Dealing With Trust Issues

Dear Bullethead:

I work at a mid-sized agency and I’m attached to a small tactical unit-eight cops and a supervisor, to be exact. We work crazy long hours on everything from tactical missions to chasing felons to crowd control. We work our 40 hours plus an extra 10–20 per week. That being the case, you can imagine we are pretty close. We had a deal a few weeks ago where our supervisor stuck it to us hard. We use text messages to share information, put out basic plans and screw with each other. We are an all-male unit and sometimes the group texts get pretty raunchy. One of our group text messages involved some things going on at a neighboring agency. Before we knew it, a few of our guys were getting interviewed by the IA department from the other agency. My problem is that we all thought the group texts were only for us and now we are having some trust issues with our sergeant. Any advice would be great.

-Tactical In Need of Trust

Trust is a huge deal in any unit and particularly in a small unit like the one you described. In my own little unit, I trust every one of the guys with my life. I also trust them to be where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there-during an operation, inside a house, at the office-basically, anywhere and everywhere. I also trust each one of them to pick up my kids from school or stop by the house for something when the wife is the only one home. That trust was not built in a day. In fact, it took a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there and even some personnel changes. At the end of the day, we are like a family as I would do anything for any one of them and they for each other and for me. Even with all that, we have some lines we do not and cannot cross.

For example, any one of us can say whatever we want about our own family, but all the others know better than to cross that line about someone else’s family. We also speak a lot about other officers in our department. Everyone knows how far they can take this before I have to stop being one of the guys and start using my stripes. I’ve gone to great lengths to explain to the guys what sort of things I can and can’t ignore. And we still have issues.

A wise old Lieutenant once told me that as you move through various assignments and ranks your perspective changes. You see things differently and other things become important. I didn’t believe it as a cop. Like all of you, I thought he was full of it. Then as a detective I started to understand just a bit of it. I looked for different things in reports, my priorities changed about what needed to get done and when-just little things. As a Sergeant, I started to understand it in full form.

A supervisor’s job is to protect more than just their own job and the mission. They need to think about those things, but they also need to protect everyone’s job, the agency and the profession. It sounds like your deal might have to do with protecting the profession. My guess is that if your teammates were speaking with the Internal Affairs Division of a neighboring agency, then they aren’t in any trouble. I suppose your own IA could get involved if they don’t tell the truth.

So, here is what I think you should concentrate on. First, remember that, even if you’re close, your supervisor is still the boss and that comes with a few different obligations. I would say you’re pretty lucky to have a supervisor that allows the trust to get high enough to where you think his duty obligations won’t get involved. If you are truly his subordinate and friend, you shouldn’t be putting him in that situation. In other words, put yourself in his shoes before you let out some piece of information that he or she can’t ignore. Next, you should look at what the trust was built on and decide if any aspect of that trust was breached. Did your supervisor do something to make you think he or she won’t be there when the chips are down? If not you might just want to get over it and concentrate on your mission for a while. Last, I suggest you ask your supervisor where the line is and how to avoid crossing it.

Got a question or complaint?

Let Bullethead hear about it. He’ll give you his opinion with both barrels.

Contact him via email at: or fax him at 858-638-2601.

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