How do we end the escalating conflict between police and community?
One way is Insight Policing
The police shootings and shootings of police that have become all too common on the daily newsreel underscore the crisis we face in police legitimacy. This crisis is not new, of course. Gallup polls show that over the past 20 years only a very slight majority of Americans have had trust in the police (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx). When disaggregated by race, polls show that Americans of color trust the police far less than do white Americans, reflecting the disproportionality of police contact and use of force among minorities. The recent high profile violence between police officers and community members, however, is exacerbating that mistrust and deepening a conflict that is making individuals on both sides less and less safe.
We witnessed this breakdown in safety in the Baton Rouge ambush on three officers last week. We witnessed it again this week when North Miami officers shot Charles Kinsey in the leg, an unarmed behavioral health worker, who was lying on the ground with his hands up helping an autistic man who had wandered away from his group home. The community is shocked and scared. Officers are on edge. Trust is clearly and gravely broken.
How do we begin to back out of this deepening conflict? One answer is with Insight Policing, a policing skill-set informed by the discoveries of conflict resolution that teaches officers to recognize and manage conflict behavior in the moment of enforcement—not just the conflict behavior of citizens, which can quickly manifest in criminal behaviors like assault and resisting arrest, but the conflict behavior of officers too.
According to Kinsey, when he asked the officer who shot him why he did, the officer answered, “I don’t know.” This is remarkable, but it is not a stretch to assume that in the current context of increased retaliation against officers, the officer who shot Kinsey was afraid and he reacted, despite the fact that Kinsey’s hands were up and that he was holding no apparent weapon.
The Insight approach to conflict analysis and resolution, the theory that informs Insight Policing, explains that when we feel threatened, however real that threat is, our mental capacities shut down and we tend to respond with conflict behavior—those fight, flight, or freeze stress-based behaviors we employ to defend against threat. While in situations of real danger, these behaviors can save our lives, most of the time they are maladaptive, and as conflict behaviors they increase threat rather than lessen it.
Insight Policing trains officers to understand how we behave under threat and to recognize conflict behavior when they see it. When they are equipped with the ability to recognize conflict behavior, officers are able to use Insight Policing skills to understand and deescalate it in problematic encounters with civilians. If the North Miami officers had been able to recognize their own conflict behavior in their encounter with Kinsey, they would have been able to use Insight Policing skills to understand it and deescalate it before shooting him in the leg. They would have been positioned to engage with Kinsey in a procedurally just way rather than with force. They would have been able to start to change the conflict raging between police and communities rather than contribute to its escalation.
The nation as a whole is crying out for a way to mend the conflict building between the police and the public, to stop the violence coming from both directions, to change the prevailing experience of police as executors of force. Insight Policing is a community-oriented, problem-solving, communication tactic that could help do that. To bring Insight Policing to your police department, contact Megan Price of the Insight Conflict Resolution Program at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit their website, www.insightconflictresolution.org.
Submitted by Megan Price, Director Insight Conflict Resolution Program
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University
& Bruce Blitman, Attorney, Mediator, Member, Broward County Bar Association
Megan Price is the Director of the Insight Conflict Resolution Program at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, PhD Candidate and co-developer of Insight Policing.