7 keys for police leaders to improve trust with subordinates

Employee mistrust of police leadership contaminates relations with communities — then, when emotionally charged incidents occur, the already-strained connection breaks apart


Lack of trust has been the “root cause” of serious internal and external conflict in policing for decades. Although it is a pervasive, devastating problem, most administrators show indifference to it. Many departments have poor communication and bad morale as a result. This recurring sequence destroys relations with employees and contaminates relations with communities — then, when emotionally charged incidents occur, the already-strained connection breaks apart. 

It is far better to be proactive. Enhancing trust means becoming transparent — inside and out. The quality of life will improve for every employee — and it costs nothing. Carry out a plan to improve trust and transparency using these seven steps:

1. Acknowledge distrust and commit to a plan for transparency
2. Conduct a needs assessment
3. Turn greatest trust needs into transparency goals and objectives
4. Persevere through the resistance
5. Use transparent, integrity-driven leadership
6. Make transparent communication the norm
7. Be recognized for your professionalism

Step One: Acknowledge Distrust and Commit to a Plan for Transparency
Poor trust shatters officer/leadership relationships. Some leaders deny the problem exists or rationalize if it does, little can be done to resolve it. It is an insidious condition. The classic “us versus them” struggle flourishes and morale is frequently described as “never been worse.” 

Many agencies are riddled with distrust between leaders and employees. We must first rise above egos and acknowledge that distrust is very real and is the cause for poor communication and morale. Then, goals for transparency should be set. 

Step Two: Conduct a Needs Assessment 
What is not acknowledged cannot be rectified. A basic need assessment can be accomplished with a confidential survey. Let it be known that the findings will be disseminated, regardless of the results. Surveys create an opportunity for administrators to role-model transparency. 

Step Three: Turn Greatest Trust Needs into Transparency Goals and Objectives
Trust is the cement of any good relationship with a community. Good community relationships are much more likely to develop if officers work within cultures of fairness and respect. Having healthy relationships with citizens are improbable if officers are disgruntled.

Step Four: Persevere through the Resistance
Leaders who make change meet resistance. They always have and always will. How they react to the opposition has a big impact on the outcome. The resistance takes many forms. Transforming leaders who are not used to justifying their actions into people who willingly explain their reasoning is usually difficult. 

Consider These Tips:
•    Always respond to others by considering “what’s in it for them” as you explain your reasoning
•    Wear down skeptics with unyielding, repeated responses
•    Have informal leaders and supporters make  visible displays of commitment
    Be prepared with facts to refute rumors, gossip and distortions
    Be patient and do not give in to the negativity
•    Arrange for informal leaders to speak with skeptics
    Associate your efforts with  highly valued principles and individuals

Step Five: Use Transparent, Integrity-Driven Leadership
Many sworn personnel throughout the nation feel more negative stress from their own department than they feel from doing their job. Transparent policing will vastly improve this. Consequently, when personnel feel more appreciate, they treat the public better.

When ‘Mission’ and ‘Values’ statements only get lip service, community relations suffer. 

Step Six: Make Transparent Communication the Norm
Brilliant leaders have the ability to have open, honest, productive conversations. Creating real teamwork for workers and the community can be the norm, rather than the exception, as long as everyone in a relationship commits to a plan that embraces trust and transparencies. 

Transparent Policing Principles
What we do not acknowledge cannot be changed. Most sworn personnel agree that leaders’ failure to explain decisions about promotions and discipline is a major source of bad morale. 

Forgive. The faster we rise above bitterness the better we feel and the better we treat others. “How we play the cards we are dealt” is what matters. 

Really listen. When someone truly listens before responding, the other person knows it. Those who do are respected for it. 

Create ownership. When employees or the public feel ownership in their agency or community, they will probably want to improve, protect and serve it. 

Generate a strong sense of purpose/mission. Great relationships with communities often transpire when officers feel their hard work involves something greater than themselves. Leaders have to orchestrate such feelings, as they won’t exist without outstanding leaders.  

Develop informal leaders. The greatest way to influence behavior is role-modeling. 

Step Seven: Be Recognized for your Professionalism 
The ability to confirm your organization’s competency to the public is invaluable. If innovative projects are underway or unique achievements have been made, the community should know it. 

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