The Manager-Police Chief Relationship

by: Rod Gould, ICMA-CM

Local government managers and assistants must ensure their relations with police chiefs are strong, respectful, and mutually supportive. It is a classic symbiotic relationship. All departments are important, but there is more at stake with the police department than any other.

Ensuring community safety by preventing and addressing crime and incivility is the first priority of all local governments. The strength of a local representative democracy and the quality of life enjoyed by its residents is often a function of the way police officers carry out their duties.

There are 680,000 sworn officers in the U.S.1 serving in 18,000 separate agencies.2 Not surprisingly, police departments take up a large share of most communities’ general fund budgets.

But what is most unique about police departments is the amount of discretion provided to line staff. We expect officers to be benevolent community problem solvers and compassionate role models, while at the same time being ready to attack and kill in the case of a mass shooting or terrorist incident.

An entry-level police officer is authorized to take a person’s liberty during an arrest, or even a life if the circumstances dictate it. That’s a lot of judgment for someone, perhaps in his or her early twenties, to exercise.

Generally, there’s no time to request supervisory oversight of such a decision.3 Consequently, the cost of mistakes can be very high in civil liability and in lasting harm to community relations.

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