Reader feedback from Dave Smith. ‘From Chief to Public Safety Director’. Over the past year or so we’ve seen a new trend spreading throughout our great state.
Retiring police chiefs say their goodbyes on the way out the front door and then return through the back door as the town’s new public safety director. In some cases they barely leave the building or even their office as the deal was quietly struck before their date of retirement although there is a state required six month waiting period.
It’s a great deal for the new director. He or she gets the monthly pension check from the Police and Fire Pension as well as a brandy new salary. Plus, many of their old duties as chief are moved to the highest ranking officer. Unfortunately, while this move works out great for them, in most cases it severely hurts the agency and the men and women they once led.
The position of public safety director is highly controversial at best. The only benefits to a town or city are the lower salary of the public safety director (not always the case) and the perceived extra powers the governing authority will gain over the agency.
The position also brings about a myriad of problems.
In an average sized department a captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant and a patrolman will lose their chance at promotion.
A conflict between the director and the highest ranking officer is more than probable: it is an absolute certainty, and it is not healthy for any organization, especially a modern-day police department.
Agency-wide morale takes a hit as other officers watch promotions and other opportunities for advancement or transfer evaporate. The clean lines in the chain of command become clouded and highly dependent upon the topic of the communication.
It is also confusing to the public who see the director as the boss but who, in fact, has little if any involvement with many parts of the police function. Consider the following from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police position paper on public safety directors:
For example, a civilian “director” cannot perform police duties including conducting motor vehicle stops, engaging in patrol activities, answering calls for service and stopping or detaining individuals. A “director” may not wear a uniform or badge or carry a firearm, nor may he or she operate a motor vehicle which is equipped as a police car including police band radios. Likewise, they have no powers of arrest and may not issue firearms permits. Further, as a general rule a “director” may not have access to criminal investigative reports, nor may he or she have access to criminal history information.
Likewise, such individuals must refrain, unless otherwise specifically directed by the county prosecutor, from directing the investigation of criminal activity. Nor may a “director,” as a civilian appropriate authority, have access to internal affairs investigative files absent a court order. Moreover, a “director” may not examine confidential police reports or other confidential law enforcement documents, nor may he or she access the police department’s terminal for 12 N.J.S.A. 40A:14-152; N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3. 13.
In all honesty, most chiefs who swap for public safety director positions don’t do it with malice, and perhaps our reference to Judas and the 30 pieces of silver was over the top, but this is how it feels and looks from the trenches. This top-job swap has lasting affects on many people.
And in an economy where we need to fight for every job possible, eliminating one position for the benefit of one person is just not acceptable. A chief or public safety director job is no more or less important than a patrolman’s job.
We’re straying as our beef here is with the backdoor deal makers. The public safety position may be inevitable, but it shouldn’t be the result of behind-the-scenes prodding by a chief looking for a second career.
All police chiefs should leave their respective councils or committees with two things: an agency that is better than when they took it over and a strong recommendation against a public safety director.