Even the most myopic police chiefs can’t possibly think they are loved and appreciated by every officer, can they? Counterpoint: even the most myopic officers can’t possibly think their chiefs should see things their way all the time, can they?
A mentor once counseled me as I was on the verge of succeeding him in the chief’s chair, “If they’re smart, police chiefs know they sit on a stool made with three legs; the community, elected officials, and the members of the department.” A chief who fails to pay enough attention to any one of those legs finds his or her position untenable almost overnight. But in today’s superheated environment, chiefs who seem to be a perfect fit for their agency can find themselves on their rear with their gear.
Good riddance, right? “I hated that chief anyways, yadda, yadda, yadda…”
I get it; no one likes the idea of working for a chief who is compromised or ineffective.
Fair enough. But what if a chief enacts tough-minded changes and has the support of the community and elected officials? Can it be that a chief is unpopular inside the agency precisely for applying a much-needed astringent to an agency in dire need of improvement?
I know, I know; the chief is annoying—or worse, doesn’t understand “real” police work…
I knew a chief who had a well-deserved reputation for sharp elbows, sharp tongue and very little patience. Some hated his guts and fought him tooth and nail, while others adapted as best they could. Those who thrived under his brand of leadership did so because they knew the chief was doing what he thought best for the department, even as he sometimes fell short of expectations.
My lifeline to the officer struggling with a chief who is way off the mark?
- Focus on what you can control. It’s your life and your career and that is something you have a great deal of control over. Lateral to another agency? Sure, because that other shop is assuredly problem-free and their chief is perfect, right?
- Focus on you. Haven’t finished your education? A degree from a regionally accredited institution will help you now and in the future. Interested in another aspect of the job? Make yourself indispensible by getting additional training and expertise, and don’t expect the department to provide it all. You may need to spend a few shekels to improve yourself.
- Focus on your family. A wise man once said, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” Not married or don’t have kids? Focus on others. Are you a part of a faith group or non-profit? Volunteer more of yourself helping others who are less fortunate.
- Focus on your craft. Determine to be the very best in whatever assignment you’re currently in, even in patrol!
In other words, plumb a bit deeper and remember the reasons you decided to become a police officer. I suspect they’re good reasons—and reason enough to excel wherever you’re serving and regardless of who your boss is.
While the reign of a chief you “hate” may seem interminable, remember that police chiefs, like old yogurt, come with an expiration date!