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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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