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Two Copwatch Members Experience Police-Civilian Mediation
by David Lowe and Dan Handelman

Let's say up front that there are definitely reasons to be suspicious of the police-civilian mediation program, which is part of the City's official apparatus for resolving complaints against Portland's finest. It would be possible, in theory, for an officer to use mediation to avoid a more serious mark on his or her record, and then, if mediation was not "successful," that is, if both parties did not feel the situation was resolved, it could bring the investigation to a screeching halt.

However, if the officers are willing to participate in the first place, it's probable that they will do what is asked of them by the mediators at the Neighborhood Mediation Center, which is to listen, repeat back what they hear, and to tell the story from their own point of view.

Each of us filed complaints against PPB officers, David in late 1998 and Dan in early 1999. In David's case, an officer had told Critical Mass riders they needed to go get lights for the back of their bicycles (when a red reflector is all that is legally required); in Dan's, a mounted police officer used his horse to force Dan against a wall during an Iraq demonstration on the Burnside Bridge.

We are both satisfied with the outcomes of the mediation process, and both came out with the following impressions:

1. The officers come to the mediation sessions on duty, so they are in uniform and are carrying guns.

2. If you can get past point #1, you recognize that this setting, unlike the street, puts you on equal footing with the police officer, who is just there as an individual.

3. While the mediators struggled to get us to apologize for our parts in the disputed situations (exercising our rights to free speech and freedom of assembly), the police officers in both cases seemed much clearer that we had no intention of apologizing or necessarily changing our behavior.

The officers recognized that they represent the state apparatus we each were protesting and therefore did not expect us to necessarily change the way we interacted with them. The political astuteness of the cops came as a welcome surprise.

It's important to repeat that it really depends on the situation involved (the City won't even allow mediation for disparate treatment--racism, etc.--or use of force cases) and the particular officer, but we still support the mediation program. It's more likely that a cop will think twice before acting the same way again if they have to look a civilian in the eye and explain themselves than if their supervisor pats them on the back and says "don't do that again, ok?"

In a footnote to political activists, and a word to the person-at-large, remember that although the mediation sessions are confidential, you are still talking to a cop, and while you need to be truthful, open and honest, there's no reason to, say, give your entire mailing list to the cops while you're mediating.

Good luck, and give us a call at Copwatch (503-236-3065) if you are about to or have just been through mediation.

  [People's Police Report]

August, 1999
Also in PPR #18

Chief Moose Cuts Loose, Leaves Mixed Legacy
 • Mayor Asks "What Do You Want in a Chief?"
PPB Shoots at 4; Dow's Killers Awarded
  • Police Lament "Hero" Killer Cops Treated Badly
Eugene Cops Turn Rally into Melee
Oregon Looks at "Driving While Black"
Salem Gets Organized
Review Board Loses Staff Person, Stalls
Two Copwatchers Undergo Mediation w/Police
Deputy Fun Facts (Clackamas, Washington)
Pepper Spray: "Safety," Pain, Death & Lawsuits
Quick Flashes PPR #18:
 • Two Portland Officers Fired for Lying
 • City Ignoring Youth Self-determination
 • Supreme Court OKs Search and Seizure of Passengers
 • Police Snitch Program Draws Heat
 • Tardy Cop Breaks Law
 • Police Cheat on Overtime
 • Iraq Protestors Free, Challenge "Lawful Dispersal" Rule

Updates PPR #18:
 • Gambling West Linn Chief Pleads Guilty
 • Gold Hill Chief Convicted
 • Bend Family Sues
 • Shooter Ex-Cop Strikes Again
 • Police Volunteer Indicted
 • "Grow Light" Store Busted After Filing Suit
 • NYPD Cops Indicted in Diallo Shooting
 • NYPD Officer Admits Sodomizing Louima
 • Millions March for Mumia
 • Copwatch and CUSPR: Organizing for Accountability

Rapping Back #18

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #18 Table of Contents
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