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Everybody knows, or should know, the most important resource of any police department is its police officers. The police
officer is a department's largest human resource, and your responsibilities are vast and varied. Police departments have
always been modeled on the military structure, because that system of organization is the most efficient, and
responsible, when herding a bunch of people armed with guns.
The single most important element of a successful military style structure is its chain of command. Police departments...
use to be... just as committed to their adherence to the chain of command philosophy as any efficient military
organization. When I became a police officer, the chain of command was sacrosanct. Aside from saluting and
exchanging greetings with higher ranking officers, my sergeant was the only supervisor with whom I had direct
It took years before I realized the real value of chain of command. A retired police chief once commented, "When
something goes through fifteen people, before it gets to me, and then, I find something wrong with it, everybody thinks
I'm a genius." The translation is this: Nobody is perfect, but people in command positions, and the organization, will
always benefit from a perception of their perfection. That perception, rightly or wrongly, will keep any system running
The chain of command had another benefit. It was static and resistant to change, or I should say it was resistant to
frequent and arbitrary change. However, resistant doesn't mean immune. To be blunt, your exposure to chain of
command may be limited to your academy training. Once you're assigned to patrol, you could find yourself a bit confused
as you try to follow direction from any number of supervisors. If you're lucky, you'll have a sergeant who knows he or
she is a sergeant.
The sergeant is, literally, the lynch pin of any police department. The sergeant is the most influential supervisor,
because the sergeant is the doorway between you and management. You'll know when you have a strong and competent
sergeant when you're not subjected to conflicted direction. Just to be on the safe side, you're going to have to strive for
self sufficiency. You're going to have to learn as much as you can in the shortest amount of time. A police chief once
stopped by to give a squad a pep talk. This squad was formed specifically for the service of arrest warrants. During the
banter, the Chief remarked, "If you see a light on, kick the door in." The expression on the Sergeant's face evoked a
question from the Chief in a sarcastic tone, "Do you have something to say, Sergeant?" The Sergeant replied, "No,
sir." Following the Chief's departure, the Sergeant explained to his squad that the mere presence of a light in a dwelling
is not sufficient probable cause to kick in the door.
It gets better. Another Police Chief inherited a police department with a military style pyramid organizational
structure. In the pyramid structure, there's always someone to set, or communicate, clear direction to those lower in the
structure. This Chief's organizational "Paradigm" rested on the idea of cooperation. He promptly knocked over the
pyramid and replaced it with a flat organizational structure. High ranking commanders, of equal rank, would sit down
together and resolve issues affecting their individual missions such as assignment of human and materiel resources. In
the end, they would, theoretically, amicably agree on which commander(s) would get screwed. Need I say more?
To me, the most important aspect to chain of command is its inherent stability. Police work is serious business, and a
strong chain of command keeps police officers in line. Long ago, governments realized the need to form professional law
enforcement entities to replace vigilante justice. In any modern police department where a significant number of police
officers employ vigilante style tactics, you'll find that department's chain of command either supplanted or simply
"Police work is serious business, and a strong chain of command
keeps police officers in line." ~ Barry M. Baker