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Mediators Instead of Police?

A new report, ordered after last year’s student protests on the UC Berkley campus resulting in the pepper-spraying of nonviolent student protesters that received global media coverage, has resulted in 50 recommendations over 133 pages. The report details recommendations on how to prepare and respond for similar situations in the future.

A recommendation that stands out among the others is, according to the

Among the 50 recommendations, the report concluded that campus administrators should be trained in de-escalation techniques that can be used instead of sending in police.

Note that although the title of the article states “Mediators, Not Police”, the article simply mentions using administrators trained in conflict resolution as a step to be used prior to involving the police.

The use of the term “mediator” is misleading depending on how one defines what a mediator is, as most would include the wording “neutral” as part of the mediator’s role. If the mediator is also an employee of the University, could they then also be neutral?

If the answer is yes, why not then have mediator/police officers respond as well?

Approaching this from a conflict resolution professional’s perspective, the recommendation does not have to necessarily be an “or” situation but rather an “and.”

Why not have staff trained, AS WELL as specific police personnel trained in these skills to be able to engage protesters in appropriate situations? Yes, they can serve as mediators is the loose sense of the term as they can help both sides (police/administration and the student protesters) realize each others’ reasons behind their positions while then opening up more options.

This is in contrast to what is often seen as the win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose situations that can often arise during these emotional and potentially volatile moments.

I make this suggestion not just based on theory but also from experience. As a current PhD student studying mediation and nonverbal communication, while also having a Masters in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, I also have first hand experience of these situations where the suggestion of having police personnel trained in these skills works. It really does.

Serving in the NYPD for almost ten years, and currently as a detective in the Community Affairs Bureau, has had me and my fellow officers literally placed on the frontline of high emotionally charged situations including protests where training in conflict resolution skills has work time and again.

Why has it worked? Two primary reasons:

1 1: buy-in from the NYPD executives believing that using these skills as a critical and necessary stage in policing works.
2 2: Training: these skills only work if those using them know how and when to use.

Of course there are other relevant factors contributing to this success, including the Community Affairs officers wearing different colored shirts identifying their unique role, however the above two standout as necessary.

Part of generating understanding through the use of communication, especially in these situations, includes realizing the police are not there to be against you but rather to work with you and ensure everyone’s safety.

Hopefully the University of California will consider this and others options when developing new response procedures.

Read the article [here].


Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School… MORE >

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