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Kettering’s Conflict Management Program Promotes Tolerance and Respect for Diversity


The City of Kettering covers an area of approximately 18.4 miles and has a population of 61,000. The police department has 106 employees and is accredited by CALEA (since 1987) and the ACA.

Community oriented policing is the mainstay of business within the police department. All programs are geared toward community involvement, interaction and accountability. Working with the community, the police department has been instrumental in starting and participating in programs that address the needs of cultural diversity and tolerance by everyone. All police employees receive training in diversity and understand the special needs of particular groups. Involvement of the community in problem-solving has been the key to success in promoting these programs.

The Conflict Management Program is a joint effort with the police department and the school system to provide peer counseling and crisis prevention/intervention. These components facilitate juveniles in acting responsibly in solving conflicts and problems they encounter within their own peer groups.

Students are selected to participate in this program and become “counselors” based on recommendations by peers and school/police officials. The student must be willing to listen to problems, possess leadership qualities and maintain confidentiality. By utilizing students, kids are more apt to express their feelings and concerns. The comfort levels in this program are greatly increased by having a peer rather than an authority figure.

The group of counselors represents a cross section of the student population. Children from all social and economic levels participate both as counselors and clients in this program. A decrease in discipline within the school system and contact with the juvenile court system has been a result of this program.

While peer counseling and mediation may not be the only reasons for these decreases, the positive feedback from the students, schools and parents indicates that it is making a significant difference. Students stated they have been able to overcome their own angers and fears and are better at channeling their hostile emotions and negative feelings by talking to peers rather than authority figures.

Peer counselors are available any time during the normal school day. Counselors rotate on a daily basis so that the counseling is evenly distributed. If a special request is made for a particular counselor, arrangements are made to accommodate the client. All counselors use this experience as a learning tool and recognize it as a privilege and honor to be able to serve their peer group. The program is continually evaluated to ensure its ethical integrity.

Another aspect of this program has been the implementation of crisis prevention for teachers. The program is designed to de-escalate potentially harmful situations and redirect them toward a resolution. The police department is instrumental in training counselors and teachers in the use of verbal skills to lesson the likelihood of violence. We have found that many times sharp verbal skills will have a more positive effect than physical confrontation. This brings about compliance with respect and dignity to all. An important part of this program is that it removes the stereotyping of groups and fosters respect among all involved.

The police department has taken steps to start teaching conflict management and resolution at the pre-school and elementary levels. This is accomplished through the use of a specially trained yellow Labrador named Samantha. The dog has been trained to respond to positive commands and attitudes. Interaction between the officer, the dog and the students teaches students that positive communication and attitude are instrumental in achieving common ground. Because the dog lacks any prejudice, it is easy to demonstrate a bias-free situation.

GETTING THE PROGRAM STARTED

The Conflict Management Program was established in the early 1990s. Since 1995, the police department has taken a more proactive approach based on results that other agencies had reported. By using peer counseling groups and crisis prevention lessons in the schools, we are able to better educate our youth toward tolerance at an earlier age. Working with teachers and counselors has an enormous influence on the lives of the children and the community as a whole.

Recognizing that the children are the future, we saw the importance of helping them develop a strong foundation of socialization. Utilizing conflict management, peer counseling, the safety dog (Samantha) and positive police interaction, we are able to impact the attitudes and feelings of the community. We strive to show that tolerance and diversity go hand-in-hand. Removing the barriers of race, religion and socio-economic status are easier done at earlier ages.

The goal of the police department is to better educate the community and promote a healthier environment. Diminishing the anti-attitudes at an early age is the key to our success. Kids can easily see that success begins with a positive and tolerant attitude and that all people are created equal. Developing such skills and instilling these beliefs will provide these children with the necessary abilities to be future peer counselors.

MEASURING PROGRAM EFFECTIVENESS

In 1995, our objective was to provide good communication skills to students in an effort to reduce juvenile arrest rates by 10 percent. We have met this objective and juvenile arrests have dropped 19 percent from 1995 through November of 1998.

The relationship between the police department and the schools is stronger. The strength in our relationship resulted in the schools providing offices for the police department and unlimited time for counseling. The children are comfortable seeing police officers in the school and often voice their concerns regarding personal issues with which they are struggling. Peer counselors know that they can always come to the police for advice.

Community involvement has grown since the inception of these school programs. The community has been instrumental in sponsoring drives for better equipment, holding events to recognize citizen accomplishments, helping the unemployed in the job search and establishing police/citizen committees to target specific problems related to their neighborhoods. Police/school interaction has sparked interest in community-wide projects. This program has proven to facilitate the partnership we had hoped to achieve.

PROGRAM FINANCING

Financing of this program is handled through the police budget. The normal duties of the school liaison officers include coordinating this program with the schools and other police officers. Scheduling time and work space within the schools is handled on an informal basis and benefits all parties involved. The police department has dedicated three full-time officers and two detectives part-time to provide the necessary support to the schools. Nothing in this program requires special funding or needs for federal grants. The school safety dog (Samantha) is part of the ongoing K-9 program of the police department.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN THE PROGRAM

The community has responded favorably to these programs. Students and parents involved in these programs have recognized a positive change in the attitudes and behaviors of participants. Everyone understands that a peer group does not take the place of parents, schools or police. It is understood that this is another means to solving the complex, everyday problems of growing up.

By keeping programs simple, people are able to grasp the idea of the program easier. Family interest grows as children become involved in this type of project. The police department sees that when the children understand and learn about this program, the parents become interested. While the program was initially started in the schools, it has spread to the neighborhoods and apartment complexes.

A community breakfast at one of the schools brought participants together in a relaxed setting and helped erased personal biases. Influential representatives from the fire department, police department, schools, local government and civic organizations promote this; and by attending events such as recognition breakfasts, strengthen relationships within the community.

MAJOR LESSONS LEARNED

The police department has learned from this program that peer counseling and youth programs results in more community involvement. The success of peer counseling groups at the schools has been instrumental in lowering juvenile arrests, benefiting the community and building strong relationships. The children have been able to rechannel energy into positive, productive methods of resolution.

By having juveniles participate, they understand the importance of controlling their actions and eliminating the repercussions that would occur otherwise. The support of the community for both cops and kids has been overwhelming and a crucial part of the program’s success.

SPECIFIC ADVICE FOR MAYORS

If a police department is capable of having a section dedicated specifically to community relations and schools, this program can be easily replicated. It would be a valuable tool to establish a working relationship with the schools and obtain cooperation when putting on programs.

Promoting the efficacy of such a program to schools and the community involves describing the program and its benefits. Each group is targeted based on their specific needs. For example, school children are more apt to learn if there is an element of fun in learning. This is evident by use of the safety dog and having officers available even when there are no police problems. Once children become involved, the interest spreads to adults and families on how they can assist and participate in these programs.

CONTACT PERSON:

  • Ptl. Larry Warren
    Community Relations Officer
    Kettering Police Department
    3600 Shroyer Road
    Kettering, OH 45429
    Telephone: (937) 296-3250

  • Ptl. Jeff Perkins
    Community Relations Officer
    Kettering Police Department
    3600 Shroyer Road
    Kettering, OH 45429
    Telephone: (937) 296-2458

This article is part of The U.S. Mayors’ Institute for Community Policing, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). For more information about the program, contact Kathy Amoroso on the Conference staff at 202/861-6723.


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