misconduct. Ranging from dating the staff to porn on the office computer, this is another of the Big Three. And frequenting prostitutes equals drugs which equals money. From inappropriate touching to coarse humor, accusations of sexual harassment are a reality since as chief you are everyone’s supervisor. 

Ninth, retaliatory investigations and discipline. This is all about your personal agenda—from punishing a rival to threats to get appointed. It also includes one of the biggest supervisory failures—favoritism. A retaliatory attitude causes a loss of focus on the job of chief.

Tenth, new appointing authority. This is essentially inflexibility as chief, an autocrat who does not get the management team concept. This is someone who thinks he/she doesn’t have to be a politician, when he/she certainly does—to the municipal officials, to the public, and to the rank and file. The chief needs to understand that empathy and understanding are the keys to leadership.

John (Jack) M. Collins, Esquire is General Counsel of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Past Chair of the IACP’s Legal Officers Section and its current Training Chair. He may be reached at jackcollins@masschiefs.org.  


Published in Law and Order, Feb 2014

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Active Chief's View of Article

By Chief Randall Aragon

Superbly written article!

Unquestionably brings to light key "career suicide" elements.

My praises go out to Attorney Jack Collins for a literary composition well done.

With Jack's article coupled with the the article I authored (and published in Law and Order Magazine--Vol 41, No. 1, November 1993: "A Chief's Survival Kit") Chiefs should be well on their way to insuring tenure with their munipality.

Submitted Mar 14 at 3:26 PM

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