Law enforcement is by nature a lopsided situation. Typically, law enforcement officers have all the advantages in any encounter with citizens: They are armed, trained, usually supported by their fellow officers, and, most importantly, authorized to use force and charged with a duty to do so to protect the peace.
This lopsidedness often makes citizens feel threatened, and a lack of communication in the heat of the moment often inspires a sense of injustice and common complaints of police and other law enforcement abusing their authority.
On the other side, officers have a different set of objectives from citizens in a given situation, and are trained to protect themselves and others by being proactive against violence or other threats.
When it comes to complaints against law enforcement officers, mediation is often deprecated by both citizens, who do not believe they will get any cooperation, and officers, who believe they will be unfairly pilloried and will not receive a fair hearing. In our experience, however, mediation is one of the most effective ways to settle disputes against police and other law enforcement. Many officers find the opportunity to explain their thought process to aggrieved citizens to be cathartic and effective, and many citizens begin to see officers as fellow citizens and neighbors when they do so.
The key is the leveling process of mediation, which gives both parties the opportunity to speak as equals. When the officers involved are free from their responsibilities to protect the greater good, they can often admit mistakes, and when citizens see the officers as people instead of bullying caricatures, they can often understand decisions and actions that seemed unreasonable.
Mediation is effective in disputes against law enforcement. We know – we’ve seen it.