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The Guide: Your Promotion to Captain

Assistant Chief Bill Reilly | PoliceLink

Congratulations, captain.  Your promotion will move you from mid-manager to manager.  You will wield more authority, supervise more people, and be closer to the top of the organizational chain than ever before.  Ideally, you are about to set yourself on a path of multiple successes.  How you start will be critical in determining how you succeed.

Whether it is an advertisement for a weight loss program, an auto body shop, or your local landscaper; those who are trying to influence you on the results that they have achieved in the past have found magic in a common strategy: the “before” picture.  Those side by side photos that show an overweight individual next to their slimmer (6 weeks later) self;  or the beat up car next to its refurbished newer body, or a weed filled patch next to golf course quality grass.  What each of these promoters has discovered is the power of comparison.  Human nature forces us to evaluate all areas of our existence through comparisons.  As you are about to take on captain-level responsibilities you should consider the same.

The “Before” Photo

In this day and age of tighter budgets and “doing more with less”, the fact that you were promoted is testament to the need to fill a particular vacancy in your organization.  The key work being “‘vacancy” as it represents a position previously held by another.  A wise city manager once said to me: “You should always take a snapshot of whatever you are walking into, that way you can measure your success.”  So, what should that “snapshot” include? Consider the following:


Most of us take an accounting of how many people are on our staff when we take on a new division or bureau, but to truly draw the complete snapshot, think in terms of specifics.

• What is the tally of personnel at each rank? How many are sworn? How many are non-sworn?
• How are those personnel distributed among divisions, units, shifts, and/or geographical areas?
• How long have they been members of your agency?
• How long have they been assigned to your new area of responsibility (consider this individually as well as the average tenure for all personnel in this assignment)?

As we all know (but too often lose sight of) the personnel under your command are your most valuable asset.  It is not just the number of personnel in your area of responsibility; it is the complete snapshot of who they are that should be captured at the beginning of your command.


Hard assets are being assigned to you, which means that you are responsible for tangible items that have an assigned value.  It is not enough to think of your investigative team as a composition of a lieutenant, two sergeants and eight detectives.  There could easily be hundreds of thousands of dollars in your agency’s funds tied up in desks, chairs, computers, vehicles, video equipment, software, surveillance equipment, etc, etc, etc.  The first day that you sit in your new office, all of that is your responsibility.  Take a snapshot…

• What are the physical facilities that are under your control?
• Obtain an accurate vehicle inventory for your assigned vehicles, to include make/model/year, or unmarked, restrictions (off road only, etc), mileage, condition, and expected lifespan.
• Determine the number of computers (desktop and laptop), cellular phones, two-way radios, that are assigned in your divisions
• Determine the software that is being run on these computers (current vs. obsolete) and the interoperability of this software. Having ample computers does you no good if they can’t accomplish efficient tasks.
• Take an inventory on any specialized equipment (surveillance, etc) and include where it is currently located
• Review the inventory control procedures to assure accountability
• Get a count on all other equipment (desks, chairs, filing cabinets)

You are responsible for all of these items if they are issued to members of your command.  Have your lieutenants sign off on these inventory reports and then follow up with a random inspection of your own.


Conduct a review of the current budget as well as allocations over the past three years.  Remember, a large part of your success will rely on the resources that are provided to you to accomplish your mission.  To be sure that your performance as a captain receives a fair review, take a snapshot…

• What is your current budget and how is it distributed?
• Based on your year to date position, are you likely to be at, below, or above budget at the end of this budget cycle?
• What was the allocated budget for the three previous fiscal years?
• Did your predecessors meet, exceed, or fall below their allocated budgets?
• Is the budget for your area of responsibility trending downward, upward, or remaining the same?

The old adage, “compare apples to apples” applies here.  Knowing that your success is going to be evaluated against the success of your predecessors, you want to do your homework on the financial support that they received as compared to what you are being given.


Ideally, this is where you will shine.  While many will condemn the “numbers game”; as a captain, you are now a manager and you will be evaluated in part on how your team performs.  Like it or not, the only way to measure productivity is to find a way to assign numbers to results.  Anything other than numbers will be more opinion-based and not based in proof.  Trust me; you want proof, not opinions, to back up your success.  Your snapshot should look like…

• Concrete performance records: arrests, crimes (categorized by type), calls for service, officer-initiated activities, traffic accidents reported, quality of life incidents, uncommitted time versus committed time, etc.
• Comparative trend for your area of responsibility; is the measurable trend moving upward, downward, or stagnant
• Citizen complaints, lost time, disciplinary actions
• Percentage of time allocated to training

The list above is a surface list.  As a captain, productivity (otherwise known as the positive effect that your area of responsibility is having on their assigned challenge) is critical.  You must study the past to determine how you will make improvements in the future.  These numbers become the foundation for your goals and the driving vision that you share with your team.


This snapshot is a bit more difficult to take.  Morale cannot be easily captured with numbers, yet it is every bit as important.  If morale is low it will impact on the four other areas listed above: Personnel (high vacancies and high lost time), Equipment (missing, abused, or poorly maintained), Budget (excessive overtime); and Productivity (less than optimal).  This unique snapshot can be conducted in the following manner…

• Waiting list of employees seeking to be part of your division or bureau
• Number of currently assigned employees seeking to transfer away from your division of bureau
• Interviews with a cross-section of employees who are encouraged to share suggestions for improvement as well as rank the current atmosphere within your division or bureau on a scale of 1 to 10.

The “After” Photo

You will be judged on your performance.  Going with the assumption that you are an achievement-minded individual, one of the first things that you need to establish in what you will seek to achieve. You can expect that the deputy chief or chief will be sharing with you their desired outcomes for your division or bureau.  By taking a clear and complete snapshot when you take on your new assignment, you will have the foundation well-set.  As an achiever, you can now determine which areas you will concentrate on; stay focused with your message to those in your chain of command, and keep track of the results.  Remember, human nature forces us to compare; make that work for you with an effective initial assessment, goal directed behaviors, and ongoing assessment to measure the improvement that you are bringing to your area of responsibility.  Without the snapshot, the recognition for measurable improvement will be lost.


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