How Do You Become a Police Chief?

Anyone who wants to become a police chief will most likely need to start out their careers as a uniformed law enforcement officer. This will generally involve rigorous screening, testing and training processes. A Bachelor’s of Science is the minimum requirement. Experienced public officials who are properly educated and credentialed may also qualify for the position. Becoming a police chief will involve high job qualifications and a rigorous testing process.

Employment Credentials

The minimum qualification for an interview is being a police lieutenant with a strong management background. The most successful candidates will hold the rank of captain or deputy chief. Most of the top candidates will have attended prestigious leadership development programs, such as the FBI Leadership Academy. Almost all cities and counties require candidates to have a master’s degree. The preferred major of choice is a Master’s in Public Administration or related field. The job candidate’s application must demonstrate an impressive range of progressive police experience. For example, this could be command-level assignments as division leader or it could be senior management experience in areas like planning, budgeting, human resources, internal investigations and community policing.

The Arduous Hiring Process

A police chief’s position has traditionally been outside of the union’s bargaining unit, so many police chiefs were internally selected by a mayor or city council without a formal testing process. However, modern police chief’s will be sourced from across the state and even country. They must often sign a two- to five-year contract that outlines their salary, benefits and duties. Many contracts include a clause that ties lucrative tenure to official statistics or performance-based incentives. The first stage of the screening process is a telephone interview or an email that includes difficult essay questions. During the telephone interview, the candidate may be asked about their experience dealing with corruption, union domination and crime waves.

Testing Techniques

Some police departments may require candidates to provide a notarized physician’s letter that indicates they have passed a medical stress test. Mass written exams are still sometimes used to weed out the initial candidates. These tests will be similar, but much more complex than law enforcement qualification tests. Civil service tests are usually offered in third-party assessment centers. Some police departments use customized online or in-person tests. These tests may create a scenario that places a candidate in difficult, real-life situations. These may involve media, employee, management or community conflict. The final oral interview board for the top three candidates will include panel members from the city government and police department. Small cities may even individually invite the top candidates to a meeting with the town council who will ask candidates standard questions.

Related Resource: What is a Fire Investigator?

The answer to how to become a police chief lies in the details of the city, state and police department. The first step in becoming a police chief is to earn a bachelor’s of science in a field like psychology, criminology, security management or criminal justice.