Police to use courtesy mediator
Charleston police have a theory on resident complaints about officer courtesy: If both sides hashed it out with a go-between, everyone would walk away with some resolution.
By Nov. 1, police plan to launch a new mediation process to handle those concerns. The Charleston Police Department handled 37 courtesy complaints against its officers last year, according to strategic analysis and innovations Capt. Gregory Whitaker.
Numbers are down more than 20 percent so far this year, Whitaker said, and he hopes the mediation program will drive that statistic even lower.
"A lot of times it comes from a misunderstanding between the citizen and the officer," Whitaker said. "We will bring both parties to the table."
The Mediation and Meeting Center of Charleston, a local nonprofit organization, will provide its services to the police department at no charge. The sessions will take place at a city building, only if both the resident and the officer agree to participate.
Previously, a complaint would first go to the officer's supervisor, then to a commanding officer and eventually on to a captain, the deputy chief and the chief of police -- every time. Whitaker said mediation should streamline that process and save supervisors' energies for more pressing tasks.
"Both parties are exercising direct control over quick resolution," Whitaker said. "Each can hear the other person's perspective. Out on the street you just don't have that."
He said the process will follow examples set by larger cities such as Washington, Denver and Portland, Ore. If the resident doesn't like the outcome of the mediation, the complaint goes back to the officer's supervisor.
Jill HaLevi, chairwoman of the mediation center's board of directors, said seven volunteers will handle police complaints. They should expect one or two disputes per month at first.
HaLevi stressed that the mediation would aim to resolve complaints but that the volunteers would not make findings or decide discipline at the end of those meetings.
"It's a mediation designed to resolve the complaint," HaLevi said. "There can be an admission or apology or explanation, but not an arbitration."
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/allysonjbird.