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Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief (Ret), Columbus, Ohio, Explains Traditional Obstacles to Mediation

Mediation is emerging as a viable alternative to traditional dispute resolution procedures between law enforcement agencies and the community. Jennifer Knight, Columbus, Ohio’s Deputy Police Chief (retired), says that mediation has the potential to be a viable way to reach resolutions that support the community policing model.

The traditional investigative model that many law enforcement agencies have adopted for years has not produced satisfactory outcomes. Nevertheless, mediation can do just that.

While many signs point to the viability of mediation, traditional obstacles still stand in the way of the process being implemented.

Opposition from Officers and Unions

One of the main obstacles to mediation is opposition from officers and police unions. This stems from their concerns regarding confidentiality during the mediation process.

For mediation to work, all parties involved need to feel that they can speak openly and freely without the threat of legal action or discipline being handed down as a result of what they say. To this end, mediation proceedings must be confidential.

While this is a valid concern, there are ways to ensure this, including laying out the ground rules of the mediation upfront and having all involved parties sign a confidentiality agreement.

Lack of Understanding

Another major obstacle is a general need for more understanding of mediation. Many law enforcement agencies have tried to combat this by engaging in outreach programs to inform officers and police unions about the mediation process and its benefits.

A big part of this process is directly addressing participants’ concerns. In addition, these education programs prove most effective when touted from the top down on the hierarchy.

A formal education and outreach program implemented by the Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) — which oversees the citizens’ complaint process for the Denver Police Department — resulted in a participation rate in their mediation program of 88%, Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief (retired) said.

Lack of Resources

Mediation requires law enforcement agencies to innovate, and that requires resources. Unfortunately, many departments simply lack the resources necessary to do this.

The major resources required for a successful program, according to Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief (retired), are having trained mediators to facilitate the meetings and scheduling officers for their sessions during their on-duty hours, so agencies can limit having to pay too much overtime.

Some agencies around the country have gotten creative in how to do this. The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, trains police supervisors to serve as mediators as a way to optimize the resources they have.

Lack of Incentives

No matter how dedicated a law enforcement agency might be to a mediation program, it will only be successful if they can get active participation from officers and community members who file complaints.

Complainants also need to feel safe and heard during the process and encouraged to continue to engage in the process after they file their complaints. Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief (retired), says roughly one-third of all complainants refuse to cooperate with an investigation beyond the initial intake process.

By coming up with incentives to encourage community members and officers to participate, law enforcement agencies can create successful mediation programs.

About Jennifer Knight

Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief (retired) in Columbus, Ohio, is known for dynamic leadership, innovative community engagement, and excellence in the field of law enforcement. After earning her Juris Doctor, she received the National Women’s Law Association Award of Excellence. Ms. Knight is a strong advocate for women in law enforcement and is a passionate community volunteer.