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Published On: Wed, Aug 28th, 2019

Leadership in Law Enforcement: Todd Walls Highlights 4 Key Characteristics of a Strong & Successful Chief of Police

While all roles in law enforcement are important — from administrators and technical specialists who work on the back end, to officers and detectives who engage the public — the far-reaching influence and impact of a police chief cannot be underestimated; not just on the police force, but also on the wider community-at-large. 

According to Todd Walls, who spent more than 22 years in law enforcement, including four years as police chief of the West Buechel Police Department before retiring in 2019 to focus on his health and family, the key characteristics of a strong and successful chief of police include:

Integrity  

Without question, the most critical quality that a chief of police must continuously demonstrate is integrity. While this may seem self-evident or even cliché, it is much more complex than most people realize. This is because the truth is not always black and white. Various individuals and groups can have different perspectives, paradigms, opinions and expectations. The most effective and acclaimed police chiefs are those who can navigate this complexity and achieve successful outcomes, but without losing sight of their core values or moral compass. 

Adds Walls, who was awarded Police Officer of the Year by the Knights of Columbus: “Many people mistakenly believe that having strong integrity is synonymous with always being right. This is simply not the case. People make mistakes, and police chiefs are certainly no exception. However, if they have integrity, they take accountability and ownership of the situation, and learn from the experience.”

Photo/Anja

Management Skills

Most members of the general public only see their respective chief of police at press conferences or read quotes from them in the newspaper or online. However, make no mistake: police chiefs are far from spokespersons or figureheads. They are busy executives who are tasked with essential management functions that relate to personnel, training, budgets, strategic partnerships, quality assurance, and the list goes on. 

Todd Walls, who during his stint as police chief of the West Buechel Police Department played a pivotal role in developing an innovative field training program states: “The importance of managerial competence is a big reason why a growing number of accredited colleges and universities are offering certificate, diploma and degree programs in police leadership.”

Communication Skills

Not only must a police chief have the proven ability to communicate with community groups and the general public, but he or she must also communicate effectively with a variety of internal colleagues and stakeholders — whether the task is crafting a relatively straightforward memo, or delivering an informative and inspirational speech on the direction of the force

“Effective and trusted police chiefs are very accessible and approachable and also have excellent listening skills. They pay attention to what is being said, as well as how it is being said — or sometimes, what isn’t being said. This helps them build strong relationships, foster trust with the force and in the community, and carry out their agenda and mandate.”

Delegation Skills

Last but certainly not least, the best police chiefs do not delude themselves into thinking that they are on a one-man or one-woman mission to enforce the law and protect the community. Like pilots of an airplane or captains of a ship, they see themselves as part of a cohesive, interdependent team where each member has a critical role to play — regardless of their job title. To that end, they effectively delegate tasks to subordinates, and just as importantly, give them the resources they need to succeed.

Todd Walls’ Final Thoughts

“The best police chiefs — which are those that not only get the most done but are also respected and admired by their colleagues — understand that delegation is rooted in empowerment and accountability. And when challenges arise, instead of playing the blame game or looking for scapegoats, they focus on solutions and moving forward. They turn a negative into a positive.”

 

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