Reputation and Trust for 21st Century Policing

By JOE COUTO
Director of Government Relations and Communications
Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

Published January 15, 2014

Police organizations that meet their organizational mandates depend on a critical element for success:  Public Trust. Policing in Canada is based on the concept that law enforcers police with the consent of the citizens they serve and this consent is firmly based on trust.

When a new police officer is presented with his or her badge, they are entrusted to execute their sworn duties with integrity and dedication to service. It is the citizens who grant him or her special authority and responsibility to uphold the laws of the land. This includes the use-of-force, which is granted only to select individuals in our society, namely those who serve in law enforcement or with the Canadian Forces. The people, through their elected representatives in government, place their trust in police officers to  act wisely and in the service of public good.

Reputation is  one of the things that significantly impacts public trust in the police. Reputation, is defined as, “the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something” (Oxford Dictionary). In a corporate context, reputation is, “The collective assessments of a corporation’s past actions and the ability of the company to deliver improving business results to multiple stockholders over time” (businessdictionary.com). Because police leaders are under increasing pressure to meet public and corporate expectations in an era of fiscal constraint, it is important to note that reputation is based on action (delivering results) and the meeting of multiple and often conflicting needs of stakeholders.
Reputation is something that must be earned, and this requires a multi-dimensional, strategic approach involving an organization’s or individual’s “public” image or brand. Furman (2010) identified three specific elements to reputation:

 

  • brand reputation (perception about a brand),
  •  organizational reputation (perception of an organization)
  •  stakeholder reputation (the reputation that stakeholders have of a brand or the company).

Trustworthiness, responsibility, and reliability are key elements of any relations effort to manage reputation (p. 16). Reputations, therefore, are built or fall based on the perceived virtues of an organization or individual such as those based on the TARES model: Truthfulness, Authenticity, Honesty, Equity, and Social Responsibility (Baker & Martinson, 2001).

Griffin (2008) argued that, “a damaged reputation can severely hurt the bottom line” and that corporate executives must take the initiative in “strategically managing” a reputation. He suggested that standard thinking on reputation management is often inadequate for today’s “information age” and reputation management must be based on proactively engaging publics to build a positive reputation that can withstand major crises and unforeseen events (p. 19).

From a policing perspective, failing to live up to the desired reputations of our police organizations can severely damage organizational integrity and undermine public trust.

According to Griffin (2008), leaders often fail by buying into the concept of reputation management, but not into the process of it. This “process” involves redrawing the stakeholder map to define four groups of publics:

(1) people without whose active support we can’t do without,

(2) people who hold power over us,

(3) people who influence those in the first two categories,

(4) people who want to see us fail, and developing strategic plans that avoid engaging “the wrong groups on the wrong agenda and the wrong issues” (p. 19).

Is reputation management a critical component of your game plan? In today’s environment, those who don’t pay attention to their organizational reputations inevitably pay the price in public trust.

References

Baker, S., & Martinson, D. (2001) The TARES test: Five principles for ethical persuasion. Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, 16(2), 148-175. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08900523.2001.9679610

Furman, D.M. (2010). Development of Corporate Image: A Historiographic Approach to a Marketing Concept. Corporate Reputation Review, 13(1). 63-75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/crr.2010.3

Griffin, A. (2008). New Strategies for Reputation Management: Gaining Control of Issues, Crises and CSR. London, U.K.: Kogan Page.