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What Is a Police Commissioner's Job?

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Many big city police departments are led or overseen by police commissioners. There are two general types of police commissioners, with one being a civilian and typically appointed by a city's mayor or city council. Civilian police commissioners oversee a city's police department to ensure it acts responsibly in carrying out and enforcing laws and ordinances. Police departments in cities such as Boston, Massachusetts, are led by senior sworn law enforcement officers carrying the title of police commissioner.

Civilian Police Commissioners

Civilian police commissioners frequently serve as part of a city's board of police commissioners specifically appointed to oversee a city's police department. For example, the Detroit, Michigan, police department is overseen by a board of four appointed commissioners from the community. A civilian police commissioner's job is to increase a police department's accountability to the community it serves. Police commissioner boards are responsible for reviewing and approving police department promotions, budgets and official department polices and procedures.

Sworn Police Commissioners

Many police departments, such as New York City's, are led by a sworn law enforcement officer known as a police commissioner. In some cities, the sworn police commissioners leading police departments may also be known as chiefs of police. The Houston, Texas, police department, for instance, is led by a chief. Sworn law enforcement officers serving as police commissioners and chiefs of police have direct operational control over their departments.

Police Commissioner's Job

A police department's sworn commissioner is its chief executive officer and acts as its day-to-day operational leader. Most sworn policed commissioners have experience as law enforcement officers and have served as leaders at various command levels within a police department. A sworn police commissioner's job is to oversee and be responsible for all administrative and operational activities of his police department. Sworn police commissioners frequently coordinate with other police departments and federal law enforcement agencies, as New York City's commissioner does.

Requirements and Salaries

The education and training requirements to be a sworn police commissioner vary from department to department and city to city. In many cases, sworn police commissioners hold criminal justice, police science or law degrees. The salaries of sworn police commissioners also vary from city to city. New York City, for example, pays its police commissioner an annual salary of $205,180. As of 2013, the police commissioner leading the Boston police department earned $174,000.


Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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