How One Police Department Is Building Authentic Community Trust

Imagine a police department that seeks feedback from citizens following every single interaction. Sound too good to be true? It’s actually happening in Carthage, Missouri, U.S.A.

By The Arbinger Institute | November 06, 2019

Imagine a police department that seeks feedback from citizens following every single interaction. Now imagine that same police department genuinely considering and responding to any negative feedback in order to improve their service to the community. Sound too good to be true?

It’s actually happening.

The city of Carthage, Missouri is known for Civil War era battles and maple trees, but with local media outlets picking up on the Carthage Police Department’s new initiative, it’s about to be known for something else. The police department in the small midwestern town has adopted an approach unique to policing in the United States—receiving immediate feedback to each and every call for service and following up on criticism to make things right.

The survey was the brainchild of Carthage Police Chief Greg Dagnan and Director of Arbinger’s Law Enforcement Practice, Jack Colwell, a retired police officer. “One of the things Arbinger teaches is to know what your community needs, and to meet those needs,” shared Dagnan. “We knew there had to be a way we could actually do this beyond putting a survey on the internet and then asking community leaders to fill it out, which would have guaranteed great marks. We wanted to actually know what it’s like to deal with an officer from the Carthage Police Department.”

Dagnan and Colwell understood that a lengthy online survey was bound to fail, and instead focused on extracting precise feedback with a single question: “Based on the contact you just had with a member(s) of the Carthage MO police department, on the scale below, how comfortable would you be for a friend or family member to receive police service from us?” Response options range from “Extremely comfortable” to “Extremely uncomfortable” and have proven enlightening. “We’ve received responses from people who have gotten tickets, people who have been arrested, you name it. Any type of situation, we’re getting feedback,” shared Dagnan. “The tense political situation sometimes between departments and citizens is mostly caused by a lack of trust and a solid relationship with our citizens. We really don’t know what they want from us. And the only way to find out is to ask, but then you’ve got to be willing to do something about it."

The seasoned police chief believes the model is replicable, but attributes previous training to its success thus far: “At Carthage PD we have all been through the Arbinger training, and we have a culture of treating people right, especially when in our minds they may not deserve it.” Dagnan shared that he has grown to be unexpectedly excited about receiving negative feedback, because it provides an opportunity to make things right and build relationships not only with community members, but with the police on his department. “For me, to be successful as a leader you have to say, ‘I really want to know.’ If it’s good, if it’s bad, if it’s ugly—I really want to know and I need to be open to it. I need to be willing to do something about it. No matter who’s filling out the survey, or what reasons they’re filling it out for—there’s something we can learn from it. That’s the leadership challenge, it’s really easy to talk yourself out of doing something with feedback, but you can’t do that.”

Check out the Carthage Police Department’s case study here to learn more about what they did to build community trust.