Establishing a real and meaningful connection between law enforcement agencies and the community is essential to a community policing model. Part of that model must be a way for police to handle citizen complaints. Yet, Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief, Columbus, Ohio, says the traditional complaint investigative model has not produced satisfactory outcomes conducive to improved community-police relations.
The reason why the old model doesn’t work is quite simple. It’s designed to evaluate specific incidents of contact between citizens and the police department, with narrowly-defined conclusions then assessed against written internal policies. What results is a fixed outcome that rarely contributes to resolving the underlying issues at hand.
To this end, Jennifer Knight believes alternative methods of addressing citizen complaints must be explored.
Why Law Enforcement Maintains Citizen Complaint Systems
There are three main reasons why law enforcement agencies maintain a system to handle citizen complaint investigations.
A robust system can contribute to building trust and delivering transparency to the community. It also helps identify problematic behaviors conducted by law enforcement personnel and gives a mechanism for change and intervention.
Finally, such a system sets forth a standard process to resolve grievances while also promoting understanding and communication between the community and law enforcement personnel.
It’s this third pillar, according to Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief, that often deteriorates, and sometimes fails, within law enforcement. Because of this, law enforcement agencies must re-evaluate their current structure for handling citizen complaints to understand whether they’re helping to achieve the desired goals.
Mediation is a Viable Alternative
A viable alternative to the traditional citizen complaint model is mediation. Suppose any alternative system is to be proposed and adopted. In that case, Jennifer Knight says it must demonstrate a benefit to all stakeholders, including the law enforcement agency and officers, labor unions, and the community at large.
To that end, many questions need to be asked during the exploration phase. Namely, are the citizen complaints more satisfied through mediation than the traditional investigative method, and are officers more satisfied with the outcomes as well?
Are there fewer future complaints against law enforcement officers who have resolved issues through mediation rather than a traditional investigative method? Are the cases resolved more quickly through mediation?
Then, after those questions are answered, law enforcement agencies must assess what specific type of mediation program would both support and supplement the agency’s already-established citizen complaint model.
Jennifer Knight strongly believes mediation is a viable alternative to the traditional citizen complaint model, as it can contribute to more impactful community-police relations.
About Jennifer Knight
Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief in Columbus, Ohio, is known for dynamic leadership, innovative community engagement, and excellence in the field of law enforcement. After earning her Juris Doctor, she received the National Women’s Law Association Award of Excellence. Ms. Knight is a strong advocate for women in law enforcement and is a passionate community volunteer.