Minnesota Cities Magazine

Credentialing of the Professional Police Chief

By Claudia Hoffacker

Even after 10 years of experience as a police chief, Jeff McCormick jumped at the chance to put his skills to the test to earn his certification.

McCormick, police chief for the City of Cannon Falls, served as president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) when the organization was developing its new certification program for chief law enforcement officials (CLEOs). And he was one of the first chiefs to sign up for the program.

police badgeThe certification process is an opportunity for self-reflection, McCormick says. “CLEO certification provides a roadmap” for assessing the knowledge and skills it takes to be successful as a police chief.

The MCPA formed a task force in 2012 to explore the idea of a credentialing program for CLEOs. The committee members envisioned a program that, while voluntary, would represent the “gold standard” of police administration, says Jeffrey Bumgarner, criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University, former Minnesota police chief, and a member of the MCPA Certification Task Force.

The goal of the program, which launched in August 2014, is to advance professionalism and leadership in law enforcement. The hope is that CLEO certification will come to indicate a police chief ’s attainment of education, training, and experience in specific core areas.

When Cannon Falls City Administrator Ron Johnson learned of McCormick’s desire to apply for certification, he was 100 percent in favor of it. “I’m very supportive of employees who want to raise their level of education and commitment within their profession and to our community,” Johnson says. “Chief McCormick’s interest in participating in the CLEO certification process shows a level of commitment to continue to strive to be better.” The core areas that must be mastered for CLEO certification include the following:

  • Organizational management refers to all aspects of leadership, including communication and problem-solving, as well as areas such as risk management, policy development, legal issues, strategic planning, dealing with the media, handling crises, and emergency management.
  • Personnel management includes developing employees, discipline, internal affairs, data practices, hiring and firing, training, and labor relations.
  • Personal development relates to matters governing the police chief ’s inward practices and abilities, including time management, political awareness, legislative relations, personal leadership, and mentoring.
  • Finance and budget management includes sub-areas such as grant writing and administration, public accounting, budget preparation, cost-benefit analysis, and budget oversight and accountability.
  • Technology includes electronic records management, crime mapping and analysis, radio interoperability, public safety answering points, and emerging technologies.
  • Ethics includes ethical leadership, multicultural awareness, moral decision-making, and modeling ethical behavior.

These core areas, although distinct, are interrelated and share many junctions with one another, Bumgarner says. While a police chief’s need to draw from the well of these core areas might vary in scope and frequency depending on the size and location of the police agency, MCPA leaders believe the certification criteria is appropriate for chiefs in all types of police departments around the state.

To determine whether CLEOs seeking certification have mastered the above core areas, they are scored in the following five categories:

  • Higher education
  • Formal continuing education
  • Years of experience as a CLEO
  • Community service and involvement in professional associations
  • Contribution to the profession

Johnson says he thinks the core areas and scoring categories are important to demonstrate the skill, knowledge, and commitment of a police chief. Certification “will not only increase Chief McCormick’s ability to serve his department better,” he says, “but the program’s requirement that the participant is scored through community-related service will benefit the entire Cannon Falls community.”

Three Rivers Park District Police Chief Hugo McPhee says, although it was straightforward, he found the application process to be fairly rigorous. “It’s not a rubber stamp,” he says.

Like McCormick, McPhee—who is also a 10-year police chief veteran—was excited about the certification and among the first to apply.

The process required a thorough self-assessment and exposed areas that might be bolstered through additional training and education, McPhee says, adding that he was encouraged that the criteria is broad enough in scope and application to include non-municipal settings such as his.

The criteria for CLEO certification was developed with input from a broad array of subject matter experts, including police chiefs, and representatives from higher education, the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and city administrative and elected officials.

McPhee predicts that when CLEO certification becomes more widely known, as it inevitably will, it will distinguish the exceptionally qualified law enforcement executives in the state.

Cambridge City Administrator Linda Woulfe agrees, saying the certification will provide guidance when hiring a new police chief. Because of all of the program’s requirements, cities can be confident that a certified police chief will have a well-rounded skill set, she says. Bumgarner says the credentialing of police administrators is a part of the profession’s future. There is a growing intolerance in society for inept public leadership in government. People want exceptionally qualified men and women in positions of authority and power. People also want accountability.

Accreditation of police agencies in the United States has been around for decades. Now CLEO certification offers an accreditation of sorts for police executives in Minnesota, Bumgarner adds. “It is one more way of attesting to political and public constituencies that our police leaders are extraordinarily qualified and professional in their administration and delivery of law enforcement services.”

To learn more about the CLEO certification program, visit www.mnchiefs.org/cleo-certifications.

Claudia Hoffacker is web content and publications manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: choffacker@lmc.org or (651) 215-4032.

Read the November-December 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities Magazine

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