To be effective, law enforcement in America requires chiefs of police and sheriffs to lead local organizations to protect the citizens of their respective communities and counties. Sheriffs are elected, while the chief of police is selected by local government through a hiring process. The problem in many of these selections is the experience (or lack thereof) of the chief or sheriff to perform the at the executive level.
While a candidate for chief is either a current or former chief or has held a deputy chief position and gained some experience at the
executive level, that does not necessarily equate to having the knowledge and experience to be proficient. The problem of experience is exacerbated when it comes to being a sheriff. I have found that in all 50 states there are only four requirements to be a sheriff, which are: 1) You must be a U.S. citizen, 2) you must be 18 or older, 3) you must have graduated high school or have a GED and 4) you must not have been convicted of a felony. Some states and counties have a fifth requirement that the sheriff must reside in the county they will preside in.
A lack of knowledge and experience causes problems when a new chief or sheriff assumes command of an organization. In business, it is common to perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) assessment, which is the standard assessment tool and is a useful one for law enforcement agencies. Using this assessment when assuming a command aids in the transition stage and complements the information a new chief or sheriff obtains from their employees.
The following are basic procedures and questions to be used when taking command. There is so much more that can be asked to evaluate an organization if the leader really thinks things through, but these are some simple recommendations that will help any law enforcement officer assume a leadership/supervisory/senior executive position.
To start, write a three-day plan of action for when you officially assume command. There is nothing worse than having a leader enter the scene who has no idea of what they are going to do or want everyone else to do. Your action plan should be written in time-management form, such as: 08:30hrs, meet with command staff; 08:40hrs, meet with officers and support staff; 0935hrs, etc. The items in your action plan should be similar to the ones below.
Call for a meeting with the chaplain and ask for a sensing session
A sensing session is facilitated by a trusted outside party (it doesn’t have to be the chaplain) that employees can trust, who is not part of the leadership and therefore has no interest in what is said or the outcome of the session. Each session is conducted with the command staff first, then the supervisors, then line officers and then support staff. Each employee is asked to write down what is good and what can be better about the department. Employees can identify a person or persons they believe are trouble, but all negative comments must have the “If you were the chief/sheriff, what would you do to solve this problem?” type of approach. Employees are told not to write their name on the sensing session cards and are told the purpose is not to single people out or identify who said what, but to find out from their perspective what the current status of the department is. Encouraging all employees to be fair, honest and truthful will help the new chief/sheriff have a better grasp of the issues and problems facing all employees and therefore be better equipped to stop rumors and facilitate positive change.
Conduct a meeting with the command staff
It is normal to give the leader a week to prepare for the briefing. In this meeting, you will task each division/section chief with preparing an executive summary with a PowerPoint presentation to address the following:
1. How long have you been in the position?
2. What issues did you inherit and what have you resolved?
3. What is your manpower?
a. How many people are you short?
b. How many people are scheduled to leave?
c. How many people are under investigation?
d. How many people are under disciplinary consideration?
e. How many people are under consideration for an award and when will the recommendation be submitted?
4. What are your equipment needs and what is the equipment serviceability status?
5. What problems do you have now and how can I help?
6. What upcoming events (30-day, 60-day, 90-day projections) do we have?
In addition to the information required of the command staff, the investigations section will also provide the following:
1. A briefing on the status of all active cases
2. The need-to-know why a case is 60 days, 90 days or older and when you expect to close the case
3. The number and status on all cold cases
4. The status of the 0.15 funds — funds used for undercover operations
5. The status of undercover vehicles and all equipment
6. The status of clothing funding for the investigators’ work attire (if department pays for the detectives’ clothes)
7. Any problems your section has and recommended solutions
In addition to the information required of the command staff, the patrol division will also provide:
1. The number of available vehicles, including:
a. How many vehicles are in for repair
b. How many vehicles are scheduled to be placed out of service
c. The average mileage of current vehicles and how many years of service or accumulated miles are necessary before replacement
d. How many new vehicles are on order and:
i. How many vehicles are planned to be ordered in the next 60 days
ii. How many vehicles need special equipment such as a different rear seat, accommodations for K-9 officers or other special needs or equipment
2. Are there other equipment problems?
Schedule a property/equipment accountability inventory
You would be surprised by the number of times found property/evidence and furniture and all property purchased by the department is lost or stolen and nobody knows about it. You should also have a policy for evidence/found property room inspections and inventories by outside third parties once a month. Normally, a lieutenant or above from another law enforcement agency is tasked (via an MOU/MOA) to conduct the inspection/inventory, and these individuals can be from an adjacent county, city or state (if you border the state).
Check the academy status
You should obtain information on the status of any academy and the number of cadets attending those academies. You should also plan a visitation to the academy to observe the cadets in training and to give a pep talk to those cadets.
Review the budget
It is common that when a new leader assumes command of a law enforcement agency, the next budget is scheduled to be submitted within a few weeks. It is recommended that you review the budgets for the past five years so you can see what increased and what did not, and then evaluate the reasons for the changes. There is so much more that needs to be addressed in a budget that it cannot be covered in this article.
Each law enforcement agency is different; therefore, the amount of information requested will vary. The action plan I have provided is basic and much more information can be requested. Using this example should give any incoming chief or sheriff the fundamentals needed to adequately perform a “bottom-up” review of the status and readiness of the organization and make the necessary decisions to guide that organization into a successful future.