January 26, 2021
New program aims to let Miami cops, citizens discuss complaints of bias face-to-face
By Charles Rabin

In hopes of restoring strained relations between law enforcement and the public, Miami police and its civilian oversight panel have agreed to voluntary mediation for officers receiving non-criminal complaints like discourtesy or bias profiling. 

Consider it mediation light.

Unlike regular mediation, which can often result in stiff penalties, suspensions or other discipline, these talks are likely to result in a written agreement — perhaps even a handshake or hug between cops and the people who file complaints against them. The goal, according to the agreement announced on Thursday outside City Hall, is for the parties to listen to each other and understand what led to the complaint.

“It strikes a balance between protecting our officers and also protecting the public,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “We want to create friendships and non-adversarial disputes.”

Because the goal is communication over punishment, the rules of evidence in legal mediation will not apply. The proceedings also will be voluntary, confidential, and a resolution isn’t even required.

Under a program called Community Police Mediation Program, the parties can bring whatever information they feel is relevant to the meeting. And the three parties — the officer, the person who filed the complaint, and the mediator — will work together to try to determine a resolution everyone is happy with. 

Fraternal Order of Police President Tommy Reyes said the plan actually predates the social unrest that has rocked the country since George Floyd’s death by about a year. Reyes said he was approached by Assistant CIP Director Rodney Jacobs in early 2019 with the plan, which closely models one that has worked well in New Orleans for the past five years. Civilian Investigative Panel 

“It’s a good idea,” said Reyes. “It will help the community understand us and us to understand them a little better.”

The goal of the new mediation process is twofold: the hope that it will bring police and the community closer together, and also lessen the workload of the police oversight group and the police department’s internal affairs investigators. Both spend hundreds of hours a year investigating dozens of minor complaints that will now instead be passed along to trained mediators. 

Miami will be the first city in Florida to install the mediation process and one of the first in the country. The expectation is that the Civilian Investigative Panel will hire about six mediators at first and that 50 or more cases will be dealt with a year. Mediators will be trained by the oversight board and police and will be paid a stipend for each case. The CIP and Internal Affairs will determine which cases will be chosen.

There’s also a major carrot stick for any officers who may initially be wary of sitting opposite someone who files a complaint about conduct: Agreeing to mediation guarantees that the case won’t be investigated by Internal Affairs. 

“By signing the agreement, the complaint will be dropped,” said Reyes. 

Assistant Miami Police Chief Cherise Gause said the surveillance video-captured case of University of Miami Dr. Armen Henderson being taken into custody by a Miami police sergeant at the doctor’s home would have been the ideal incident to highlight the new program.

Said Assistant Police Chief Ron Papier: “At the end of the day, most people who file a complaint just want to have their voice heard.”