5 Reasons Why Policing Will Deteriorate Under Trump

Reading between the lines of Trumps latest pledge to, ‘Stand up for our law enforcement communities’, I can’t help but see the contradictions and dangers he could easily trigger.

Based on 17 years experience in Police cultures, analysing how communication and behaviour creates community engagement or disengagement I have no doubt his intention is honorable, ‘the safety of the innocent’, but sadly I sense it won’t work out the way he hopes. Why?

There are 5 main reasons. Starting with the first 3

  1. As the guy setting the direction Trump’s psychological profile prefers approaches that are full of push, directness, quick results, ‘tell’, taking risks and winning.  This is a match made in enforcement heaven for some US Police forces because these behavioural traits are strikingly similar to how they Police now. Some haven’t yet realised the ways in which they attempt to enforce causes unhealthy results. Creating disengaged communities, ‘us verses them’ behaviours and more aggression and violence than they need or want.
  2. The skills involved to create engaged communities are vastly different to those of enforcement but those Police leaders and politicians with the psychological profile mentioned above can fail to see the difference. Their careers have been based upon push, tell, quick results and winning and default to force the results they want rather than research and study the differences in the skills required.

Genuine engagement that drives down crime with the vast majority of the community on your side requires skills such as

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Psychological flexibility
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The power and impact of language (To avoid and use)
  • Saying ‘no’ positively
  • How to agree to disagree – The skills of healthy conflict
  • Centering / managing our personal fight, flight and freeze response

I know from research these skills are not taught to US police officers. Many barely get any training on modern communication and personal effectiveness at all, outside of questioning and interviewing skills.

All based on the assumptions that once recruited you already are a good communicator, can only learn these ‘on the job’ and the development of    skills like these are perceived as weak.


In the last ten years or so many of the UK police services have realised through their own pain and studies that the skills of enforcement without the skills of engagement create closed, fearful communities that are reluctant to support the police or offer valuable, much needed intelligence.

This situation triggered Greater Manchester police (3rd largest in the UK) to invest in learning the skills of engagement, realising their enforcement approach was in part the problem. They had helped create the closed communities and anti-police feeling that was preventing them being fully effective in critical neighbourhoods.

It was no surprise this initiative came after the reign of a Police Chief who ruled with the same psychological traits mentioned earlier. His push for results without compromise meant many front line officers were fearful about not meeting the Chief’s political targets such as numbers of arrests for certain crimes.

Under that fear too many of the public were treated unfairly and so communities – including those who had no interest in crime – began to resent the way they were being handled.

  1. Fear based behaviour change never lasts and can’t be sustained. Look at history for countless examples. Fear through force is very good at creating compliance but not commitment. Forcing compliance always ends up disengaging more than just the wrong doers and in the longer term increases the chances of dissent.

A model that cannot survive in a democracy. Let alone a service like the   Police that is meant to have the consent of its public.

Enforcement V Engagement

Opponents of the skills of engagement often make the mistake of believing they will be seen as weak for utilising things like empathy, positive language, centring etc.,

Further, that its these skills that will stop them applying the law swiftly.

This is the greatest of errors and a complete naivety of the skills involved. When applied alongside the law two things happen

  • The law is applied as it should be (Timely/without delay)
  • The officers involved create less resistance from those to whom they apply the law

This leads to less aggression, less retaliation, and unnecessary arrests and less complaints against officers. At the same time it increases the respect (held for officers), trust and co-operation from the remainder of the watching public. Not because they apply the law swiftly but based upon HOW they apply the law.

When officers force respect the opposite occurs, ending up in the tragic headlines now synonymous with US policing.

Around 8 years ago research was undertaken in the UK by The College of Policing to establish exactly what type of service communities wanted. They determined 5 drivers of satisfaction. Four of which were all to do with HOW they were treated.

These are

  • Take matters seriously
  • Appear interested
  • Treat people fairly
  • Offer reassurance
  • Provide quick/timely information

What’s interesting is that prior to the research (like our American cousins) large proportions of UK Police officers had received hardly any training in the engagement skills we’ve spoken about.

Instead they policed with the ‘tell’, push, results driven mantras, measured and role modelled by their leaders. When communities didn’t like this style of enforcement their confidence, co-operation and trust diminished.

Forcing respect leads to too many sections of the public that are not criminals believing,

  • “You don’t even appear interested or caring”.
  • “You are so dismissive you are not taking my problem and the emotions it’s causing seriously”.
  • “You treat me unfairly as though I was a criminal”

This is when communities close because forcing respect can never create confidence, trust and loyalty in our neighbourhoods.

A light of hope for the USA?

Fortunately not every Police officer is affected – there are many brilliant officers doing great work in one of the most difficult careers there is. The trouble is not on an individual basis but as a collective, as a culture and what is made consistent in the quality of interaction.

Plus there are blossoming organisations such as The American Society of Evidence Based Policing with credible data from the US and around the world that contradicts the instinctive whims of leaders who have few tricks up their sleeve other than enforcement.

So Onto Reason 4 and 5

Two truisms stand in every Police service I have worked within

  • What gets measured gets done
  • What gets role-modeled gets done

Police cultures continue to have the style of enforcement or engagement they have due to these two responsibilities.

The challenge for modern Policing is that many of its leaders don’t know how to measure the quality of engagement and cannot role model these skills either because they were never taught them as younger officers.

If they now report into a leader of a country with a similar behavioural profile there can only be one result – More enforcement and less engagement. There are troubled times ahead for my American friends and in the communities they live and work.

If you would like to chat about customer or community engagement connect here: glenn@futurevisiontraining.co.uk

  • Quote-background

    Genuine engagement that drives down crime with the vast majority of the community on your side requires learnt skills such as - Psychological flexibility - Empathy - Compassion - Emotional intelligence - The power and impact of language - Saying ‘no’ positively

    Glenn Bracey,
    Furure Vision Training Ltd,
    23rd January 2017


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