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What does a Police Chief do?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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As the top law enforcement officer in a city, town or other municipality, a police chief is responsible for leading the police force. The ultimate responsibility for this person, also known as chief of police, is to protect the public and public property. To carry out this duty, he or she oversees the police officers who make up the police force for the city or town. This person also sets the mission and direction for the police department and establishes its goals.

Duties vary widely for police chiefs, depending on the size and demographics of the area they serve. One basic responsibility usually is managing the departmental operations and budget. In small towns, he or she might be the only paid law enforcement officer, so patrolling and other hands-on police duties will be primary. In large cities, the chief of police might oversee thousands of officers and civilian employees and manage an extremely large budget. He or she often will spend much of the day in meetings discussing crime issues and departmental management concerns.

Hiring, firing, and disciplining officers and other personnel is also normally the job of the police chief. Establishing and overseeing citizen volunteer and youth development programs, such as a neighborhood watch or police explorers, falls under the umbrella of the job as well. He or she might also be responsible for ensuring that the department's police cruisers and other equipment are in good working order and coordinating other departmental assets. Forming plans to combat gangs and graffiti and implementing anti-terrorism task forces are other examples of his or her activities.

Police chiefs usually are appointed by the mayor, city manager, city council, or other city official. Sometimes they are elected, depending on the locale. They often are expected to attend city council and city management meetings to report about issues and events related to their departments.

Top officers also interact with various other city departments in their day-to-day jobs. They work closely with fire departments to provide emergency services, as well as with public works, maintenance, and transportation departments.

Other titles for a chief of police include constable, chief constable, and police commissioner. In the United States, sheriff also is a title for the head of a police organization, although the roles of police chief and sheriff differ in that the chief of police usually is appointed, and a sheriff is elected by the people.

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Discussion Comments

By Belted — On Aug 27, 2012
Being a police chief is really more about being a good manager and a good politician than being a good cop. Basically, police chiefs don't go chasing after bad guys, they sit behind desks and sign forms and think about pension negotiations.
By Leonidas226 — On Mar 03, 2011

The American police force has a tough job. They have to deal with people's assumptions about police which are usually quite negative. Americans expect America to be free, but what they fail to realize is that freedom requires enforcement. Anarchy hinders freedom, since there are no restrictions in place.

By Renegade — On Mar 02, 2011

@Tufenkian925

I don't think that the picture is as dark as you have painted it. Certainly there has been historic corruption in certain legal forces, but awareness of this fact has caused it to be reduced drastically. You would fail to walk a fine line between rational fear and paranoia if you were to make large-scale assumptions about the world being controlled by the mafia.

By Tufenkian925 — On Mar 01, 2011

I have heard rumors that many police chiefs are in the Mafia. These men use the legal system as a shield and have dealings with shady customers for the sake of making money and covering their trails. It is important to be aware of the fact that there is widespread corruption in the FBI and in police forces everywhere. There are no moral superheroes.

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