Police Chief Professionalism: Does Race Make a Difference?

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Research abounds on the police officer and his/her function in society. However, little research has been conducted on the police chief this most vital public administrator. His/her attitudes and perceptions about the job of police chief and the function of policing in American society assists in determining the values and attitudes of those who have awesome power in society -­the ability to take life and liberty. In addition to the lack of research on the police chief, in general, there is no data on the black police chief whose numbers have increased dramatically over the years. As city mayors and other governmental officials are selecting police chiefs, should race be a and their roles differently from non-black police chiefs? This study focused on the attitudes and perceptions about the job and the issue of professionalism of this vital policymaker and whether those attitudes and perceptions affected the management of the police agency in terms of crime control/prevention philosophies. Using a self-administered questionnaire and the focus group technique, 165 police chiefs from all size departments, with varied backgrounds, were asked their opinions on the police chief job, the role of race in terms of their career, relationships with the community, management of the police agency, and the issue of professionalism. The findings tend to contradict the assertion of previous researchers and writers. First, there is consensus on what constitutes the job. Although traditional attitudes are still present, the majority of police chiefs hold attitudes that are community or future oriented. Second, in terms of professionalism, while the findings of previous (although limited) studies were upheld, their attitudes are supportive of four of the seven classical professionalism criteria. Third, although community oriented policing can assist in strengthening the police chief claim to professionalism, those police chiefs who "scored" low on professionalism were more likely to command a police agency involved in community oriented policing. Finally, with the exception of educational level and job experiences, the attitudes of black police chiefs were no different than those of non-blacks. The major conclusion of this study is that more research needs to be conducted on the American police chief. As society and its needs and problems are constantly and rapidly changing, there is a need to know what characteristics should be evident in the police chief selected to deal with those issues and who will lead the future police agency. Another conclusion is that with the variations in attitudes and perceptions about the nature of the job, there needs to be a basic "police chief curriculum" that all police chiefs should undergo. Inasmuch as police chiefs come from within the occupation, there also needs to be an analysis of training curricula from recruit level up through and including the executive level to determine if future police chiefs are being prepared to assume this most important leadership role.