WHAT IS COMMUNITY-POLICE MEDIATION?
The Office of the Independent Police Monitor (IPM) launched the Community-Police Mediation Program in 2014. It was created and designed by stakeholders in government, community leaders, criminal justice reform experts, police officers, the Police Association of New Orleans, and the Black Order of Police after researching mediation programs in ten other cities. The Mediation Program is mandated by City Ordinance, the federal Consent Decree, and the IPM’s Memorandum of Understanding with the New Orleans Police Department.
In 2002, the Police-Civilian Review Task Force, appointed by former Mayor Marc Morial, recommended both the creation of independent police oversight and of a mediation program to alternatively resolve disputes between citizens and police. Years later, after the establishment of the Independent Police Monitor, New Orleans’ independent police oversight agency, Police Chief Ronal Serpas struck an agreement with Police Monitor Susan Hutson to create a police complaint mediation program as a method to strengthen police accountability and improve community/police relations in New Orleans.
In November 2010, the IPM signed an historic agreement with the NOPD that authorized the IPM to establish and administer a mediation program for civilian complaints against New Orleans police officers. The agreement specifically mandated that the program be guided by best practices identified in other jurisdictions. After three years of research studying best practices, a full-time Mediation Program Coordinator was hired in 2014 and the program began training mediators and offering mediation to eligible cases.
The program aims to build understanding and improve relationships between NOPD employees and civilian members of the community as an alternative to the traditional complaint investigation process by the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau. By improving the relationship between the community and police, mediation helps make neighborhoods safer and stronger.
The New Orleans Community-Police Mediation Program strives to:
- Encourage the use of mediation to rebuild trust and confidence in NOPD.
- Provide mediation as an alternative to the traditional complaint investigation process.
- Educate community members and police officers about conflict resolution, dialogue, and mediation.
- Train community members who reflect the community’s diversity with regard to age, race, gender, ethnicity, income, and education to serve as mediators.
- Provide mediation services at no cost to residents and officers.
- Hold mediations in neighborhoods where disputes occur or near the resident’s home or work if they like.
- Schedule mediations at a time and place convenient to the participants.
- Maintain high quality mediators by providing intensive, skills-based training, apprenticeships, continuing education, and ongoing evaluation of mediators.
- Work with the community in governing the community mediation program in a manner based on collaborative problem solving among staff, volunteers and community members.
WHAT IS MEDIATION?
Mediation resolves conflicts that community and police may have about their interactions with each other. The mediation allows people to speak for themselves, hear what others have to say, and come to their own agreements about moving forward. Mediation creates a safe space where all can share authentically. Officers and civilians can think about their interaction, share how it made them feel, and be fully heard and understood in a non-judgmental way.
MEDIATION IS CONFIDENTIAL, NON-JUDGMENTAL, AND VOLUNTARY.
Voluntary means that all are at a mediation at their own free will and can end the process at any time. No one is forced to do anything they don’t want to do. No one is forced to agree to anything they don’t want to. The mediators are non-judgmental. They are not judges. Their job is to listen, ask questions, and try to clarify what is important to everyone. They don’t give advice, decide who is right or wrong, and don’t take sides. Mediation is confidential. Nothing is recorded on any device. Mediators may be taking notes and they destroy those notes after the session. Mediators don’t file any reports about what is said, and won’t testify at any hearing.
WHAT MEDIATION IS:
- A voluntary and confidential process. Community members and officers share how their interaction made each other feel.
- A process facilitated by two professionally-trained mediators who do not take sides.
- A participant-guided process that helps the community member and the officer come to a mutually-agreeable solution. This helps to create mutual understanding and improve relationships.
WHAT MEDIATION IS NOT:
- Not a process to say who is right or wrong. No evidence is needed. The mediators are not judges. The mediators do not present their thoughts on the issue.
- Not a process where people are forced to shake hands or make-up. The role of the mediators is to be neutral outside facilitators. They will not pressure either participant to come to an agreement.
- Not a punishment process. The community member and the officer are in charge of their own process and outcome. It will not be decided by an outside agency or person.
- Not a legal process. There is no appeal because mediation is voluntary.
HOW DOES MEDIATION DIFFER FROM THE TRADITIONAL COMPLAINT INVESTIGATION PROCESS?
The traditional goal in police misconduct investigations is to determine if the officer violated law or policy and to discipline the officer appropriately. Research shows that discipline is not always the most effective tool in correcting behavior, changing attitudes, or holding people accountable for their actions to prevent future harm. Alleged or perceived officer misconduct harms the community and officer’s ability to relate to each other. While traditional discipline is an important and necessary tool to achieve this goal, mediation is a powerful tool to bring about a deeper and lasting change. Relationships deepen and both participants have the opportunity to gain genuine understanding and a new ability to talk out conflict. The Community-Police Mediation Program offers the tools of incremental healing to a city urgently trying to rebuild its trust and confidence in the police department and bridge relationships between the community and the police to create a safer city.
Traditional Complaint Investigation Process:
- Top-down decision.
- Civilian has little agency in the process.
- Civilian and officers are seen as witnesses and do not get to determine their own outcome.
- No opportunity for direct face-to-face conversation in a safe space for the officer and civilian to discuss the interaction.
- Residents receive a letter after the fact and are not informed about what the investigation entailed until after the final decision has been made.
- Participants decide on outcome.
- Community member and officer have opportunity to share, be heard, and play an active role in the outcome.
- Civilians and officers know the outcome and know the process that led to it.
- Both participants have equal access to the process and outcome.
HOW IS THE PROGRAM FUNDED?
In its first year, the Mediation Program was funded by a grant from U.S. Department of Justice’s Community-Oriented Policing Services. In its second and third year, the program was funded by Baptist Community Ministries. The Office of the Independent Police Monitor fully funds the program from its third year onward.
WHAT KINDS OF COMPLAINTS CAN GO TO MEDIATION?
Many civilian-initiated complaints are eligible for mediation. NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau decides which cases are referred to the mediation program. The kinds of complaints that may be referred are usually those that claim unprofessionalism, discourtesy, and neglect of duty. NOPD Policy 1025 sets out exceptions to what types of cases cannot be mediated such as unreasonable use of force, unlawful search, and criminal allegations. If a person files a complaint against an officer or if an officer has a complaint filed against them and believe it meets the criteria for mediation, one may contact the Mediation Program and request to have their complaint reviewed for mediation eligibility.