As I was growing up, my father would tell me stories about his upbringing in Watts. We spoke about all types of things like how the landscape was much different and how guns were rarely used to settle disputes in his day, but he took a more serious tone when he spoke about law enforcement and their role in the community then. He shared many of his personal encounters and ultimately would share his memories of the Watts riots. I was familiar with the critical and jaded lens he viewed law enforcement through having had my own experiences to confirm this perspective. Then, in the 90’s, I experienced the Rodney King riots. Like so many in the inner city of Los Angeles, I was disappointingly vindicated about my views regarding law enforcement and flashbacks of my father’s days in Watts further reinforced this perspective.
Despite several harsh interactions, I was fortunate enough to have a few positive encounters with law enforcement that helped to counterbalance my previous experiences. When I was asked to help create the pilot for a program designed to mediate disputes between law enforcement and the community, I was skeptical at first, but then I thought about my trajectory and how a simple conversation could lead to a vastly different outcome. Accomplishing this has become a personal goal.
The City Attorney’s Dispute Resolution Program (DRP) has a long-established history, beginning in 1989, of conducting mediations of all types; RSO, Community, and most recently, the program I am fortunate to have been a part of launching, their Community Police Unification Program (CPU). The CPU Program started as a pilot in 2012 with the goal of using mediation to facilitate difficult conversations, which can sometimes go awry at the initial point of contact, between LAPD and the community.
During an encounter with a community member, the officer is in a position of authority and power while the citizen is clearly not. Personalities, emotional intelligence, perceptions, and biases can convolute this experience. Prior to CPU, community members could register a complaint, which would be routed to Internal Affairs, and would more often than not result in a letter stating their claim was “unfounded”. Perception is reality, and community members that truly felt aggrieved gained no satisfaction and the police officer involved gained no opportunity to grow from these experiences.
Mutual understanding is our program’s objective and the CPU creates a space for this to occur. The process is relatively straight forward. Community complaints are routed to Internal Affairs and sorted; cases involving an arrest, physical contact, racial epithets or that are otherwise egregious in nature do not have the option for CPU mediation. Cases involving discourtesy and allegation of bias get routed to the CPU. A Coordinator from the LAPD side gets in touch with the officer to get their buy-in and a coordinator from the City Attorney’s office reaches out to the community member. Once both parties are committed, mediators are assigned, and a date is set. Let the community unification begin.
While a noble cause, this is no small feat. These mediations are quite different than traditional mediations. Typical mediations involve participants that have some vested interest in repairing the relationship. Often, there exists a tacit investment and ongoing interest between the parties that operates as an unseen undercurrent to the relationship. This is noticeably absent in CPU mediations, making these conversations tenuous and more difficult to navigate.
The first year of the program produced many lessons and best practices that continue to inform the program today. One such lesson has been the importance of pairing mediators according to the personalities in the room. Success of CPU mediations largely depend on the mediator’s ability to adapt to the personalities.
This lesson was hard won. Although most of our mediations have been successful, there is always room for improvement. The program has had some mispairings that resulted in less than desirable outcomes. In response, the LAPD coordinator and I began to discuss the personalities of the parties in more depth. Based on conversations and descriptions of personalities, I would select mediators that would balance the dynamics in the room. This more thoughtful approach seemed to improve results. But, there was no way to measure these pairings and therefore no way to measure if the correlation between participants resulted in greater success.
The program was able to secure a COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013. Part of the grant deliverables was to develop a tool that captures the knowledge-based process that was happening intuitively in the pairing of mediators in CPU cases. CPU administrators came up with the name “Responsivity Tool” because it was designed to measure the effectiveness of the program’s responsiveness related to mediator pairings in these mediations.
Searching for a way to measure and evaluate a mediator’s style, we came across Dr. Riskin’s assessment grid. The grid works along two continuums.
“… One continuum concerns the goals of the mediation. In other words, it measures the scope of the problem…The second continuum concerns the mediator’s activities. It measures the strategies and techniques that the mediator employs…” (Riskin 1996).
When defining the goal of measuring the problem, Riskin’s continuum ranges from “narrow” to “broad”. When evaluating mediator styles, Riskin’s continuum ranges from “evaluative” to “facilitative”. Once measured and plotted the result falls into a grid containing four quadrants pertaining to mediator styles: Evaluative Narrow, Evaluative Broad, Facilitative Narrow and Facilitative Broad.
Riskin accurately states that with any mediation a particular issue can have a primary and secondary focus. This is also true with CPU mediations; cases involving discourtesy typically require the mediator to start narrow and work toward the broad end. Cases involving allegations of bias typically require mediators to start broad and move toward the narrow end.
CPU mediations involving allegations of discourtesy have a particularly narrow focus on the event that occurred. A transactional or superficial mediation can begin and end without moving from the event, offering no more than an explanation of police policy supporting what occurred. Mediators must work toward opening the conversation to include the secondary broader benefits that can also arise which is a goal of the program.
CPU mediations involving allegations of bias, oftentimes, have a particularly broad focus typically including personal and community trauma that have culminated at the recent point of contact. A transactional mediation, in this case, can begin and end without moving away from the general trauma never actually discussing the specific event that occurred. Mediators, in this case, must start broad working their way down to the specific incident and migrate back toward a broad community focus.
In both instances, the goal is for the participants to feel heard, understood and gain new perspectives from seeing through the other’s lens, if even for a moment.
To accomplish this outcome, having a mediator with the right skill-set is essential. We utilized the MCI (mediator scoring index) to rate our mediators. The MCI “…is designed to assist mediators in understanding the particular approach or style that they tend to use during the mediation process” (Krivis & McAdoo 2000). These evaluations are scored and catalogued for future reference.
Once we were able to uniformly identify our mediator’s style and approach, we began to develop questions that would allow us to measure the difficulty of the mediation. Questions include length of residency in the area or length of years on the job for officers, tone of the conversation, does the party seem willing to mediate, etc.
The coordinators gather answers to these questions and rate the participants on a scale ranging from 5 to 15; the lower score being more amenable and likely to experience the benefits of mediation and the higher score requiring more active involvement from the mediator to achieve such outcomes.
The assumption is that there is a mediator style that is a “best fit” when evaluating participants in conflict and when appropriately paired satisfaction among participants will improve. To test our tool and gather data we took participants with a higher score and paired them with mediators that fell into the strong and/or Average Facilitative Broad categories on Riskin’s grid. Conversely, participants that have lower scores were paired with mediators that fell into the Facilitative Narrow and Broad categories, and participants in the midrange were paired with Facilitative or Evaluative Broad mediator styles. Currently, the program’s pool of CPU mediators is shallow, which at times leads to pairing mediation styles that don’t align with the parties’ scores which impacts the success level of the mediation. The program collects exit surveys with each mediation and will be able to track the level of effectiveness as we continue to collect more data.
The program has commissioned a professor from USC, to conduct a program evaluation in part to evaluate the effectiveness of the Responsivity Tool.
The process is imperfect, and challenges have been noted that offer opportunity for improvement; I have listed a few below:
Pool of Mediators – mediators are volunteers and ones with the skill set to be successful in these types of mediations are of limited supply. Due to this constraint, we have sometimes had to pair meditations based on availability and not on the grid. However, the random pairings did allow for various styles to be paired with a variety of cases. Hopefully the analysis of the Responsivity Tool will help to clarify which pairings were successful.
Assessment of the Participants – the questions used to assess the parties may not be in depth enough or even correlate to a challenging mediation.
MCI Style Assessment – Currently, the program administers the mediator assessment once at the time mediators are selected for the CPU. Styles can evolve and develop over time and the best mediators evolve depending on the case. Therefore, pinning down which style is most appropriate for which case type can be elusive. Continued evaluations on a periodic basis can remedy.
Counter Balancing Biases – Providing equal exposure to both community and LAPD culture has been difficult. Empathy is a key attribute of any successful mediator and we seek to stimulate this empathy by exposing our mediators to various aspects of community and LAPD life. Because LAPD is an institution, they have a structure in place that easily replicates the dangerous and complex decisions officers need to make daily. As a part of CPU mediator training we require our mediators to become familiar with LAPD policies and go through use-of-force training simulations. On the other hand, we don’t have a similarly balanced structure representing the community’s perspective. The mediators themselves come from the community, but often come from communities other than the ones of CPU participants and therefore with very different life experiences. It’s difficult to measure how exposure to LAPD policies and training simulations manifest in mediation, but it’s possible that in the absence of something comparable on the community side this could lead to bias toward law enforcement within the mediation setting.
Because the program is always learning and adapting to become more effective, it has produced many beneficial outcomes for participants. It’s our hope and intent to share our lessons learned and best practices with other organizations while continuing to grow and develop ourselves.
The Southern California Mediation Association’s mission is to promote mediation, excellence in the practice of mediation, and community awareness of the mediation process through education, dialogue, and outreach.
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