Former CRS Mediator, Denver Office
Is there a general rule that you had during your practice, for example, is it true, to say that if a situation seemed like violence was imminent, or the hostility was greater, that in those situations you would bring people to the table more quickly?
I don't know whether it's a general rule, it's just how I feel the situation is, how I understand it at that time.
What factors do you consider to be especially important?
Well, I guess if we break it out point by point, there is the hostility which includes anger, what are they saying, what are they doing, all of that relates to how angry the community is. Also, in working with the police, what are they saying, and how are they acting, because they become fearful themselves, to some degree. They become more on the alert, and then they might do something that might create another situation. So I guess what comes to mind is how the community is acting, and how are the police are acting. Also what is being said in the press, are they picking up something that's adding to it, or trying to bring the focus down on it. In Salt Lake I thought that more was being said, and there was more activity, and there was a more hostile atmosphere. The whole east side was really angry.
What did you do to try to diffuse the hostile atmosphere when you got the two groups together? To keep them from screaming at each other or throwing things at each other or whatever.
Initially, of course, when we first brought them together, they were hostile. We took a break after they aired off. I suggested we take a break, and then we'd come back together that afternoon. While we took a break, I talked to the group, and I said "in order to find a solution to some of these problem areas, we're going to have to go back to the table with the department and have more of a dialogue in specific areas of your concern. I realize that you're angry about this, but there has to be more specific information, so that the police department can more accurately respond to some of your concerns."
So they did. They agreed they would come back. In the meantime, what they had done already, is identified some people at the university who could come in and help. The university people came in and they had cooler heads and a better understanding of what has to happen, and I think that helped lead them to sit across the table with the department and try to work out some kind of solution. And it wasn't that there were a lot of items that they wanted to discuss. It was just that the police department had to somehow respond to the Hispanic community, or patrol the Hispanic community in a more fair manner, rather than in a picky way. The Hispanics felt that the police began to pick at their side of town. For example they would stop a car because it was suspicious, or stop a car because a light wasn't working, or stop a car for whatever. That was part of what I felt was picking on that area, which then led to more hostility. So that's why I thought it was so important.
But anyway, to get back to your question, once they came back, they were more ready to work with the department and the department was more ready to talk to them. I also met with the department earlier and said "this is what I'm going to do while we take a break," and they said "that's fine." The department was really ready. They were ready to say they goofed up, they wanted to know what can they do to remedy the situation. They wanted us to help them find a solution to that.