Should A Police Chief Be A Former Police Officer?

The Chief of Police is a management position that should be held by an experienced executive, not a police officer.

CEOs In Other Service Businesses Are Trained Executives, Not In-House Product Specialists

The CEO of IBM isn’t a programmer or a database expert or a technical person at all. Famously, Louis Gerstner who “saved” IBM in the mid-1990s had previously been the CEO of a snack-food company, RJR Nabisco.

Running a company requires management skills, not product-centric skills.

After it’s bankruptcy the new GM CEO wasn’t a “car guy.” The new CEO, who did an excellent job in turning GM around, was Ed Whitacre whose previous position was as CEO of AT&T.

There are dozens, hundreds, of other examples of executives who know how to run a company without any extensive low-level experience in how the company’s products or services are built or delivered.

A Police Department Is A Service Organization

The notion that a Chief of Police should be a police officer seems to be rooted in the mistaken assumption that you need someone who understands the details about how police work is performed at the street level in order to manage a large service organization such as a police department.

There’s no factual justification for that theory.

A CEO Must Have Executive Skills, Not Product Delivery Skills

A CEO needs expertise in budgeting, personnel management, resource allocation, customer service, etc. not in the nuts and bolts of how the product is built or how the service is performed.

I often see companies that are badly run by people who know how to do the work but don’t know how to run a business.

The contractor who is a great builder but a rotten businessman is so common that it’s almost a stereotype.

Again and again we see the sad situation where a person who knows how to build a this or repair a that or sign up customers for something else foolishly assumes that because he knows how to do the job that he can run the company.

Someone may have been a great patrol officer or precinct captain but that doesn’t mean he has the high-level management skills needed to be the Chief Operating Officer of a large service organization.

But there are even bigger negatives than the lack of executive training and skills in hiring a police officer to be chief of police.

A Police Officer As Chief Is A Prisoner Of Police Culture

A cop who’s come up through the ranks is emotionally locked into the police culture.

All the elements of the police culture are ingrained in him/her.

  1. A Bias Toward Protecting Cops Instead Of Citizens

Not the least of these is that at his core he will always want to protect the uniformed cops over citizens.

He understands their fears and pressures. He sympathizes with their problems. He understands how they can let emotions or temper or adrenaline or stress get the best of them.

At least subconsciously he’s always going to want to protect them from their mistakes instead of protecting the citizens from their mistakes.

Over and above that, he’s always going to protect the lieutenants and captains beneath him who themselves are protecting the uniformed cops.

2. A Prisoner Of The “That’s Not How We Do Things” Syndrome

He’s spent thirty years being trained a certain way, doing things a certain way, immersed in a very rigid culture with very well defined policies and procedures, one with rules both written and unwritten.

He can’t help but instinctively and negatively view any proposed fundamental changes in those policies or that culture.

He’s almost inevitably going to be a prisoner of the “That’s not how we do things” syndrome.

My Opinion: Chiefs Who Were Cops Is Why The Use Of Force Problems Have Not Been Fixed

Police departments have had many years to deal with the use of force problem and they haven’t done it. Why?

My opinion is that many if not most uniformed cops (and the Chiefs who used to be uniformed cops) believe that police officers have to maintain a position of dominance over everyone they come in contact with, that everyone who deals with them has to be made to know that if they mess with the police that they’re going to suffer for it.

If you run when a cop tells you to stop, you’re going to suffer.

If you don’t meekly let them put the cuffs on you, you’re going to suffer.

If you disrespect them, you will be punished.

Again and again we see the police beat the crap out of drivers they catch after a long chase. You disobeyed my authority when you ran, now you’re going to be punished is the message the patrol officers want to send.

I can think of two infamous videos illustrating this right now.

My opinion is that the fundamental policy ingrained into many uniformed officers (including the chiefs who used to be uniformed officers) is that disobedience to an officer’s orders needs to be physically punished.

I think that for many uniformed officers the bedrock rule is: “You need to learn that I crack the whip, you make the trip.

They would call it “instilling respect.” I would call “control through fear.”

Maybe we both should just call it “Deterrence.”

I’m reminded of the scene in The New Centurions where the grizzled patrol officer tells the rookie about Kilvinski’s Law:

“Be civil to everybody, courteous to nobody.”

My View Of The Rules I Think Many Uniformed Officers Follow

Judged by what we see again and again, the basic rules taught to uniformed officers on the street if not in the Academy seem to me to be:

1) If you think that someone might hurt you, do not expose yourself to danger. Instead shoot them.

2) If you decide to shoot, you may not fire a warning shot.

3) If you shoot, do not shoot to wound.

4) If you shoot, keep on shooting until the person appears to be dead.

5) Your safety from any possible risk of injury comes first, the life of the subject is a distant second.

Maybe only a relatively small percentage of uniformed officers think this way, but we see this kind of conduct again and again in police shootings — five San Francisco cops standing back ten feet and firing nineteen bullets into a person holding a six-inch knife.

No one took out a baton, approached him and tried to break his wrist, forcing him to drop the knife. That’s how they do it on TV (in a Bluebloods episode) but not in real life. In real life the cops just stand back and blow you to pieces because it’s safer for them that way than to try to knock the knife out of the guy’s hand with their batons.

Taking some risk to themselves versus killing someone? The choice is clear. Kill him.

In the San Francisco case no one fired a bullet near the man to emphasize what was going to happen if he didn’t follow orders to drop the knife.

No one shot him once in the thigh or shoulder and then stopped shooting.

No, they all stood back and blazed away, riddling him with at least nineteen bullets.

The SF cops will possibly tell you that they didn’t fire a warning shot because “it’s against policy” or because they didn’t want to take the chance of injuring an innocent person with a ricochet.

This is almost impossible to believe given that they certainly weren’t concerned about any ricochets from the nineteen shots they actually fired into him.

Any police officer who is appointed Chief is going to be steeped in this “We crack the whip, you make the trip” culture. He’s not going to want to make the drastic and fundamental changes in training and discipline necessary to end it.

The Inherent Deficiencies Of A Chief Who Was A Uniformed Officer

  • A Chief who is a career police officer will not want to do something that will greatly upset the men. He won’t want to be seen as a “traitor” or as someone who has turned his back on the rank and file.
  • He’s never going to be effective at changing the culture.
  • He’s never going to be as good a manager, as good a CEO, as someone who is trained as a service-organization executive.
  • He’s never going to see the job of policing with fresh eyes.
  • He’s never going to see the job of providing police services primarily from the consumer’s point of view. His view of the job will always inherently be from the employee’s perspective.

What Consumers Want In A CEO

I want the CEO of McDonalds to be someone who is focused on improving the customer’s experience, not improving the store manager’s experience.

I want the CEO of Ford to be someone who is focused on improving the customer’s experience not on maximizing the happiness of the guy on the assembly line.

I want the Chief of Police to be someone who is focused first on improving the experience of the citizens who interact with the police and second on improving the experience of the police officers who interact with the citizens.

I want a Police Chief who is a great executive and who was not a police officer.

Will someone forward a link to this post to Libby Schaaf and Ed Lee, please?

–David Grace

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David Grace

David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.