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SECOND IN COMMAND


September 17, 2012
By Dana Barnett

1252 words – MR

Second in command: The deputy police chief

by Dana Barnett

It has been said that successful leaders surround themselves with good people but great leaders surround themselves with people even better than they. Look closely at a great police chief’s deputy and you may find an equally great leader standing in their shadow.

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The second highest ranking officer in a police service, deputy chiefs reports directly to the chief. Serving as the chief operating officer, they oversee everything from financial and human resources and operations to developing and implementing policing strategies programs and tactics. Their numbers and divisions of responsibilities may vary but the function is always critical to policing because it assumes management responsibility for the day-to-day operation, services and activities.

{Behind the scenes support}

Running an organization as complex and dynamic as a police service requires strategic tactical planning. While the chief and municipal police services board ultimately decide on strategic directions, the deputy chief feeds the strategic plan and puts the rubber to the road by operationalizing it.

“We breathe life into the business plan,” says Hamilton Regional Police (HRP) DC Eric Girt. “Making it work requires an awareness of many factors – like an understanding of the workload, staffing, financial constraints, adequacy standards, case law, the budget – and current and emerging issues such as psychiatric treatment wait times for emotionally disturbed person calls. This is critical to ensuring our members have the tools to do their job effectively.”

To better understand the pressures members face, a deputy chief will often sit in on a shift parade/briefing, visit a block training session with sergeants or go out on patrol. In Ontario they are required to qualify every year, which is fine with to HRP DC Ken Leendertse, who loves interacting with officers when on patrol.

“The work the members do on the front line is amazing,” says Leendertse. “They use all the tools to their fullest while at the same time, using their policing skills to identify and arrest the bad guys. The workload is incredible but members are extremely professional and very good at what they do.”

Leendertse still makes the occasional arrest when on patrol, noting his most recent collar was an individual he found breaking into his garage. He chased and caught the suspect, who was convicted. “You never stop being a cop” he explains.

{Public relations}

One of a deputy chief’s most critical job functions is maintaining crucial relationships with elected officials and community stakeholders. In any given week this involves spending countless hours – often into the evening – being active with community organizations, attending various committee meetings or sharing best-practices with other law enforcement agencies.

Members of a police command are the face of the organization to the public. They represent all other members – uniform and civilian. This is particularly important when a crisis hits. The deputy chief often plays a critical set of roles in the organization and is responsible for exercising a variety of command functions under the most difficult conditions.

When a man opened fire in Toronto’s Eaton Centre in June, Toronto Police Service (TPS) Command members had to deal with the fallout from multiple victims, a fearful public and a barrage of scrutiny over the city’s safety record. TPS DC Peter Sloly, who was acting chief shortly after the shooting, recalls his involvement.

“In the weeks following this tragic event, I found myself overseeing the operational impacts of the high profile shooting in the three impacted police divisions (52, 51 and 14) and managing the concerns of the three most impacted city councillors,” said Sloly.

“In addition to coordinating the operations to deal with the immediate crime/order management priorities, I needed to provide enough information to keep city councillors, the media and the public informed – while maintaining the integrity of the investigation – and supporting the councillors’ efforts to calm their constituents by holding police/community town hall style meetings.”

{Managing the human dimension}

Deputy chiefs make a concerted effort to not “change their stripes” just because they were promoted. They know that their people are the greatest asset to the organization and need to make time for them whenever possible. That means trying to keep an open door policy and being available, says Halton DC Andrew Fletcher; if that doesn’t work, go out to the members, he adds.

“I often stop in on morning briefings or stop by calls or traffic stops to let them know that I’m out there and paying attention to them. Some will find it intimidating while others will see it as you being one of them.”

This may sound simple but when your job requires you to make recommendations or final decisions about specific transfers and promotions, a casual conversation can be a dangerous thing. What you say can sometimes be “treated as gospel,” notes Fletcher.

“I once made a passing comment to someone about how I heard they were interested in working drugs. That person misinterpreted it to mean they were getting a spot on the team.”

Staying connected means different things to different deputy chiefs but the approach is always the same: make time for people, whether it’s through attending social functions, sending personal notes of recognition to staff or stopping to say hello in the hallway.

{Next in command?}

The deputy chief is the only member, besides the chief, directly recruited and appointed by the municipal police services board, so it’s no surprise boards look to them first when a chief moves on. They can be considered the most stabilizing figure in the command, often having spent upwards of 20 years with their organization before being promoted to deputy. This results in a deep-rooted trust with the police executive and membership. They also have established relationships with community groups and other police organizations.

When Ottawa Chief Vern White suddenly announced he was leaving to accept a post with the Senate, it was no surprise when 28 year Ottawa Police Service veteran DC Charles (Chuck) Bordeleau was appointed after a brief internal process. It turns out that, not only was Bordeleau in the running for the position, he was in a small group of candidates already being groomed for it.

“When former Chief White was hired (2008), he was given a mandate to plan for succession from within the service,” he says. “Although he left sooner than planned, he was able to ensure the board had two candidates to select from within the ranks of the police service. This was welcome news for our members and the greater community. Having come up through the ranks and born and raised in this community has been a tremendous advantage for me, especially during the transition period.”

Bordeleau stands firmly behind the succession planning process in Ottawa. As chief, he intends to play a key role in planning for his successor.

“As chiefs of police, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the depth and breadth in our senior ranks to assume senior leadership roles within our organizations. This requires careful and deliberate planning, which cannot happen overnight. For us to achieve success, we need to look deep into the organization and identify future leaders at least five years out.”

Succession planning from within the ranks is not unique to Ottawa. Seven of the 10 largest Ontario police services replaced their most recent out-going chief with an in-house deputy.

All things considered, it would seem the job to aim for is not chief but deputy chief; that’s where the action really is.