Chicago launches new mediation program for police misconduct complaints

Chicago launches new mediation program for police misconduct complaints

Some low-level misconduct complaints against Chicago police officers will now be handled by independent mediators in a six-month pilot program that aims to speed up misconduct investigations and rebuild the public’s trust in police, MayorLori Lightfoot’s office announced Wednesday.

Mediators from the Center for Conflict Resolution, a nonprofit where Lightfoot has been a board member, will handle some misconduct allegations filed with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.

COPA will refer to mediators complaints related to perceived bias in policing, failure to provide appropriate service, unnecessary physical conduct and unprofessionalism.

The pilot program fulfills part of the Chicago Police Department’s 2019 federally-mandated consent decree, which required a community-police mediation program.

In a news release, Lightfoot said the program will “foster a supportive and trustworthy environment for people to not only report police misconduct complaints but have their voices heard and believed.”

Lightfoot’s office announced 13 months ago that it was planning to launch the pilot program, with a tentative start date last fall.

The Center for Conflict Resolution is a Chicago-based nonprofit with about 23 full-time staff and 180 volunteer mediators, according to its website. It mediates about 1,500 cases a year for free in areas such as housing, parentage, small claims, commercial matters and interpersonal conflicts.

Chicago’s adoption of the pilot program follows a national trend toward police-community mediation. Supporters say it’s a way for police to rebuild their relationships with the community.

“Chicago’s program will be a model for other jurisdictions looking at creating similar initiatives,” Cassie Lively, executive director for the Center for Conflict Resolution, said in a news release.

In a typical mediation session, an independent mediator guides a conversation between the complainant and the officer “with the goal of reaching a common understanding between the parties,” according to the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints. Sessions are booked for two hours.

But the program may only be effective if it’s structured properly and officers are willing to participate in the sessions, according to Tom Weitzel, former police chief of suburban Riverside. Otherwise, he warned, it could follow the disastrous path of the positive community interaction program and its controversial quotas.

Officers will not be required to attend the mediations, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said in a text. He did not comment further.

“If the officer is not there [in the mediation], what will this settle?” Weitzel said. The program “has to have some measurable outcomes for it to be worth anything.”

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