Mediators' Perspectives on Officer-Civilian Mediation
At its best, civilian oversight of law enforcement ensures that there is a fair, thorough, and objective system for the investigation and resolution of civilian complaints against law enforcement officers. However, thorough investigations of complaints—whether the civilian oversight agency or the law enforcement agency conducts such investigations—should not be the only method by which complaints are resolved. Particularly when the complaint is grounded in a dispute between the officer’s and civilian’s perspective and his/her behavior, mediation may resolve the complaint to both parties’ satisfaction in ways that a detailed investigation cannot. Studies have shown that police and civilian mediation participants are more satisfied with the complaint resolution process than those involved in complaints subject to investigation. In addition, mediating complaints has been shown to help build police-community understanding and reduce costs and case-completion times. Mediation is a process for resolving complaints civilians file against officers through a face-to-face meeting, during which a professional mediator serves as a neutral facilitator. It provides the parties with the opportunity to discuss the incident in a safe and confidential setting and share their individual perspectives. Complaints are considered successfully mediated when the parties agree that they have addressed or resolved the issues raised by the complaint. But what actually happens in the mediation room? How does a mediator prevent the conversation from devolving into endless arguments over factual issues? How does the mediator facilitate a dispute into transformative conversation that results in mutual understanding. On Monday, April 13, 2020 NACOLE welcomed two mediators with whom the Washington, D.C. Office of Police Complaints contracts. They discussed how they have adapted their individual mediation styles to civilian-officer mediations; how they effectuate transformative mediations in the civilian-police context; and what they have learned that may benefit broader police-community relations.
- Walid Abdul-Jawad is a mediator certified by the Virginia Supreme Court in the General District Court (GDC) and Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR).
- Catherine Morris is a Senior Mediator at the Consensus Building Institute, with more than 20 years of experience as a mediator and consensus builder.