Back To Top


We Must Create Trust in Every Setting

Image for We Must Create Trust in Every Setting

April 24, 2015

"People have been protesting police violence and law enforcement disparities in more than a dozen American cities. Significant numbers of people in a number of cities have a very low level of trust for the local police departments and people have been expressing their unhappiness with a number of demonstration, protests, and various public displays of non affection.

Why is trust for the police so low and unhappiness levels so high in some communities?"

In a world where we tend to divide people into us and them and feel unhappiness and distrust at an instinct linked level toward whoever we believe to be them, the police departments are clearly perceived to be a them by significant numbers of people in a significant number of settings. When someone is a them, distrust levels are high. Any negative behavior by a them triggers immediate anger. Positive behaviors by a them are not trusted.

Police departments who perceive community members to be them tend to act in negative ways toward them and feel right acting in those negative ways. Both sides in us/them settings suspend conscience and feel right doing unethical things to them that would not feel right being done to an Us.

People tend not to cooperate with anyone perceived to be them. It is extremely difficult for police departments to do basic police work if the members of a community do not cooperate in any way with a perceived them. People have deep instinctive needs to never personally be a traitor and deep instinctive drives to detest and reject any one who is a traitor to any group. Those traitor instincts make it almost impossible to create positive inter group interactions when they are activated and influencing how we think.

Intergroup trust is at a crossroads in far too many communities. Those communities are all damaged by that lack of trust. We should work to eliminate that damage.

We need to take steps forward now to create inter group trust in all of those settings. We need to make the police departments an anchor part of that strategy. We need to take steps to give each community a sense that the police departments are an us....working to help and support all community members with all of the positive values and behaviors that are extended to an us.

We have a chance, at this point in our history, to move forward in multiple settings from a time of intergroup stress and major local community challenges relative to intergroup trust to create a time of intergroup alignment and intergroup trust. We can cross the bridge into intergroup trust if we take the right steps to respond well and directly to the stress points that exist in so many communities today and we need to start by having the police departments create a significant level of inter group trust in every setting.

Yesterdays paper had another story about a white policeman shooting an unarmed black man. The facts of that story are not known to us at this point, but what we do know is that there have been several shootings like this in recent months and we know that the police officer who fired the gun was clearly in the wrong in at least half of those shootings. Each of those shootings is a major tragedy and each creates major problems relative to intergroup trust.

The problems for intergroup trust are already so significant in the communities where the shootings occur that they actually do not further damage trust in those settings. Those trust levels are already dysfunctionally low. Those shootings serve as catalysts to bring existing anger in those communities into public view and they get people in those settings to act in group ways to protest both the trigging incident and the underlying anger.

We don't need more evidence to teach us that we have some major issues relative to intergroup trust and anger in those settings. What we need now is a commitment by the leadership in each of those communities to make major progress relative to the performance of their police departments and the interactions between the departments and the communities. Those communities that have low levels of trust now should all take very direct and intentional steps to increase the levels of trust between the communities and the police.

Those communities should take those steps in everyones self interest. All community members benefit when communities are safe and all community members benefit when basic laws regarding issues like theft and abuse are enforced in effective and equal ways. Children in neighborhoods should be safe. Peoples homes and property should be safe. The functional reality is that safety in some areas of community life require protective behaviors by police forces.

Police fail in creating those levels of safety in too many settings because it is almost impossible to perform well as a police department in any setting that does not trust the police. Those efforts to create those levels of safety also fail far too often because police in too many communities don't have a sense that the people they serve in those settings are an us.

We need to all come together to create a sense of us in each community. When we all function as an us, then people help, support, reinforce, trust, and protect one another. The books Primal Pathways, Cusp of Chaos, and The Art of InterGroup Peace all explain how those mutual support levels function and what can be done to make them a reality in each setting.

We need the police departments and the community leadership in each of those currently conflicted settings to take advantage of this time to reach out to the communities they serve to create real trust. If police departments take on that responsibility to reach out openly and inclusively and do it well-- with transparency and integrity at core levels--and if community leadership and community members are willing and ready to help create that community sense of alignment and support positive intergroup interactions, this could be a historic time of positive change in community/police relationships in a wide range of settings.

We do need those relationships to be better. We should recognize that need and communities should take advantage of the opportunity that exists to make those relationships better.

Police will need to be very sincere about those efforts. Police will need to clearly perceive community members to be Us and act accordingly. Community members and community leaders will need to be willing to give the process and the police a chance to show both good intentions and deeply rooted and clearly functional good will.

The alternatives are grim. Communities that continue to be rooted in distrust and anger will continue to periodically explode. Our lives are not improved and enhanced by explosions. Our lives are improved and enhanced by living in settings where we are all supported and protected by the law enforcement teams and processes in ways that create safety for us all.

Safety for us all should be our goal. Reaching out very intentionally and well should be our strategy. Intergroup Peace and community safety should be our commitment to each other.