By Bob Uphues
On the heels of its partnership, announced in August, with Youth Outreach Services to provide round-the-clock juvenile intervention services, the Riverside Police Department will begin utilizing the Center for Conflict Resolution to help divert juveniles from the court system by providing mediation for situations both criminal and non-criminal in nature.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel and Sgt. John Cairo, the department's juvenile officer, rolled out the proposal at the Oct. 17 meeting of the village board. According to Weitzel, it was Cairo and Lt. Frank Lara who proposed utilizing the Center for Conflict Resolution.
"This is the second initiative where officers themselves did the research and brought it to me," said Weitzel, referencing the recent partnership with Youth Outreach Services. "I'm really proud they've gone out there looking for alternatives."
A nonprofit created 40 years ago by the Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association, the Center for Conflict Resolution utilizes 180 volunteers to help resolve disputes that don't involve crimes where weapons are involved or where orders of protection are in place.
In the last five years, according to its website, the center has mediated more than 10,000 cases. Riverside police became aware of the center's services during a presentation the organization gave at a meeting of the Juvenile Officers Association of Cook County.
While the Center for Conflict Resolution mediates disputes involving all manner of people and cases – from tenant-landlord disagreements to co-parenting disputes -- in Riverside its services will be used to address disputes involving juveniles only, at least for now, said Weitzel.
And while the center could be called upon to provide mediators in criminal cases like trespassing, vandalism, vehicle break-ins, theft, harassment and others, keeping juveniles outside of the juvenile justice system, the center can also be utilized to help mediate non-criminal situations.
The mediations do not have to involve police, although they can if both sides wish it, and no one is forced to seek mediation.
"We can just be the bridge to make that connection, or police can be involved along the way," Weitzel said.
Rae Kyritsi, programs director for the Center for Conflict Resolution, said the organization in 1992 created its victim-offender mediation program, a form of restorative justice.
"It's an opportunity for victims and offenders to sit down and have a conversation that's focused and productive about whatever has happened," Kyritsi said. "It's a chance to repair harm and have open dialogue."
The mediation can not only help victims, but also perpetrators, said Kyritsi.
"We also know that perpetrators are often victims," she said. "Mediation is an opportunity for offenders or accused offenders to talk about their experience, to see the impact of what's happened, acknowledge the consequences of their actions and, where appropriate, take steps toward repairing that harm."
Mediators are not counselors and do not provide advice or make assessments, Kyritsi said. They are there to help those involved come to creative resolutions themselves. That includes instances where the issues may benefit from intra-family mediation.
One such example, said Weitzel, could be where a child simply refuses to go to school. In some instances, said Weitzel, parents who can't solve the problem call police, seeking them to force the child to go.
Weitzel said while police often can convince a child to go to school, "We haven't had that avenue to get to the real root of the problem or dig deeper into the causes."
The Center for Conflict Resolution's victim-offender mediation service in 2012 spawned an offshoot program focusing on family mediation.
"Sometimes families come to mediation and they name what they think would help them move forward … and then we work with them to try to pair them with resources that would be effective for them," Kyritsi said.
In that way, the Center for Conflict Resolution can be seen a complement to the services provided to Riverside police by Youth Outreach Services. The Center for Conflict Resolution also differs from Youth Outreach Services in that the latter agency is available at any time to step in to provide emergency services – from temporary housing to mental health and counseling services.
Youth Outreach Services is there not so much to mediate disputes but put families within quick reach of social and mental health services that police aren't equipped to provide. One of those services could be mediation.
The police department has already used Youth Outreach Services to step in to help solve situations, including one where parents reported their child missing but, when found, refused to take the child back into the house.
Police were able to contact Youth Outreach Services that night and set up a meeting between the family and the organization.
"We're seeing many more calls for service where younger kids are dealing with depression, bullying and mental healthcare issues, and we're being asked to deal with it," said Weitzel. "They have the resources we don't have."
Anyone with questions about the Center for Conflict Resolution or to get a referral, contact Sgt. John Cairo at 708-447-2127, ext. 262 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on the Center for Conflict Resolution can be found at ccrchicago.org.