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Police Chief Salary: Advancing in Law Enforcement


Police chiefs carry the responsibility and challenge of leading those who protect and serve the public. They work in many capacities, from public information officers and personnel managers, to investigators. Their work requires contending with shifting political and social climates and meeting a level of accountability demanded of few other positions.

Police chiefs also shape the police profession through their leadership and promotion of best practices. Under their influence, they can cultivate a culture among officers that fosters community building and public service. By building bridges between police officers and the communities they serve, police chiefs make a meaningful difference in many lives.

Those who are inspired to pursue a career as a leader in law enforcement will benefit from learning about the position. Here, we’ll provide information about a police chief’s duties and responsibilities, the preparation needed to secure a job, and what can impact a police chief’s salary.

What Does a Police Chief Do?

The responsibilities of police chiefs cover a considerable amount of territory; however, their primary duty is managing a police department. As the highest-ranking officer, all other officers and staff report to the police chief who manages the department’s daily operations. This entails preparing reports and conducting investigations, as well as maintaining a healthy and functional work environment. In addition, police chiefs establish policies and procedures aligned with city guidelines, and handle disciplinary issues when officers violate these policies.

Police chiefs have a duty to build departments that reflect the highest ethical standards. As such, they must actively oversee the hiring and firing of personnel. In addition, police chiefs conduct scenario-based training that prepares officers to deal with difficult real-world situations.

To maintain peace and build safer communities, police chiefs develop programs that address crime and violence. They work to implement measures that prevent criminal activities and protect citizens. They also consider their jurisdiction’s laws and ordinances and put procedures into place that ensure compliance.

A police chief’s work often involves cooperating with city officials. They meet regularly with city managers or mayors, depending on the city’s form of government, to discuss and plan the police department’s budget. They also may work with elected officials to handle any emergencies. As public figures, police chiefs can preside over press conferences and address community concerns. They also must attend city council meetings and perform other public relations duties.

Unlike police directors, who work in a civilian capacity and whose positions are created by local municipalities to manage emergencies, police chiefs are law enforcement officers who are sworn to take an oath. State statutes create their positions, and state legislative bodies establish strict guidelines that outline their duties.

The structure of a city government often dictates the chain-of-command that police chiefs must use. They may report to a mayor, city manager, city council, or board of commissioners. As a police force can greatly contribute to a community’s quality of life and safety, police chiefs are important leaders in city government, collaborating with other leaders to solve community problems and foster civility.

How to Become a Police Chief

Because of the level of responsibility associated with the police chief profession, the path toward pursuing the role requires several key steps. While some of these steps relate to education and gaining significant experience in the law enforcement field, they also require meeting specific physical and mental requirements.

These requirements, such as height and weight requirements or the ability to pass a psychological exam, can vary from state to state or in some cases, from police force to police force. It is important for those who are interested in a law enforcement career, and eventually a role as a police chief, to familiarize themselves with these regulations prior to pursuing the profession.

The Role of Education               

Police chiefs should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in police administration, criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field. In addition, they must complete training at a police academy where they study local, state, and constitutional law along with firearms use and emergency response.

An advanced degree, such as Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership, can further refine important job skills and competencies to secure a leadership position and potentially command a more competitive police chief salary. The curriculum offers coursework that hones skills in communication, technology, and analytical expertise. The program does so by focusing on leadership fundamentals and styles of leadership, as well as change leadership.

In addition, students can choose to concentrate in the public sector, government, or military leadership, where they study leadership theories and practices, or strategies for collaborating across organizational lines. Students also may choose a concentration in organizational leadership, human resources leadership, or leading change management in consulting.

The Importance of Experience

To manage a police department, police chiefs must have extensive policing experience, including five years in police enforcement and at least three years in police administration. Aspiring police chiefs often work their way through the police hierarchy, from officer to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. To accomplish this, it is essential to perform well on the job and pass written examinations.

Police chief candidates also benefit from gaining hands-on experience in different areas of a police department, developing an in-depth knowledge of the many specialized types of police and detective work.

Police Chief Skills

Police chiefs must be experts in various law enforcement methods, techniques, equipment, and firearms. They must possess a wide range of advanced administrative expertise, such as analytical skills, critical thinking, and budgeting competencies to manage the coordination and operation of a police force. The increased use of technology in law enforcement also requires police chiefs to develop strong technical skills and computer literacy.

Those in the role must have strong communication, interpersonal, and motivational skills to be able to conduct police officer training. Due to the physical nature of the job, it is also important that police chiefs maintain a consistent level of physical fitness.

Salary and Job Outlook

The compensation website PayScale reports a police chief’s salary can range from $45,000 to $128,000, with a median annual salary of around $72,900. A variety of factors can influence police chief earnings, such as job location and years of experience. Larger police departments in major metropolitan cities usually offer higher salaries. According to Indeed, the average police chief in 2020 earned an annual salary of around $89,800.

Pursue a Career in Leadership

The online Master of Science in Leadership from Norwich University offers a curriculum that is designed to develop the vital leadership skills that police chiefs need to succeed.

Students study ethical leadership, leadership styles, and techniques for leading change in an organization. They also gain a key understanding of the different concentrations offered in the program, including public sector, government, and military leadership; organizational leadership; human resources leadership; and leading change management consulting.

If you wish to gain a competitive edge in pursuing a career as a police chief, explore the online Master of Science in Leadership from Norwich University today.


Recommended Readings

8 Great Government Leaders of the Past Century
10 Different Types of Leadership Styles
What Is Leadership Development?


President’s Message: Leadership and Law Enforcement Accountability, Police Chief
How Much Does a Chief of Police Make in the United States?, Indeed
Police Chief Job Description, GovtJobs
The Right Person for the Job, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
The Manager-Police Chief Relationship, ICMA
Physical Ability Test, San Francisco Police Department
Police Chief vs. Police Director, Houston Chronicle
Police and Detectives, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Why College Educated Police Officers Make More Money, PoliceOne
Master of Science in Leadership, Norwich University
Average Police Chief Salary, PayScale
Public Paychecks: America’s Police and Fire Chiefs Have Big Jobs, and Big Salaries to Boot. Here’s the Breakdown, The Business Journals

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