In recent efforts to improve law enforcement’s role in serving our communities, a major issue is whether police departments can be assisted or replaced by professionals better suited to handling citizen calls on some issues.
Reform proposals have been floated to “de-fund” the police and shift scarce budgetary resources to social workers or medical personnel to handle citizen calls.
Further, there are concerns about police bias or insensitivity toward some citizens coupled with the show and use of firepower. The result is that police are seen by many as outside forces to control our citizens rather than to help.
Inadequate police training and recruitment of inappropriate people to wear badges and carry weapons into the streets and homes of the community have escalated these tensions. Police critics point out that using police to handle domestic violence, neighbor-neighbor conflicts, and other disputes between citizens often lead to unnecessary loss of life and fear of police rather than reduce tensions and settle down conflicts. In addition to not solving the original problem for which the police are called, a show of force or insensitive police comments often escalate a tense situation and make it worse. Citizens often fear and dislike our police rather than support their needed work.
Police are needed to respond to these disputes. However, police presence often escalate the situation.. With the continued presence of crime and danger in our society, reducing police funding and resources is not the answer. Current reforms coming from the Federal and local governments to curb the most blatant abuses are only part of the solution.
As an add-on to the current reform conversation covering a wide agenda, I suggest the following:
- We should highlight the need for our police and highlight the positive work that the police does to provide safety and better lives for citizens in every part of our society;
- Intensify and further develop conflict resolution training for all law enforcement personnel, both in the academy and for veteran officers;
- Mobilize a corps of trained mediators from our community to work as partners with our police in serving our citizens in a variety of ways. Mediators and police officers can be trained to respond to emergency calls together and collaboratively use their skills to de-escalate and often resolve potentially dangerous situations
- Immediately launch working groups of police, mediators, and citizen representatives to work together to plan and implement Police-Citizen-Mediation Projects
WHY MEDIATION HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL AND IS NOW NEEDED TO PARTNER WITH OUR POLICE
Mediation was launched approximately 40 years ago through Neighborhood Justice Centers as community based citizen run alternatives to the traditional court system https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/65513NCJRS.pdf The essence of NJC’s was to train ordinary citizens to serve as mediators to resolve disputes among individuals, families, businesses, and other organizations in their own communities. NJC’s morphed into Days of Dialogue http://futureofpolicing.org/futureofpolicing/about-us-2/ that provided a productive venue for community discussion about the future of police in our society.
Mediation is now been adopted and required by most courts because of its high success in settling raging litigation at early stages and permitting disputants to heal and move on with their lives. Mediated settlements save courts and individuals significant financial resources. Neighborhood associations and condo HOA’s use mediation as the first line of resort before lawyers and courts become involved. Businesses large and small insert required mediation in their contracts as they have found mediation to be far better for their bottom line and long term customer satisfaction.
In the same way, the functioning and support for police can similarly benefit from use of mediation skills by responding police officers partnering with citizen mediators. Police recruits can learn proven techniques to truly listen and diffuse conflict just like they learn to properly use their bodycams and weapons. Veteran officers can obtain continuing negotiation training just as they learn about new developments in investigation and crowd control.
We now do not question that trained medical personnel are needed to assist police officers administer aid to injured people on the scene. In the same way, trained mediators reflecting the population demographics of our cities can be utilized to assist police during tense and potentially dangerous situations involving spouses, disgruntled employees, and angry protesters. While there is no guarantee that peaceful approaches will tamp down anger and provide instant citizen satisfaction in every instance, efforts by mediators on the scene can be a key element of community policing. Solutions rather than control can be key outcomes of these peacemaking efforts that can restore and build confidence in our police and build safety and better lives for our citizens.