The Public’s Trust

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in community policing by police departments nationwide as part of IACP’s Community Policing: The Next Generation project. The project showcases modern, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to crime problems and public safety issues through collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders in order to adapt community policing efforts. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Guest Blogger: Chief John Truehitt, Lacy Lakeview, Texas, Police Department

A citizen recently sent me an email asking very specific questions about the police department and my perspective on a number of issues that he felt were relevant to our community, himself, and his family. Those emails were a reaction to an event, a few months earlier when the man expressed his concerns to me about the demeanor and approach of one of our younger officers who responded to his animal complaint call. Although one of the on-duty corporals helped resolve the situation positively, the citizen still had concerns about the department.

The man’s questions were directly related to current media events. He asked about our department’s complaint review process, best management practices, our training, and our policy on citizens videotaping police officers. He also asked about Second and Fourth Amendment rights issues. Texas recently passed legislation allowing the open carry of handguns, and he had questions about the practice. He attached two news links to his email. The first link dealt with, what he felt was an example of a plethora of reported occurrences of police overreach and misconduct that inevitably restrain the freedoms of law-abiding citizens. The second article was about, “a police chief publicly acknowledging the issues of his department—the good, the bad, the ugly—and what he has done, is doing, and will do to regain and maintain the public trust and confidence in his department.”

My response to this man’s concerns and complaints was neither unique nor innovative, and I believe any chief in our area would have responded with the same answer. Since becoming chief, I have studied and copied the best practices of exceptional police chiefs and departments. I first revised all our policies and standard operation procedures and used the samples from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Texas Police Chiefs Association (TPCA). The chief executive law enforcement officers in our area meet on a regular basis and share ideas and build relationships.

The public’s trust and confidence in the police must be among our highest priorities. When the police and the communities we serve stop respecting each other and stop communicating, we disconnect and we lose the public’s trust. Over the years, I have spoken with a variety of unhappy citizens. Often they were actually more upset about not getting a call back than they were about their initial complaint. It is our duty and responsibility to promptly and thoroughly address all complaints and concerns. We should view every complaint as an opportunity to improve our relationship with our community and to improve our department. Addressing complaints promptly and with complete honesty, respect, and transparency can transform a potentially angry citizen into an involved and valuable asset to the department and the community.

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