Building Trust Between the Police and the Citizens They Serve

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Building Trust Between the Police and the Citizens They Serve

Building and maintaining community trust is the cornerstone of successful policing and law enforcement. The building and maintenance of trust takes a great deal of continuous effort. Unfortunately, the ethical work of thousands of local law enforcement officers is easily undone by the actions of one unethical officer. Often, the indictment of one seems like an indictment of all. Once misconduct occurs, the Internal Affairs function of the law enforcement agency becomes the primary method of reassuring the community that the police can and will aggressively address and resolve unethical behavior. In short, the integrity of the police will always dictate the level of community trust.

Throughout 2008 and 2009, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), supported by a grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office), examined the community trust continuum, with a focus on the pivotal role of Internal Affairs in rebuilding community trust once misconduct occurs. Working with ethics and Internal Affairs experts from across the country, IACP staff studied promising practices in recruitment and hiring, policies and training, rewards and discipline, and, in particular, successful and transparent Internal Affairs investigations.

This guide attempts to place Internal Affairs in its proper context—not as a standalone activity, but as one component of a systemic, agency-wide, professional standards effort. After discussion of some of the other components necessary in the community trust continuum—hiring, training, rewarding excellent performance—the guide focuses on building an effective Internal Affairs approach for any size or type of agency. The guidelines for the Internal Affairs function address every aspect, from complaint processing to decision-making, discipline, notification, and community transparency.

Looking at the Internal Affairs process from a citizen’s viewpoint, this guide presents information on how local law enforcement agencies can be accountable to their citizens by engaging them in any number of trust-building initiatives, including citizen input for Internal Affairs determinations and discipline. Citizen involvement models range from very informal mechanisms to formalized (sometimes mandated) citizen Internal Affairs review boards. Departments are urged to create connections with their citizens in a proactive fashion to prevent the development of tenuous relationships following high-profile misconduct.

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