As the top law enforcement officer in a city, town or other municipality, a police chief is responsible for leading the police force. The ultimate responsibility for this person, also known as chief of police, is to protect the public and public property. To carry out this duty, he or she oversees the police officers who make up the police force for the city or town. This person also sets the mission and direction for the police department and establishes its goals.
Duties vary widely for police chiefs, depending on the size and demographics of the area they serve. One basic responsibility usually is managing the departmental operations and budget. In small towns, he or she might be the only paid law enforcement officer, so patrolling and other hands-on police duties will be primary. In large cities, the chief of police might oversee thousands of officers and civilian employees and manage an extremely large budget. He or she often will spend much of the day in meetings discussing crime issues and departmental management concerns.
Hiring, firing, and disciplining officers and other personnel is also normally the job of the police chief. Establishing and overseeing citizen volunteer and youth development programs, such as a neighborhood watch or police explorers, falls under the umbrella of the job as well. He or she might also be responsible for ensuring that the department's police cruisers and other equipment are in good working order and coordinating other departmental assets. Forming plans to combat gangs and graffiti and implementing anti-terrorism task forces are other examples of his or her activities.
Police chiefs usually are appointed by the mayor, city manager, city council, or other city official. Sometimes they are elected, depending on the locale. They often are expected to attend city council and city management meetings to report about issues and events related to their departments.
Top officers also interact with various other city departments in their day-to-day jobs. They work closely with fire departments to provide emergency services, as well as with public works, maintenance, and transportation departments.
Other titles for a chief of police include constable, chief constable, and police commissioner. In the United States, sheriff also is a title for the head of a police organization, although the roles of police chief and sheriff differ in that the chief of police usually is appointed, and a sheriff is elected by the people.