By Jeff Thompson
For those who miss the monthly NYC-DR Roundtable Breakfast meetings sponsored by ACRGNY and John Jay College due to schedules (yes, we are all very busy conflict resolvers) or due to locations (I guess everyone doesn't live in New York City!), I plan to write a recap of each gathering I attend.
You can join the listserv by clicking [here].
Note 1: this is not an official recap nor is it intended to be one but rather it is just a posting of my notes and recollection from the day.
Note #2: For this month I credit Maria Volpe for editing this- Thanks!I
For those not familiar with Christopher Cooper or his recent article he sent to the NYC-DR listserv, I suggest you read it [here]. Dr. Cooper, an attorney in Chicago, a former police officer in Washington, DC and born and raised in New York City, was the guest speaker at the July NYC-DR ROUNDTABLE co-sponsored by the Association for Conflict Resolution and the CUNY Dispute Resolution Consortium at John Jay College.
Julie Denny described Chris as ‘passionate’ when introducing him to the audience. In fact, Chris is passionate. He is vibrant and believes in using communication and understanding to resolve issues while not afraid of bringing to light situations where people have been wronged and mistreated.
Chris has a distinct ability to write articles that maintain the passion which he often displays in person be it during an interpersonal conversation or during a public talk. I have spoken with Chris many times and consider myself fortunate enough to engage him to discuss (and debate!) many issues surrounding conflict resolution and policing issues. I do not always agree with Chris but I do admire his passion. I think passion, when not becoming overwhelming and controlling one’s actions like emotions, is needed and should not be absent in us as conflict professionals.
His recent article titled, Sexual Abuse & When The Arbitration Process Really Fails was the subject of the June Roundtable.
Well besides the fact it probably broke a record of responses on the approximately 1800+ person NYC-DR listserv (I think there were over 100 responses), everyone I think likes to chime in and explain how they think the police can do a better job!
Drawing on this animated context, Chris started his talk by asking a question: “What is a dignified response by the police to an interpersonal dispute?” It quickly generated numerous responses and he then followed it up with thought provoking open-ended questions such as, “Does ethnicity/race matter in the response?”
Chris showed a video with two role play simulations of him and another officer responding to a dispute in a dorm room between two female students. The two clips showed how the officers have the ability to escalate or de-escalate a situation based on their use of conflict resolution skills (words, tone, haptics, chronemics, kinesics, proxemics- all things I find incredibly important... and fascinating...go ahead, call me a dork!).
*He noted how police can use mediation skills in certain situations as well as how they can refer selected cases to community mediation centers.
*He explained that the benefits of using mediation skills for police officers include: the reduction of return calls to a location; lessening of the likelihood that situations wlll become violent; and improvement of relationships between the police and those they serve.
*Chris noted how using mediation skills expands the conversation. The example he gave was of police responding to a scene at 3am where a boyfriend has been kicked out of his apartment. A (wrong) response could be to tell the boyfriend to go to court, whereas using mediation skills could help in gathering more information and cooling down tempers. Perhaps helping the boyfriend get his jacket and a few belongings could help him leave. He jokingly commented that helping the boyfriend gather some belongings means getting his jacket, not the couch!
*Chris commented that some unions and officers do not embrace the use of mediation skills since the positive use of mediation skills in situations can result in fewer officers being needed for the reduced number of police calls.
*Chris mentioned that there are different styles of policing based on race or ethnicity. He stated research shows white disputants in non-arrestable situations are met more times with the police engaging in a collaborative approach (regardless of the race/ethnicity of the officer) compared to minority disputants.
*An audience member asked, "What do we do then?” Chris mentioned multiple times throughout the talk that he believes it is important that proper people are hired to become officers. Audience members stated training is also crucial, but from my perception, it seemed Chris believed hiring practices are of greater importance.
*Different jurisdictions were mentioned to illustrate how the police can be more engaging, and Chris mentioned how in Canada, officers are required to remove their sunglasses when conversing with the public.
*Some asked me (yes me, I am a detective in law enforcement after all!), if I utilized smiling to engage people. I stated I did, but that it depends on the situation. I remarked that one needs to look at situations not only from the officers’ perspective but through the mediator’s lens, that smiling is just one element in building rapport. Building rapport, be it as a mediator with your parties or as a police officer engaging the community, is a critical element that cannot be overlooked yet I think it is hard for people to explain how they actually do it.
*Some attendees referred to the video and mentioned a great way for officers to promote conflict resolution skills with the people they are engaged in is “teaching through actions.” (I nodded and said yes! Just like mediators!).
*Something I noticed, and mentioned to Chris and the audience was the importance of nonverbal communication in the video clips; if we watched both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ videos without sound, much of the actions of the officers beyond the words spoken really controlled the direction of the situation. “Teaching by action” can be both good and bad.
*Chris’s presentation lasted for just over an hour and those familiar with the interactions during the listserv discussion might have been surprised that it was absent some of the actions taken on the listserv like people quitting (I guess the equivalent would be getting up and publically announcing they were leaving?), name calling, or people telling others what direction the conversation should be taking.
Overall, I think Chris’s passion did in fact shine through and the audience was engaged and interested in the topic. The morning provided an opportunity for respectful dialogue and feedback- all of which left me realizing how, at times, electronic communication can be different from face to face interactions!