The final report of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing lists six pillars as the underpinnings of 56 recommendations for improving and reforming policing in the US:

  • Building trust and legitimacy
  • Policy and oversight
  • Technology and social media
  • Community policing and crime reduction
  • Training and education
  • Officer wellness and safety

Aptly, the first pillar is building trust and legitimacy: these are the foundational elements for police in a democratic society. The challenge to secure these elements is ongoing. Police departments will never be able to claim completion in this arena because the work of building strong resilient communities is never-ending.

Like raising a child is a lifelong endeavor, albeit one that should become easier with age and proper parenting, it’s never over. There will always be opportunities for growth, change, support, and failure in every department. And, there will always be another generation to raise once the previous generation matures. The officers we train today will be training their replacements in a matter of years.

Trust and legitimacy are the foundations of success for a police department, both externally and internally. They’re also the toughest obstacles and are the greatest challenges that so many departments experience. The same way that over decades of history, communities have lost trust in police departments, so too have rank and file members lost trust in the organizations they work for.

Rebuilding internal trust will require a re-examination of the common bonds and culture among members of an organization. We must ask: why do you exist, what brings you to stand together? Core beliefs and values are the foundation of mutually agreed values and mission. Without them, and an awareness and acceptance of them, no trust or legitimacy can be formed.

Therefore, before a police department or law enforcement agency sets off to build trust in the community, it has to build trust within the ranks. Organizational trust takes time and a deliberate effort to be transparent and collaborative with its members while strengthening and building a culture that believes in the greater mission of public safety.

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