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Do Police Officers Make Effective Mediators?


To answer this question, we must first go to the larger question: Who makes the best mediator?

Defining “Best:” Most folks would define best as the mediation parties leave feeling better about their situation than when they arrived. In the ideal, the mediation could be transformative and the effective mediator sets the stage for these transformative moments. Maybe communication has improved. Maybe the relationship has improved. Maybe the parties realize how to better handle disputes in the future.

On the other hand, many disputes are transactional which means the mediator facilitates the parties to resolve the conflict with an exchange of monies, promises, changed actions, etc.

The big picture-effective mediators: Research and experience seems to be clear that there are two factors: One is the personality and the second is being open to mediation training.

Is the person of a mediation approach? We could discover some feel for this issue by using the involved Myers Briggs personality instrument or the simpler DOPE (Dove, Owl, Peacock, Eagle equaling differing personalities) instrument (and there are many more instruments).

Let’s first take the DOPE personality instrument*. You respond to 32 questions and then you are cataloged as a bird: dove, owl, peacock or eagle. Although I don’t know of any specific research that connects the DOPE self -assessment instrument to mediation, one might assume the Dove personality might be the best for mediation. This personality has diplomacy, tact, good listening skills and sympathetic. Based on my mediation experience I would prefer a mediator who is moderately high on the Dove but does score OK in the other categories; that is, no extremes. There are traits in all categories that could be useful as a mediator.

Open to training: The second key to assessing whether a person would make an effective mediator is whether they are open to mediation training. Some folks take mediation training simply because it is requirement. You want to choose the folks who resonate with the training, who realizes that because of the mediation training, they can improve their communication and problem solving skills and thereby help others to do

So, now to police officers. First, I don’t know of any group of police officers who have taken the DOPE instrument but I do know of groups who have taken other self- assessment instruments.

When I directed the ABA (American Bar Association) Dispute Resolution, we had a contract with AARP (This was an acronym: American Association for Retired Persons. Now AARP represents primarily older folks, retired or not). This contract was to teach mediation to police bureaus. To be awarded a small grant of funds for the training, the police bureaus needed to choose, Did they want their officers to learn mediation skills or Did they want their officers to know about mediation to make proper referrals. 2/3 of the bureaus chose the latter. They did not want their criminal apprehending officers to learn “the soft skills.” The other 1/3 chose the former.

During the training, all of the officers took two behavioral instruments:

Thomas Kilman Conflict Management Instrument**: This instrument gives the taker a view of their conflict management style that most likely emanates from their personality. There are five styles: avoiding, accommodating, compromising, competing and collaborating. The most effective mediator would fall into the “collaborating” sector. But the police in training generally fell into the competing conflict management style.

Communication Styles Instrument***: A second instrument used during this police training was a communication styles: amiable, expressive, analytic and driver or passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive. The effective mediator’s communication style would fall into either “expressive” or “assertive.” The police participants usually feel into the “driver” or “aggressive” communication style.

So, one might conclude that the present police officers most likely would not make effective mediators. This could be because of the types of folks attracted to policing today and the selection process. The mediative type may not be attracted to present policing or may not be chosen to be police.

Open and Receptive to Mediation Training: There heretofor mentioned AARP/ABA Police project may give us some inklings as to whether police officers would be open to mediation training. The answer is for at least 2/3, probably not. They seem to view mediation skills as “soft skills” that may not be in their minds relevant to police work; that is, apprehending criminals.

Of course, this reminds me of my law school training. Most (95%) of my courses were angled towards litigation and prosecution. Paradoxically, 95% of attorneys’ work is more negotiation and problem solving. Today, law schools have transformed. I teach at both The George Washington University School of Law and Capital University School of Law (where I graduated). At either of these law schools, one could almost specialize in negotiation course ranging from international dispute resolution to business dispute resolution.

I wonder if police training needs to be update to better reflect what citizens want of the police. Community policing comes to mind.

RELATED BLOGS: Community Policing and Law Students as Mediators.


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