Understanding police officers’ trust and trustworthy behavior: A work relations framework

DOI10.1177/1477370815617187
AuthorMaarten Van Craen
Publication Date01 Mar 2016
SubjectArticles
European Journal of Criminology
2016, Vol. 13(2) 274 –294
© The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/1477370815617187
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Understanding police officers’
trust and trustworthy behavior:
A work relations framework
Maarten Van Craen
University of Leuven, Belgium
Abstract
In recent years, theorization and research on citizens’ trust in the police have expanded
enormously. Compared with citizens’ trust, police officers’ trust – both in citizens and in
supervisors – has attracted very little attention. Further, it is striking that, although scholars have
pointed to police officers’ procedural justice as a key factor for building public trust in the police,
the question of how trustworthy police behavior can be achieved has hardly been theorized.
To help fill in these gaps and understand police officers’ functioning, I offer a work relations
framework. The building blocks for this approach come from different scientific disciplines:
criminology, psychology, management, and political science/public administration. Theoretical
elements and empirical indications from different fields are combined into a framework that aims
at widening the scope of police research. More specifically, it identifies origins and consequences
of police officers’ trust and origins of officers’ trustworthy behavior.
Keywords
police, procedural justice, trust, trustworthy behavior, work relations framework
Introduction
Trust relationships are assumed to improve the working of government institutions.
Therefore, their origins and consequences have attracted a lot of scholarly attention.
However, this attention is unbalanced: theorization and research have extensively
addressed the issue of citizens’ trust, but they have hardly focused on public officials’
trust. That is surprising, as it takes two to tango.
Corresponding author:
Maarten Van Craen, Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC), University of Leuven, Hooverplein 10, 3000
Leuven, Belgium.
Email: maarten.vancraen@law.kuleuven.be
617187EUC0010.1177/1477370815617187European Journal of CriminologyVan Craen
research-article2015
Article
Van Craen 275
This general pattern strikingly recurs in the criminological literature on the police. In
recent years, theorization and research on citizens’ trust in the police have expanded
enormously (see below), whereas the other side of the relationship – police officers’ trust
in citizens – has attracted little attention. This also holds for police officers’ trust in their
supervisors. Theorization on police officers’ trust is very limited and only a few explora-
tive studies have been carried out on this topic. Ethnographic research on police culture
has dealt with the closely related topic of suspicion, but its main focus has not been
explaining variation in this attitude and identifying the consequences of this variation.
Further, it is remarkable that, although scholars have pointed to police officers’ proce-
dural justice as a key factor for building public trust in the police, the question of how
trustworthy police behavior can be achieved has hardly been theorized. In this article I
take steps toward filling in these gaps. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, I develop a
work relations framework that can be used to study police officers’ attitudes and behav-
iors toward supervisors and citizens. I argue that both officers–supervisors relationships
and officers–citizens relationships will improve when supervisors give leadership based
on internal procedural justice.
In short, the theoretical framework I present comprises three key points. First, I claim
that officers’ trust in both supervisors and citizens is linked to their perception of the way
supervisors deal with officers. I emphasize the importance of neutrality, respect, voice,
and accountability as constituting aspects of internal procedural justice. Second, I claim
that the levels of officers’ trust have an impact on their functioning. Trust in supervisors
motivates compliance with supervisors (and with the policies of the organization) and
cooperation with supervisors. Trust in citizens promotes police responsiveness and coop-
eration with citizens. Finally, I claim that (perceived) internal procedural justice encour-
ages police officers to produce external procedural justice.
Before I elaborate more in detail on these points, I give an overview of research and
theorization on citizens’ trust in the police and procedural justice. This overview will be
useful to formulate my work relations framework in a structured and clear way.
Citizens’ trust in the police
Worldwide academic topic
In recent years, research on citizens’ trust in the police and other government institutions
has expanded enormously. Inspired by theories that attribute important positive conse-
quences to citizens’ trust in government institutions (Easton, 1965a, 1965b; Putnam,
1993, 2000; Tyler, 2011; Tyler and Huo, 2002), scholars have been trying to find out
what implications this attitude (and a lack of it) has and where it stems from.
With regard to citizens’ trust in the police, the main body of literature has, for many
years, been produced in the US. In the past decade, however, this has changed drastically.
Developments in a number of counties (for example, the UK, Australia, and Belgium)
toward establishing a research community studying citizens’ trust in the police and
efforts of individual researchers elsewhere have turned trust in law enforcement into a
worldwide academic topic: over recent years, it has been an object of study in both devel-
oped countries (for example, Jackson et al., 2013; Murphy et al., 2014; Van Craen and

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