Police Officers Encouraged to use Mediation for Resolving Civilian Complaints
NYPD Supports Voluntary Mediation Efforts Between Civilians and Officers
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly today urged uniformed members of the service to avail themselves of the Civilian Complaint Review Board mediation process as a non-disciplinary way to resolve complaints against them. Mediated complaints do not become part of an officer’s record.
“Since reinvigorating the program at CCRB’s request last year, the NYPD has encouraged more and more officers to resolve complaints against them by sitting down with their accusers. Both sides listen to each other, and more often than not the dispute is resolved with a handshake,” Commissioner Kelly said.
Last year 112 complaints were successfully resolved through mediation. Another 81 were similarly resolved so far this year.
All 36,000 uniformed members of the service received today with their pay stubs a brochure explaining the mediation process.
Many different types of complaints are appropriate for mediation. In general, any complaint that does not involve a pending criminal matter (including violations), physical injury, or property damage can be mediated.
Mediation consists of the officer, civilian and a trained mediator meeting to discuss the incident that led to the complaint.
The mediation is a confidential process. Everyone participating in the mediation, including the mediator, must sign a confidentiality agreement. An officer can bring an attorney or union representative to the CCRB office, but they are not permitted in the mediation session. The officer can, however stop the mediation at anytime to consult a representative or attorney.
Once the mediation is over, the case is closed and cannot be sent back for an investigation. The civilian complainant does have the right, during the mediation, to ask to end the mediation and have the complaint investigated, but this rarely happens as 98% of cases are resolved.
Mediations usually take about one hour, but the mediation will continue as long as the officer and complainant are making progress. The department does not consider mediated complaints when reviewing an officer’s employment history.
Below is an example of a mediation:
At 11:00 PM on a Monday in January last year, three musicians who had finished performing at a rock concert were driving their van slowly through Lower Manhattan while trying to find the Holland Tunnel. A marked police car containing three uniformed officers from the local Transit District stopped the van by cutting it off, and one of the officers issued the van’s driver a ticket for failing to use a turn signal properly when changing lanes.
According to the driver of the van, who later filed a complaint with the CCRB, the officers berated the three with rude statements throughout the stop, such as, “Are you a f-----g idiot?” When the driver apologized and asked what he had done wrong, an officer allegedly replied, “Don’t apologize, you’re so f-----g stupid.”
The driver stated that he felt threatened by the officers’ behavior and believed that the officers had singled them out because they were musicians with long hair. He also did not believe that he had changed lanes without using his turn signal.
After learning about both CCRB options -- investigation and mediation -- the driver of the van chose to resolve his CCRB complaint through mediation, explaining that he would pay his summons, but that he wanted to address what he saw as the officers’ inappropriate conduct.
Shortly thereafter, the driver of the van met all three officers for a mediation session at the CCRB’s offices with two trained mediators present. During the mediation session, the officers explained that they had stopped the van because it was driving erratically as the band members tried to find their way to the tunnel – starting and stopping, changing lanes without signaling and driving unusually slow.
The officers explained that they had not targeted the bandmates based upon their long hair – in fact, because it was dark they had not been able to see inside the van before they stopped it. One of the officers explained that when he signed up for the Police Academy, it was hard to cut off his own long hair. The officers also explained to the driver that, when they had tried to pull him over, he had nearly caused a collision between the two cars based upon his unpredictable
Although the driver had not been aware that he had been driving unsafely, he conceded that he may have done so due to his confusion. At the driver’s request, the officers then explained the safest ways to pull over if being stopped by the police.
In response to the driver’s statement that he felt threatened, the officers discussed the fact that car stops are one of the most dangerous situations for police officers. The officers asserted that they had treated the three sternly during the stop in order to maintain control over the situation. However, when the driver raised the issue of the officers’ insulting statements, the officers acknowledged that they had lost their tempers due to his driving, and recognized that many of their comments were inappropriate, and, in fact, unnecessary to maintain control of the situation.
The officers then apologized for their insulting statements. The musician accepted the officers’ explanation for their behavior and apology, and in turn apologized for his driving. The mediation session ended with a round of handshakes.
Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator. He is also a law enforcement detective in New York. His law enforcement role include a being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, and designing training workshops.
Jeff is currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He also received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations. He currently writes also at PsychologyToday.com.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization.)
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