Breaking into the Old Boys Club of law enforcement has been slow going for women. A century after Lola Baldwin became the first woman detective in Portland, Oregon, in 1908, "The Police Chief" magazine reported that in large agencies nationwide, women held only 7.3 percent of top spots. Still, things are looking up for women in uniform. Women's presence in policing jumped from about 1 percent to about 13 percent between 1971 and the early 21st century, with about 200 women police chiefs at the departmental helm.
As top cop, you will trade the street beat for administrative duties, overseeing all departmental functions. The chief is responsible for ensuring law enforcement services are delivered effectively and consistently to the community she serves. You will report to the mayor and work closely with city managers to create a guiding vision for the department and develop a plan for implementing it. Bring your diplomatic sensibilities: This job is all about building cooperative relationships and juggling the needs of the city, outside agencies and your staff.
The duties lie in the details, and there are plenty that go into effective policing. Your department is made of personnel, procedures, equipment, facilities, policies and plans. You will create an annual budget to ensure department funding; oversee hiring, training and discipline for all staffers; supervise investigations both at the emergency scenes and during ongoing follow-up work; inspect department equipment and buildings; plan public education programs; and attend many meeting with other city leaders and the public.
Like many administrators, a police chief is faced with the challenge of doing more with less, using every resource at her disposal in the best possible way. In an article for "The Police Chief," New Albany, Ohio, veteran Police Chief Mark Chaney identified 10 common pitfalls that threaten a new chief's effectiveness: failure to listen; failure to learn to budget properly; failure to create a strategic vision; failure to deal with politics; failure to learn, cultivate and manage the organizational culture; failure to meet community stakeholders; failure to assess the talent pool properly; failure to choose words carefully; failure to take time to assess; and failure to develop relationships with local media. You'll need thick skin and plenty of diplomacy.
Education and Training
Most police chiefs work their way to the top through years of training and successive promotions in the departmental ranks. Along with job experience, competitive candidates will bring a degree in criminal justice, political science or similar disciplines. You can begin a police career at age 21 with a high school diploma by enrolling in your local agency's police academy.
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