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How to Advance in Law Enforcement: Police Chief Salary and Job Market


Police chiefs carry the responsibility and challenge of protecting and serving 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 the promotion of best practices to their force. Under their influence, they can cultivate a culture among their officers that fosters community building and public service. By building bridges between police officers and the communities, police chiefs make a meaningful difference in many lives.

Those inspired to pursue a career as a leader in law enforcement will benefit from learning about the position’s duties and responsibilities, the preparation needed to secure a job as a police chief, and what can impact a police chief 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 working environment for all employees. In addition, police chiefs establish policies and procedures aligned with city guidelines and handle disciplinary issues when officers violate these policies.

Police chiefs have the duty to build departments that reflect the highest standards of ethics. 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 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.

Police chief 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 addressing 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 sworn-in law enforcement officers. State statutes create their positions and state legislative bodies establish strict guidelines outlining their duties. City government structures often dictate the reporting chain of command for police chiefs.  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.

The Role of Education and Experience              

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 firearm use and emergency response. In manage a police department, police chiefs also must have extensive police work experience, including five years in police enforcement and at least three years in police administration. They often work their way through the police hierarchy of command from officer to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain by performing well on the job and passing written examinations. They also benefit from gaining work experience in different areas of a police department, sharpening police skills, and developing an in-depth knowledge of the many specialized types of police and detective work.

An advanced degree, such as Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership, can further refine important job skills and competencies needed 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 acumen by focusing on leadership fundamentals and styles of leadership as well as change leadership. In addition, students can 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 to concentrate on organizational leadership, human resources leadership, or leading change management in consulting.

Salary and Job Outlook

PayScale reports that a police chief salary can range from $44,000 to $133,000 a year, with an average salary reaching $74,094. A variety of factors influence police chief earnings such as job location. Larger police departments in major metropolitan cities usually offer higher salaries; however, according to Indeed, the average police chief in 2019 earns an annual salary of $102,841. Salaries increase with years of experience and education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% job growth rate for police employment between 2016 and 2026, about the same pace as the average for all occupations. However, because of the high ranking of the position, those seeking to secure work as police chiefs can expect significant competition.

Pursue a Career in Leadership

The online Master of Science in Leadership from Norwich University offers a curriculum designed to develop the vital leadership skills that police chiefs need to succeed in their careers. Students study ethical leadership, leadership styles, and techniques for leading change in an organization. They also gain key understandings within the different areas of concentration offered in the program, including public sector, government, and military leadership; organizational leadership; human resources leadership; and leading change management consulting.

Those wishing to gain a competitive edge in pursuing a career as a police chief can explore the online Master of Science in Leadership from Norwich University today.

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President’s Message, Leadership and Law Enforcement Accountability, Police Chief
Indeed, Chief of Police Salaries in the United States
Police Chief Job Description, GovtJobs
The Right Person for the Job, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
The Manager-Police Chief Relationship, ICMA
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