The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Tonita Murray

Tonita Murray is the Director General of the Canadian Police College and the Director of the Police Futures Group, a policy think-tank attached to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP). She has a Master of Arts degree in History. She can be reached at Copies of the studies can be obtained from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police at or 613.233.1106. They are priced at $9.95 each.


This short article summarizes two studies published by the Police Futures Group in 2000 and 20011 . The purpose of both studies was to provide knowledge on Canadian chiefs of police and their deputies, about which there is little known and even less to be found in the research literature. In this respect, Canada is different from the United States and the United Kingdom where the police executive community has been a focus of academic attention.

The first study created a profile of the police executive community from data gathered in a survey of police chiefs and deputy chiefs. The second examined the public pressures that a significant number of police chiefs experienced between 1990 and 2000, which led to many of them leaving policing. While the research is now four years old, the snapshot of the police executive community appears to be still largely in focus, and a quick electronic search of media offerings in the intervening years will show that some police chiefs continue to experience intense public pressure for one reason or another. The studies therefore still have value if only because they provide insights into the background, attitudes and actions of an influential group of less than 500 heads and deputy heads of police organizations at all three levels of government who have nearly $8 billion at their disposal, and direct a workforce of over 70,000, if one includes non-police employees2 . The studies are also useful in capturing a picture of a police community undergoing significant changes. From this point of view, they provide baseline data against which any future studies of a similar nature can be compared.

A Profile of the Canadian Police Executive Community


There was a 47 per cent (n=163) response rate to the survey which produced the data for constructing the profile of Canadian police executives. The responses represented 42 per cent of the police services in existence at the time of the survey and included every province and two of the three territories. One of the three women who held positions of chief of police at that time responded. There is now only one female head of police in Canada, although there are a number of women holding deputy and senior executive positions. The respondents represented large, medium and small police services. Most of the chief executives of medium and large-sized police services responded but, given that only a third of police services had more than 100 officers at the time of the study, most of the respondents managed small police services.


Apart from demographic and personal characteristics, the study examined management responsibilities; style and activities; health and fitness; professional and personal development; values and beliefs and, information-technology use of police executives.

The police executive population is middle-aged, overwhelmingly male, somewhat conservative in outlook, practical in approach and stable in habits. Its members have a higher than average divorce rate but 85 per cent are married and generally report stable unions. They entered policing because they wanted to help others or were intrigued by the challenge. Also, policing was often a family tradition; 42 per cent of respondents reported a family member in policing.

In general they have worked in policing all their careers and in the same police organization. While most entered policing with high school graduation, the majority has since acquired at least one university degree or courses towards a degree. They are hard-working. Forty-four per cent work from 51 to 60 hours a week and 11 per cent more than 60 hours a week. They also work several evenings a week and an average of two weekends a month. Salaries ranged from $50,000 to more than $150,000, but 55 per cent earned less than $90,000 and only 16 per cent earned more than $110,000.

Forty per cent of the respondents were recruited externally to fill the position of police chief or deputy chief. This revealed two trends: an established one of recruiting middle-management officers from large police services to lead smaller ones, and a newer trend for police boards to advertise nationally for candidates who matched increasingly stringent and comprehensive requirements. Although they had worked all their careers as salaried and largely unionized employments with guaranteed benefits and protections, both externally and internally appointed police chiefs are contracted usually for a fixed term of five years.

Despite their unexceptional backgrounds this generation of police executives have achieved considerable progressive change in policing. They have contributed to more change in policing in two or three decades than has perhaps occurred in the history of policing. They have witnessed the globalization of policing, applied the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to police operations and management, introduced community policing, and have adapted to the new public administration which has transformed them from senior police officer into modern organizational managers. The survey responses show that they have embraced rather than resisted the change but, as the second study documents, it has been at a price.

Police Executives Under Pressure


At different times during the 1990’s some Canadian police chiefs ran into difficulties in full public view. Fifty-five cases were identified by the researchers. The purpose of this second study was to discover the reasons for the pressure, to describe it effects, and to propose some solutions. In general, the chiefs in difficulty were respected for their intelligence, professionalism, and reformism, yet they were subjected to intense media scrutiny, criticism from police associations and their own officers, or the withdrawal of support of their governing bodies. As a result some were dismissed, the contracts of others were not renewed, or some relinquished their positions of their own volition and went into retirement.

Twenty-five chiefs agreed to be interviewed by telephone. This was an act of courage for many of them since it meant reliving very painful experiences. The interviewer was a former police chief with excellent interpersonal skills. He reported spending from 45 minutes to three hours speaking to the respondents, long after they had completed answering the questions in the structured interview. Francophone respondents were interviewed in French by a former Montreal police officer.

To balance the point of view of the chiefs, police service board members, police association (union) members and police middle-managers were also surveyed for their views on why so many chiefs came under pressure.


The factors that generated pressure for the chiefs were various but the most common were that they:

  • were external appointees to their positions;
  • faced resistance from their police association, rank and file, senior officers or governing body;
  • had management or leadership styles that drew criticism;
  • implemented a reformist agenda or made unpopular organizational changes; or,
  • mishandled an internal investigation.

As a result they frequently became the target of unsympathetic media attention and the hostility of their police associations, municipal councils or police services boards.

The interviews identified a number of key issues the chiefs thought underlay the pressures. The most important of these were lack of acceptance because they had been recruited from another police organization, their own lack of communication skills, their management styles, the resistance to change of their employees, and a lack of strong support from the governing body, even when the governing body approved of the course the chief was following.

While under pressure the chiefs experienced acute feelings of isolation. Their colleagues did not contact them and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police had no support program to help them. They also recognized that their preparation for becoming chiefs was deficient. They had insufficient training in communication and leadership, labour relations and managing difficult people. A significant number of them recognized their lack of sophistication, knowledge of government, and ability to deal with “politics”.

In the view of members of police governing bodies, police chiefs came under pressure because:

  • their personal conduct came under criticism;
  • they misunderstood the lines of accountability to the governing body;
  • they did not inform their boards of serious internal matters;
  • they did not respond properly to legitimate policy direction from their boards;
  • they alienated their police associations.

They too identified lack of communication and leadership competencies as major contributing factors to the pressures chiefs experienced. They also observed that trust between a chief and a governing body is crucial to a good relationship and to police leadership. On the whole, however, police governing bodies reported their relations with their police chiefs to be good.

Members of police associations observed that chiefs came under pressure when there was:

  • lack communication and interpersonal skills;
  • inadequate management and leadership abilities;
  • insufficient training and preparation for the job of police executive
  • lack of knowledge and understanding of labour matters.

They also believed that chiefs were too ‘political’. In general, however, they too reported that their relations with police executives were good.

Police middle managers were sympathetic to the pressures of police chiefs, recognizing that the job had become very challenging. They too observed that the necessary learning opportunities were not available to prepare chiefs for their roles and made a number of recommendations to remedy the present situation.

The study finishes with a discussion of the public policy and professional implications of the findings and makes a number of recommendations for improving the preparation and support for police leaders.


1. Tonita Murray and Sam Alvaro, A profile of the Canadian police executive community, Police Futures Group Study Series No.2, Ottawa: 2001, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police; Fred Biro, Peter Campbell, Paul McKenna and Tonita Murray, Police Executives under Pressure: a Study and Discussion of the Issues, Police Futures Group Study Series No.3, Ottawa: 2000, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

2. Statistics Canada figures for 2003 record 59,494 Canadian police officers and police expenditures of $7.8 billion.