The city of Davis is implementing a restorative justice-style alternative conflict resolution pilot program that will enable citizens with complaints about police interactions to go through mediated sessions as an alternative to, or in addition to, a formal complaint process. (See the staff report).
In October of 2013, Judith MacBrine began facilitating Dialogue Sessions between members of the community, selected by the Davis Human Relations Commission and the Davis Police Department, on the topic of racial profiling.
Five members of the community and five members of the Davis Police Department participated. The participating community members were Carlos Matos, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, Diane Evans, Malik Bennett, and Yvonne Clinton. The participating Davis Police Department members were Assistant Chief Darren Pytel, Lieutenant Tom Waltz, Lieutenant Paul Doroshov, Sergeant Rod Rifredi, and Officer Jesse Dacanay.
These sessions would be held confidentially from October 2013 through January 2015.
One result of these meetings was that the group catalogued the history of community-police conflict at the national, regional, and local level over the past several decades. As Assistant Chief Darren Pytel notes, “A review of the incidents showed a striking correlation between national/regional incidents and related local incidents or events that often followed. In examining the relationship between the timing of incidents, it became evident that police – not only here, but everywhere – miss important opportunities to build community trust, and instead perpetuate mistrust by failing to directly discuss policies/procedures, or remain accountable for changing practices that reflect the local attitudes and feelings of their community on policing issues.”
They found that the worst time to have dialogue was “immediately following a local incident because strong emotions can hinder thoughtful reflection. Thoughtful reflection and engaged, productive dialog simply provides a better opportunity for the police and community to prevent negative incidents or even make needed changes or reforms in practices.”
Because of that, the group worked to establish periodic community coffee discussions between the community and the Davis Police on issues of mutual concern.
The bigger outcome was finding a new way to resolve certain types of citizen complaints about the Davis Police.
The Davis Police Department currently has existing methods for police accountability. The Davis Police Community Advisory Board: “Formed in the fall of 2005, the Community Advisory Board (CAB) was (and is) designed to provide the Police Chief with face to face dialogue with representatives of the community.”
In 2006, the city council created the Independent Police Auditor (formerly known as the Police Ombudsman). Bob Aaronson has served in that capacity since the start. “The Davis Independent Police Auditor is an entity designed and appointed to assist citizens with concerns about the Police Department, and to make recommendations to improve the delivery of police services. In the course of those duties, the auditor reviews Police Department citizen complaint investigations, accepts for referral to the Police Department citizen complaints about Police employee conduct from people who may not feel comfortable going directly to the Department with their complaint, and interacts with community members and organizations when needed.”
Finally, there is a formal citizen complaint process where serious “allegations of misconduct are often investigated by a Lieutenant assigned to the Professional Standards Unit, and are ultimately reviewed by the Chief or Assistant Chief, who render formal findings. When it is determined there was misconduct, formal corrective action is imposed – ranging from re-training to termination.”
The group “quickly identified historical occurrences where the formal investigative process actually hindered effective communication that could have resolved the complaint in a ‘good way,’ both for the complaining party and the community. Instead the process led to further distrust, or allegations of secrecy and even cover-up.”
Common criticism includes:
- The formal complaint process is impersonal. Often a complaining person simply wants to personally convey their thoughts/feelings directly to the officer they encountered. The current process does not allow for direct, face-to-face dialogue.
- The investigations are confidential. The person who complains is simply informed of the findings, but they are often not given a detailed account of what the investigation revealed.
- There is no citizen involvement in the process.
- There is no restorative component to the process (joint healing) ‒ even if it is discovered the officer did violate departmental rules.
The ACR (alternative conflict resolution) Pilot Program is an informal, confidential mediation process which is based on two restorative practices: circle processes and non-violent communication.
Through the ACR Pilot Program, “Community members with a specific complaint about an interaction with Davis Police employees, and the Davis Police employee(s) meet in a face-to- face, restorative process with the assistance of a team of two trained Circle Co-Keepers, who are members of the Davis Community.”
“The ACR Pilot Program allows the participants to the interaction giving rise to the complaint to safely explore, understand, and/or mutually resolve the issues of the interaction, with the objective of healing the conflict. This may result in agreement, or an agreement to disagree. Participants are not required to reach a formal resolution. The expectation however, is that by “coming together in a good way,” the relationship between the participants will be restored.
The program would keep confidentiality. This is important, “Participants must be assured that any apology or acknowledgement of wrong doing will not be used against them, either by the Police Department or by a private attorney, in any subsequent proceeding of any sort.”
It is voluntary. The community member and police employee has to choose voluntarily to participate.
It must maintain safety. “The role of the Circle Co-Keepers is to initiate an environment for conflict resolution that is respectful and safe.”
It is non-hierarchical. “Circle processes share power. Nothing in a circle process should convey rank or privilege.”
It must use non-violent communication. It must be transparent. “Although the outcome of the ACR Pilot Program is unknown as participants begin this journey, the process will be transparent to the participants. Transparency allows participants to have trust in the circle process that they voluntarily are agreeing to engage in.”
Finally, it must be flexible, as both humans and human relations are unique.
Complaints involving the following allegations will be considered for the ACR Pilot Program:
- Biased policing and rude conduct complaints with no additional allegations of misconduct.
- Biased policing and rude conduct complaints with other allegations of minor misconduct.
Initially, complaints involving the following situations will not be considered for the ACR Pilot Program:
- Force used.
- Ethnic remark or other specific discourtesy directed at a class of person
- An employee was assaulted.
- A lawsuit was filed.
- A person was injured.
- Excessive delay in reporting allegations.
- Allegations of criminal misconduct.
The Office of The Police Chief refers a complaint to the ACR Pilot Program when all the following criteria are met:
- The complaint of the alleged misconduct is either non-disciplinary or, if the allegation were found to be true (sustained) through a formal investigation, could/would result in minor discipline (e.g., discourtesy, general conduct, minor policy violations, or a minor neglect of duty, etc.), or involves an allegation of biased policing, as alleged by a community member; and
- The Police employee(s) involved has/have no apparent pattern of similar behavior (normally limited to the past two years) for which s/he is accused or a sustained finding for such.
Assistant Chief Pytel notes, “Cases not approved for the ACR Pilot Program shall be processed for investigation according to the Department’s existing citizen complaint policy.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting