HDR Thesis Presentation: Mary Riley - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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HDR Thesis Presentation: Mary Riley

We would like to invite you to attend the Thesis Presentation of Mary Riley, a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in the School of Law and Criminology.

Thesis Title: Alternative Dispute Resolution and Mediation of Complaints Against Police: A Case Study Analysis

When: Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 1pm - 2pm

Where: Via Zoom (Meeting ID: 992 8884 3903) 

The police perform an invaluable service to the community through the maintenance of law, order and peace which positively impacts community safety. However, at times, the tactics used by some police in the exercise of their duties is criticised by the public. Heavy-handed practices in apprehending offenders, alleged racism and unfair practices, deaths in custody, bribery, illegal searches and victim neglect, are just some of the events that have resulted in complaints against the police around the world.iven the high volume of daily interactions between police and members of their communities it is not surprising that disputes occur and that these can result in large numbers of complaints, including those involving customer service issues or allegations of minor misconduct. In many jurisdictions police conduct is overseen by internal integrity units, external oversight agencies and ombudsmen departments which detect, address and attempt to prevent police misconduct. The existing mechanisms for dealing with complaints in most countries involve internal management and investigation with little involvement by complainants. Civilian complaints against the police are frequently investigated and adjudicated by the police themselves, leaving issues of police accountability and procedural fairness unresolved. The limited use of independent authorities and the deficiencies and apparent bias that exist in internal complaints investigation processes has engendered widespread community dissatisfaction and diminished public confidence in the police. This sentiment is reflected in the consistently high levels of complaints against the police in many jurisdictions and indicates that existing resolution strategies are failing. Even where complaints are independently investigated the process is often overly legalistic and adversarial and results in low levels of substantiation and low levels of participant satisfaction. Outcomes include reduced public trust in police and reduced cooperation from the community, which impedes the effectiveness of police work (Goldsmith, 1990).

Internationally, some jurisdictions have embraced alternative dispute resolution, including mediation underpinned by restorative justice principles, as a viable option to handling police complaints. Civilian-led complaints mediation programs, with varying degrees of independence, have successfully been implemented in several jurisdictions in the United States of America, England and Northern Ireland. The conciliatory, reparatory and expeditious resolution of disputes achieved from mediation, has resulted in positive feedback from both police and civilians, as evidenced in the extant literature. In Australia and New Zealand, alternative dispute resolution processes, including local managerial resolution and informal resolution are used to resolve selected civilian complaints against the police, but very little exists in the way of mediation.

As such, this thesis examined the institutional processes and policies around the implementation of civilian-led mediation programs to find out why some jurisdictions have adopted the strategy and others have not. A qualitative case study analysis was chosen as the appropriate method of data collection. Therefore, the structure of the research was a two-phase approach involving qualitative document analyses and case study analyses using semi-structured interviews. A purposive approach to case sampling was undertaken, as the chosen sites of Denver, Los Angeles and New York City were known to be conducting civilian-police mediation programs and were deemed to be impressive exemplars. The Thames Valley, England was also chosen as it had a long history of mediation trials and the incorporation of restorative justice principles into all aspects of policing. Queensland was used as a comparative site given its reliance on police-led conciliation and reluctance to implement mediation, despite a successful trial.

The findings revealed that mediation provides complainants with a valuable face-to-face meeting with the subject police officer to resolve their complaints. It directly addresses their need to be heard, discuss sensitive issues in a safe environment, understand why the officer acted the way they did and, at times, receive an apology. Similarly, police officers often appreciate the opportunity to hear how their actions have affected the complainant and, where appropriate, change their behaviour so it is not repeated. The literature posits that people respond well to being treated with respect and fairness. Mediation fulfils this legitimate need and can positively impact the civilian-police relationship by building trust and confidence in the police and its complaints system. However, despite the positive results relating to mediation as a process, it was also found that the path to mediation can be obstructed by complainants and police officers’ misunderstandings of its purpose; perceived unfairness of treatment should they participate; and doubt over the independence and skills of the mediator; as well as a lack of top down support within the police service. The identification of the strengths and limitations of mediation across jurisdictions has led to a best practice model for the resolution of civilian complaints against the police, which could be implemented in Australia and elsewhere. The best practice model includes the option of external mediation facilitated by an agency completely independent of police, that employs restorative justice principles, including respect and open dialogue for the resolution of all types of complaints (subject to vetting). The addition of choice would satisfy complainants’ needs to be heard and contribute to better policing through improved transparency and accountability. As such, the study contributes to the small but growing body of research on mediation of police complaints through the assessment of what works, for whom and why.

Bio: Mary Riley is a Lecturer in the School of Law and Criminology, at USC Australia, Sippy Downs. Mary joined USC in 2012 after working in managerial positions in the banking and health industries and para-legal positions in NSW and Queensland law firms throughout her life. Mary is a graduate of USC and received a Master of Criminology and Criminal Justice with Class 1 Honours from Griffith University. Mary’s area of interest and research is restorative justice. She is undertaking a PhD looking specifically at the benefits of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution processes for managing complaints against police in Australia. Mary has previously published research on alternative dispute resolution, restorative justice, and in the field of offender rehabilitation. She has developed and taught courses in restorative justice and mediation, punishment and corrections, justice and the Australian legal system, youth justice, understanding crime and homicide.

Mary became interested in restorative justice during her Master’s thesis which examined the importance of restorative language by facilitators in youth justice conferencing in Queensland. She recognised the value of independently mediated restorative dialogue in understanding perspectives and repairing relationships. Mary was interested in the application of independent mediation to other instances of conflict, including civilian complaints against police. She conducted an initial scoping exercise into current police complaints management practices in Australia which revealed an internal process of investigation and resolution with very limited use of mediation. Further exploration led her to identify: increasing levels of complainant dissatisfaction with this process which denies them a voice; and international evidence of successfully implemented alternative police complaints management strategies such as civilian-led mediation programs. Based on these programs, Mary aims to develop a best practice model of police complaints management, that includes restorative justice principled mediation, for implementation in Australia.

We look forward to seeing you there!

School of Law and Criminology (law@usc.edu.au