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Mediation in Fiscal Year 2007: Language and Conduct

A senior citizen filed a complaint alleging that several officers who came to search her home harassed her and subjected her to insulting language and conduct. The complainant was home alone at the time, and she said their sudden arrival frightened her so badly that she had trouble opening her door. She said that as she attempted to get the door open, one of the officers cursed at her. Then, as the officers rushed into her home, the woman asked several times why they had come to her home, and the officers did not immediately answer her question. Instead, one of the officers told her to sit down on the couch while the home was searched. The complainant said that while she waited for them to complete the search, she overheard some of the officers making disparaging remarks about the condition of her home and the “clutter” in various parts of the home. No illegal items were found or seized as a result of the search. The complainant was greatly disturbed by the incident and filed a complaint because she believed her home had been targeted unfairly, and also because she felt that the officers had been unnecessarily rude and disrespectful to her.

A mediation session was arranged between the complainant and the sergeant supervising the search team. In the mediation, the complainant began by giving a detailed description of the incident. She emphasized how shocked and frightened she had been, and how upset she felt about the way she had been treated. She described the language that had offended her. She also expressed confusion as to why her home had been searched in the first place, since she and her husband do not do drugs, and they do not permit any of their children or grandchildren who stay at the home to use drugs or engage in illegal behavior. And lastly, she told the officer about drug use and other illegal activity she had witnessed at other locations in her neighborhood, and expressed frustration that it seemed the police did not do anything about it.

After listening to the complainant, the sergeant began to explain the situation from his perspective. He stated that he was glad to have the opportunity to talk with the complainant, because he knew how shaken up she had been after the search. He described all the steps that his team had taken in order to obtain the search warrant, including the fact that an undercover officer from his team had witnessed drugs being sold by an individual at her home. When the complainant heard this, she said she had no idea that anyone had sold drugs from her home, but she was glad to know he had a legitimate reason for coming to her home and said she understood that he was just doing his job. The officer said he believed her, and that he had dealt with many unsuspecting homeowners like her who, unfortunately, end up suffering the consequences for the illegal actions of other people staying in their homes, and that he felt badly when that happened.

The officer also said that he does not permit members of his team to use rude or insulting language. He said he had not heard the offending remarks when he was there at her home, but that he would review the language policy with the team during their next shift. He explained that officers are often in a hurry to get into the home they are searching because if they delay their entry too long, suspects may flush or remove evidence of drugs before the officers can get inside. He said he tries to keep his team in line, but sometimes the officers grow impatient, and he assured her that none of the officers were deliberately trying to insult her. She acknowledged that the officers have a difficult job and said she could understand the anxiety they must feel during those encounters.

The mediator then helped the woman and the officer see that they shared a concern about crime in the neighborhood, and that both wanted things to change for the better. The officer and the citizen discussed the broader problems existing in the neighborhood, and the efforts they have each made to improve the situation. The officer took down the addresses of other locations where the complainant had observed illegal activity, and he told her they would investigate those locations.

By the end of the mediation, the officer said he was grateful to have the chance to further explain the actions his team had taken that day, and the woman’s trust in the local police appeared to be restored.