“Unity of command” simply refers to an organizational structure designed to ensure that each employee or member of an organization reports to only one person above him or her. Also referred to as “chain of command,” and used in both the military and law enforcement, but also in many other types of organizations, unity of command simplifies or clarifies management by presenting each member or employee a designated superior to whom he or she is expected to report. In law enforcement, as in the military, ranks are used to designate position within the organizational hierarchy. Patrolmen and women report up their chains of command to corporals and sergeants, who report to their lieutenant, who report to the captain, and so on. Respect for one’s chain of command is expected of all police officers, and violating that chain of command by reporting to a lieutenant or captain without first consulting one’s immediate superior – in effect, the corporal or sergeant – is frowned upon, and can hurt one’s career.
Unity of command serves the essential purpose also of ensuring that higher-ranking officers are not unnecessarily inundated with personnel matters that could be handled further down the chain of command.