In a sense, it’s a grown-up version of settling fights on the school playground.
“The main goal is to improve the relationship between the community and our policemen,” said Gardner, who decides which complaints go to mediation. “It brings people to the table.”
Issues resolved through mediation have included officers accused of screaming at people, having a bad attitude or speeding, Gardner said. Cases settled through mediation represent just a fraction of allegations made against city police. Most are handled through internal affairs investigations.
John Doggette, director of MediationSTL, a service offered by the Mennonite Peace Center of St. Louis, says the goal is to provide a safe and confidential alternative to formal inquiries.
“It’s an opportunity for them to have a conversation they would never have had in any other situation,” Doggette said.
He said he is not aware of any other such programs in the St. Louis area.
For the public, it offers people a chance to explain why they are angry. For police, it allows officers to resolve complaints quietly and keep them off their personnel records.
Both sides must consent to resolving complaints with a meeting, understanding that neither side “wins.” Rather, the officer and accuser talk through their differences, monitored by a mediator. Anything more serious — such as accusations of police brutality or racial discrimination — is handled as before.
St. Louis’ program, which began under former Chief Dan Isom, has never received funding to become a permanent process. But Doggette says he hopes city leaders consider establishing a formal program in the future.
“The potential is phenomenal,” Doggette said. “People need an opportunity to have a civil discourse instead of getting upset.”
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