I had the privilege of observing a Police/Community mediation this week facilitated by the Western Justice Center Foundation. Without revealing any of the confidential information, it was a fascinating exercise for these reasons. The policemen were heard to explain to the merchants who had made the complaint against them that "In policing, there is no black and white." To the contrary, among the first comments from that Officer was that this community believes in "value based policing: a process whereby the Police Officers are vested with the discretion to determine what's "right" not merely blindly follow the letter of the law. In fact, he drew the distinction between "the letter of the law" (which is what I always assumed Police Officer's were bound by) and "the spirit of the law". I found that both fascinating and amusing!
The underlying issue was whether the Police had the discretion to refuse to press charges for a petty theft by a bunch of juveniles who had expressed remorse and whose parent's had arrived, paid for the goods, and offered to engage in a dialogue about shoplifting with their kids. The merchant wanted the Police to press charges and then assured them that through the court system, the youth would be required to attend a mediation (VORS-The Victim Offender Restitution Service), so that they could avoid a criminal record and re-pay the store. In other words, here we were in a mediation, in which one of the Police Officers charged was a trained mediator, one of the complainant's was an experienced representative of a merchant who routinely engaged in mediation, discussing who gets to decide who and when the parties mediate a given dispute! The event struck me not for its outcome, but for the stickiness of the movement of mediation. Like a virus, it's spreading and virtually no one gets immunity. Look out--I'm guessing it's coming soon to a neighborhood near you!