This post by Mary Riley, PhD Candidate, USC, is based upon a paper that was workshopped at the ADRRN Roundtable 9-10 December 2019.
Mediation, incorporating restorative justice principles, is increasingly being used in countries such as the United States of America to resolve civilian complaints against police. In most jurisdictions when civilians have grievances against police officers, they lodge complaints with the relevant police department which internally manages the complaint. Serious allegations are formally investigated while minor complaints are often conciliated, but complainants are often left feeling dissatisfied with the process that affords them no participation. However, the mediation and restorative justice movements have finally infiltrated the bastion of law enforcement. Police departments and oversight agencies are responding to the scientific evidence in the literature that says bringing complainants and police officers face-to-face in a safe and independently mediated forum to openly discuss their perspectives of an incident, is an effective way of resolving conflict. Unresolved conflict between civilians and the police has the potential to generate mistrust of police, which could result in more serious problems such as reluctance to obey the law.
An examination of two of the largest police departments in the United States – the Los Angeles and New York Police Departments, has revealed they are amongst the most high-profile, controversial and scandal-plagued police departments in the world. Since the start of 20th century, these police departments have been at the centre of police corruption inquiries related to prostitution, gambling, bribery, extortion and organised crime. Various public inquiries have resulted in the overhaul of complaints systems and the establishment of mediation programs to provide a fairer resolution process for the public. The police departments are aware of the damage to public confidence caused by police misconduct, and increasingly, racially-biased policing and discourtesy complaints, and have made rebuilding civilian-police relations a priority.
Yet, two problems exist. The first is the low number of complaints (10% of all complaints lodged) that are referred to mediation; and the second is getting complainants to participate in mediation once contacted. Many complainants are unaware of the mediation option and/or view it with mistrust. They see it as another process organised by agencies closely connected to the police. Yet, for those who do participate, mediation surveys (completed at the end of all sessions) reveal consistently high satisfaction rates with the process, including trust of the mediator and having the opportunity to be heard. More research into why complainants do not take up the option and how mediation may be better promoted would likely benefit all stakeholders and build trust.