A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see a police chief in America talking about their priority in “community trust.” I doubt anyone can even get that job without telling their political boss that “trust” is the most important aspect of policing and a quick google search revealed countless law enforcement leaders lamenting their sole focus on “trust.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Community and trust is important to policing and the words of Sir. Robert Peel are just as important today than when the Founder of Modern Day Policing said it more than 150 years ago.
“The Police are the Public and the Public are the Police”
But the focus on “trust” in policing is a scam of epic proportions that, if left unchecked, will completely destroy the profession and further denigrate the communities that we serve.
We Must Be Mission Focused
There are a myriad of problems with how “trust” is being thrown around in law enforcement. First, “community” trust can never be the most important aspect of policing because it never stopped a crime. No criminal anywhere stopped and said, “wait, I trust the police so I will not victimize this person.”
The mission of law enforcement is exactly what it says…enforcing the law. You could also say the mission is reducing crime, stopping crime, or making sure that parents can let their kids outside without getting shot, but the mission must always be about safety.
Trust Has A Place
With all that said, community trust is very important in that mission. If the community has a relationship with their police agency or they “trust” them, they will be much more likely to call 911, become witnesses, and generally help law enforcement do their job. Just like my man Robert Peel said, “The police are the public and the public are the police.”
This is where “trust” comes into place. Trust is not the problem in policing but rather, the problem is how we go about accomplishing that trust and how the issue is being used to undermine our sole mission….crime control.
Stop Dancing With The Bear
Building community trust is not separate and apart from our main mission of “law enforcement” but if you listen to those outside the profession that are constantly critiquing, you’d think that it was. Unfortunately, with either appeasement or ignorance, many of our leaders spend more time producing TikTok videos or bragging about their latest “program” to show how much effort they are putting forward on the community trusting us.
Frankly, I’m fine with the programs and after developing a Police Athletic League, I saw first hand the value in doing this but lets not act like anything we will ever do will get some away from the “trust” train. The train is far too effective to let it go and our profession has struggled mightily to maneuver around it.
How To Really Build Trust
Building trust is not complicated and it seems that every industry but law enforcement has this figured out. After all, companies better figure it out or they won’t be around long. Consider where you eat or what phone provider you have or what hotel chain you stay at. You have likely made those decisions based on trust and I haven’t seen Delta Airlines or Hilton getting outside of their mission because of this trust issue.
They don’t have to because they know what you know. You “trust” companies that do a great job and that is exactly what law enforcement needs to do in regard to this trust issue. We need to hire great people, train them well, provide them the resources to be mission focused (crime control) and provide a work environment that is conducive to all of that. An agency that is transparent, communicates well to the public and works tirelessly as professionals to provide their citizens a safe environment will build trust and if that isn’t good enough for some, so be it.
Not Everyone Will Trust You
The scam of “community trust” is this: There will always be some in your community that won’t trust you no matter what you do. I don’t particularly trust car dealers. I don’t know any but I just don’t trust them. When I was in high school, there were a few girls that I tried desperately to make trust me. Looking back, it’s good they didn’t, but nothing I did would ever build that trust.
Our leaders need to accept this as a fact and move on with building great police agencies. For one, law enforcement is doing very well now. Law enforcement has been consistently one of the most trusted professions since Gallup began their annual polling almost 50 years ago and law enforcement is just one of five professions that has a majority of Americans placing a high trust in them.
Oddly enough, those that keep demanding more trust, rank near the lowest each and every year. Just 7% of the media is trusted at a high level and only politicians rank lower. Car Dealers rank at 8% so I’m not alone in my feelings…
Reforms, Bad Ideas, and Rising Crime
Almost every “reform” demand today comes with the caveat that it is needed because law enforcement must build “community trust.” This is both dangerous and ridiculous. For one, who ever said that a particular reform would actually build trust and what trust level are they talking about? Is this ever measured before or after?
As I mentioned earlier, the only way to build trust is to build a great police agency and I’m not sure some politician sitting behind a desk has the right idea to do that. They have certainly tried and all you have to do is look at the current crime rates to monitor their success.
Furthermore, what “trust” are they talking about? The people demanding “trust” would love to have the trust that we have so what exactly are they saying and what are our leaders doing by playing this silly game? If 75% of the the public trusts your agency, then what would it take for the so called “reformers” to go away? Do they expect 90%, 95%, or 100% trust?
You will never get that answer because they will never tell you. The truth is that law enforcement remains one of the highest trusted institutions in America and “trust” is simply being used as a vague means to further erode policing. It’s a topic that sounds good, elicits emotions and places police leaders in a position where they hav to simply say “yes” to whatever is proposed and it’s time that it stops.
It sounds like a worthy cause but those demanding it will likely never approve of what it would actually take to build it because that would entail focusing on the mission of crime and that is one reform you will never hear discussed.
Lead On and Stay Courageous!
Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Doctoral Candidate in Strategic Leadership. You can subscribe to weekly articles by Travis Yates here.