Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Institutional Impact – Police Departments

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Community dispute resolution and restorative organizations impact law enforcement by enhancing police-community relations, delivering officer-tailored conflict skills trainings, and serving as productive referral partners.

Constructive police-community relations are essential to effective crime prevention policies. Positive relations improve cooperation, reduce recidivism,197 and improve perceptions of procedural justice.198 They also help minimize the risk of social unrest199 and the need for laborious rebuilding efforts resulting therefrom.200

Specialized training in conflict de-escalation201 for law enforcement officers is a key recommendation of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing202 and is regularly promoted within criminology research and by law enforcement associations as critical to effective policing and positive police- community relations.203

Finally, referral partnerships can be strategically employed to augment performance on key departmental objectives.2041These partnerships equip officers with an important tool that provides citizens the opportunity for measured, personalizable, and recidivism-moderating responses to criminal or disorderly conduct.

NYC Performance and Potential

Community-level conflict resolution and stronger community engagement are two themes threading decades of NYPD philosophy.205 Two examples – one ongoing and another proposed – demonstrate how partnerships between NYPD and service providers can help achieve these policing objectives.

Currently, NYPD officers only receive nominal, poorly-reviewed training in how to communicate with the public, with only 23% of officers rating their standard training on this topic as ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’206 A comparable training conducted by NYPI for select NYPD officers is of superior quality and reception, receiving ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ratings from 99% of participating officers (89% of which were ‘excellent’).207 These newly retrained officers now possess the necessary skills to strengthen community engagement, more effectively de-escalate conflicts,208 and advance systemic crime prevention efforts.

Referral opportunities at NYC-scale are substantial. Annually, NYPD responds to over 500,000 requests for services that have a high probability for conflict-assistive intervention effectiveness.209 Developing a targeted referral initiative could contribute the equivalent of up to 400 additional full-time patrol officers in annual response time savings.210 Downstream effects from these interventions211 would further compound the value of these contributions to the community, the force, and the broader criminal justice system.

“Using these mediation tactics, we were able to get a gun off the streets that was going to be sold that day.”

- J.A. & J.S., NYPD Officers & NYPI Trainees

Figure 23. NYPD Referral Opportunities in Select Brooklyn Neighborhoods

This visualization, straddling the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Crown Heights, represents 10,000 311 calls in one year from over 1,600 residential addresses that initiated multiple NYPD responses where no remedial action was taken by the responding officers. For these and hundreds of thousands of similar calls throughout NYC, the underlying conflicts often remain unaddressed. NYPD referrals of these cases to local CDRCs could save the equivalent of 400 patrol officers worth of response time each year.


197. Police interactions where the public feels respected and treated fairly have a “positive effect on the degree of cooperation the police got from the community” (McLaren, K.L., 2000). This is particularly true for offenders, where such interactions can prove helpful in reducing subsequent offending (Goldblatt, P., Lewis, C., 1998; Sherman L.W., et al., 1998). For example, offenders who felt they were treated fairly by officers responding to domestic violence incidents were more likely to refrain from subsequent abusive behaviors (Paternoster, R., et al., 1997).

198. Efforts to improve public perceptions of procedural justice are particularly important due to challenges to such perceptions resulting from Broken Windows (Meares, T., 2015) and Stop, Question, and Frisk practices (Spitzer, E., 1999, particularly chapter four).

199. Efforts intending to prevent and effectively address social unrest are of particular concern given ongoing protests targeting law enforcement and the broader criminal justice system across the country. For law enforcement, these protests have resulted in what has been termed the ‘Ferguson Effect,’ variously interpreted as either an informal, yet systemic movement toward de-policing, or an objective increase in crime resulting from a controversy-induced law enforcement ‘legitimacy crisis’ (Rosenfeld, R., 2016). Regardless its cause, its consequences are very real and present concerns for the NYPD, given its involvement in some of the incidents of national attention (Goldstein, J., Schweber, N., 2014); its role in policing the ongoing protests (NYC is the second most frequent site for Black Lives Matter protests, hosting at least 38 such events since July 2014; Robinson, A., 2016); and its internal reports of officer uncertainty regarding their enforcement authority, bounds, and consequences (e.g. 85% of NYPD officers report the threat of Civilian Complain Review Board filings have prevented them from being proactive on the streets, 70% report the fear of being sued has kept them from taking lawful action against criminal activity, 56% report having hesitated to be proactive in their job because of fear of being unfairly disciplined, and 46% report negative feelings they have about being an NYPD officer mostly originate from how police officers are viewed by the public; New York City Police Department, 2015).

200. “Quantitative analysis suggests that it takes between 9 and 14 good encounters with the police to compensate and offset the damage to public attitudes resulting from one bad interaction” (Innes, M., 2014).

201. Basic conflict de-escalation skills in a law enforcement context, such as active listening and open-ended questions, mirror those employed by civilian mediators facing the face-to-face heat of everything from disputing neighbors to divorcing partners. “When an officer applies de-escalation skills appropriately, the probability that he or she will effectively intervene in a crisis is increased and the need for using physical force is minimized” (Oliva, J.R., Morgan, R., Compton, M.T., 2010).

202. “The skills and knowledge required to effectively deal with [current policing] issues requires a higher level of education as well as extensive and ongoing training in specific disciplines...[including]: community policing and problem-solving principles, interpersonal and communication skills, bias awareness,...[and] procedural justice and impartial policing” (President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015). Each of these areas are enhanced through the New York Peace Institute’s ongoing conflict skills and mediation training of NYPD Neighborhood Coordinating Officers. One important policy recommendation of this evaluation is to expand this type of training to the broader NYPD force, providing all patrol officers with higher quality training in conflict de-escalation and effective community communications than is currently being offered. Such an expanded partnership between NYPD and service providers such as NYPI enhances police-community relations, prevents crime, and averts needless escalations that – in today’s tense climate – risk producing wide-ranging sociopolitical consequences.

203. In addition to their inclusion in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the emphases on communication and de-escalation skills trainings have generated wide support from throughout law enforcement circles. For example, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives has recommended “As part of the new training we must also add more emphasis on mediation, facilitation, and interpersonal skills, along with emotional intelligence, cultural competency, unconscious bias, and dealing with emotionally disturbed people. Better communication builds public trust, which minimizes use of force” (emphasis in original) (O’Connor, B., 2015). Additionally, the Police Executive Research Forum (2016) recently proposed de-escalation training for law enforcement officers and dispatch personnel as part of its ‘Guiding Principles on Use of Force’ (widely referred to ‘PERF30’), noting “to effectively carry out the agency’s de-escalation strategies, all officers should receive rigorous and ongoing training on communication skills,” and that “effective communication is enough to resolve many situations.”

While it is a market certainty that newly established or recently pivoted private contractors will attempt to position themselves as law enforcements’ preferred communication and de-escalation training providers, MOCJ’s current service providers, most notably NYPI, already have the community and institutional legitimacies, historic performance, staff expertise, and proven training quality to effectively embed these skills into local forces. Additionally, by utilizing existing service providers for these training services, local law enforcement achieves an unbroken synergy connecting their front-line de-escalation skills with back-end resolution referral services that would be unavailable from alternative training contractors. For this reason, this evaluation recommends widening NYPD’s existing training pilot with NYPI to begin incorporating its communication and de-escalatory skills trainings forcewide.

204. A rather ironic example is citizens’ fear of crime. On this measure, reductions in the fear of crime achieved through local criminal activity abatement can, in some instances, be almost entirely negated through a concomitant increase in fear from cautionary signals encoded in the enhanced police presence deployed to reduce crime (Hinkle, J.C., Weisburd, D., 2008). Through their capacity to engender the annexated endearment of law enforcement, an active, productive relationship with conflict-assistive service providers can work to help minimize this negation and sustain the intended gains.

205. NYPD Commissioners have made community engagement and community-level conflict resolution pillars of their policing philosophies for several decades from Commissioners Lee P. Brown (1990-1992) and Ray Kelly’s (1992-1994 and 2002-2014) Community Policing initiative, to Commissioner William J. Bratton’s (1994-1996 and 2014-2016) Broken Windows approach, to newly incoming Commissioner James P. O’Neill’s endorsement of Neighborhood Policing. The effectiveness of each of these, however, has been hamstrung by their failure to substantively engage community dispute resolution and aligned organizations to help operationalize these philosophies within the communities they intended to serve. For example, an analysis of NYPD’s transformation to Community Policing was “hampered by a lack of follow-up training that would help teach officers to solve persistent neighborhood crime problems, rather than simply respond to emergencies” (Wolff, C., 1993). Similarly, Neighborhood Policing is intended to “push decision making and problem solving down to the ground level” (Goodman, D., 2015), but currently lacks meaningful relationships with the civilian service providers whose central purpose is to achieve that very goal. Establishing these partnerships will be of continued importance as NYPD continues its rollout of the Neighborhood-based Policing Model, implementation of which is projected for half of the NYPD precincts and all public housing public service areas by the conclusion of this evaluation (Byrne, L., et al, 2016).

206. New York City Police Department. (2014).

207. The New York Peace Institute is currently offering a limited number of four-day trainings for NYPD Neighborhood Coordinating Officers designed exclusively to enhance those officers’ public engagement and dispute resolution skills. Trainings such as these not only help to moderate the volatility of select encounters, they also enhance routine police-citizen interactions, which when reported by citizens as negative, are thus reported 84% of the time because of negative verbal experiences (Stoudt, B.G., Fine, M., Fox, M., 2011). As outlined in the evaluation policy recommendations, expanded provision of these and similar trainings to the broader NYPD force would significantly help improve police community relations and prevent conflicts from escalating into criminal incidents.

208. Public reliance upon law enforcement officers to de-escalate personal conflicts is a significant function of police services. In a September 2015 nationwide survey of 1,514 respondents, 15% indicated that for personal conflicts intense enough to benefit from utilizing a third-party to de-escalate or resolve the issue, law enforcement personnel are the preferred interveners. This outlet was chosen more frequently than colleagues or religious leaders (13%, each) and only slightly less frequently than attorneys (16%) (Advancing Dispute Resolution, 2015).

209. For a single year of analysis, a total of 502,604 requests for and responses of NYPD service were made for call categories that represent a high probability of mediation appropriateness. This includes the 911 Non- Crime in Progress call categories of “Dispute” (243,222) and “Disorderly Person/Group/Noise (56,233), and 311 call categories of Animal Abuse (9,250, 31.1% of which were repeat calls to the same address for the same call category), Blocked Driveway (77,632, 44.2% repeat address/category), Disorderly Youth (245, 40.0% repeat address/category), and Noise [House of Worship; Residential] (205,175, 72.4% repeat address/category). The 911 call volumes were reported from 06/22/2015 to 06/20/2016. The 311 call volumes reported were from 07/01/2015 to 06/30/2016 and include only those where an NYPD officer was dispatched but where no arrest was made or summons issued. Indeed in the vast majority of the 311 responses, officers were unable to gain access to the property or otherwise observe the reported offense. From the callers’ – and possibly subjects’ – perspectives, this represents a further escalation to complicate future interactions. 911 call data: NYC Analytics (2016). 311 call data: NYC OpenData (2016).

210. A thoroughly integrated conflict-assistive intervention referral system targeting repeat requests for NYPD service in only five ADR-optimized 311 call categories would contribute the equivalent of up to 400 additional full-time patrol officers in annual response time savings. This analysis is based on a conservative application of Charkoudian’s 2005 finding that repeat calls for police service that were referral to mediation produced 0.332 fewer weekly calls for service. Law enforcement officers spend an average of 45 minutes responding to each service request for a non-crime-in-progress dispute (This includes an average of 25.41 minutes of officer travel time from initial dispatch to unit arriving on scene [NYC Analytics, 2016], and an additional 20 minutes on scene engaged in identifying and resolving the presenting dispute [Famega, C.N., Frank, J., Mazerolle, L., 2005]). Using an annual full-time officer equivalence of 8 hour and 35 minute shifts performed five days per week for 50 weeks, a conservative estimate presuming 100% of officers’ time was spent responding to calls would indicate the equivalent of 76 additional full-time officers could be saved through referral partnerships with service providers. A more practical estimate of 400 additional full-time officer equivalent time savings uses the rate of officers’ official assigned time per shift, which has been observed at 19% (Famega, C.N., Frank, J., Mazerolle, L. 2005). In practice, these savings could be achieved through a robust referral system, specialized mediation and conflict engagement skills training for existing officers, or some combination of both.

211. Those who participate in mediation as part of a criminal justice system referral are likely to decrease their use of court and law enforcement services after mediation compared to those whose cases were not mediated (Charkoudian, L., 2010).