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Strategies for Mediation Between Law Enforcement and Civilians, According to Jennifer Knight Deputy Police Chief

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Police officers interact with the community on a daily basis. It’s part of their job, after all, to protect and to serve, according to Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief in Columbus, Ohio.

Policing is a very challenging job. It requires officers to constantly interact with members of the community in what can be highly-charged instances.

At times, citizens may not be happy with how law enforcement officers treat them and file official complaints with departments as a result. It’s somewhat inevitable that this will happen, but that doesn’t mean police departments shouldn’t take complaints seriously.

One of the most effective tools to deal with civilian complaints is mediation. Below are some strategies for using mediation between law enforcement and civilians.

Let Them Be Heard

Often, civilians who file complaints want someone to simply listen to them. They may have a specific concern about how an officer treated them or a more general concern about overall policing in the community.

Law enforcement departments should approach mediation with an open mind, allowing the citizens to talk without prejudging the situation.

“I think that mediation is not a new idea in how we deal with citizens and citizen complaints,” said Jennifer Knight, deputy police chief in Columbus, Ohio. “But, it is absolutely an underutilized opportunity to ensure that the citizens who are coming to the division or any agency with concerns about how they’re run or their call for service was handled.

“What they want to know is how police services work a lot of times, and they want to be heard.”

Use It as an Opportunity

Law enforcement officers may view mediation negatively, but they should instead flip the script and view it as an opportunity to build strong community relations. This is a vital part of a law enforcement leader’s job — ensuring that the department serves the community to the best of its ability.

Law enforcement agencies should approach mediation as an opportunity to engage with the community and gather valuable feedback. While the initial interaction with a police officer may not have been positive, a lot of good can come from a successful mediation.

“If the citizens are not satisfied, the very best thing that we can do is sit down and talk to the citizens or give those citizens an opportunity to talk to the officer who responded and learn,” according to Knight. “Police actually have to respond and listen to those citizens. It creates a connection that, in many cases, builds the foundation for a much greater relationship.”

Carve a Path Forward

While the impetus of mediation is an event from the past, the outcome of mediation should be focused on the future. In other words, mediation between law enforcement and civilians should conclude with a discussion about what’s next.

Maybe it’s an understanding between the two sides about how a situation should be handled in the future. Perhaps a follow-up meeting will be held with more community members to discuss new initiatives.

While a large part of mediation is obviously conflict resolution, it also provides a great chance to carve out other positive tactics for the future.

About Jennifer Knight

Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief 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.




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