Brittney Ochira, Outreach Manager, National Conflict Resolution Center
When law enforcement officers and community members interact, both can sometimes subconsciously bring into that exchange past experiences and preconceptions about the other, for better or worse. Since 2017, the National Conflict Resolution Center has led an initiative supporting the Live Well San Diego vision, to bring law enforcement officers and community members together to have dialogues about their experiences and to learn about the real people behind the labels or uniforms they see.
On June 14, 2019, more than 60 North County residents and staff from the Vista Community Clinic met with 11 deputies and staff from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department at the North Inland Live Well Center to talk about the issues they see in their communities and find the common ground needed to strengthen relationships. One of the themes that emerged from the meeting was how easy it was for residents to think of the expectations they have for law enforcement, but that officers also have expectations for residents that often go unstated. By bringing these expectations to the surface, the participants had a genuine dialogue about not just the services the community receives, but also about how everyone can be part of building a cohesive community.
“It was a great opportunity to come out and talk with people and just hear different perspectives, but also be able to talk about what we deal with and our perspective, and for everybody to have an open dialogue and learn from one another,” shared Adam Hipschen from the San Marcos Unit of the Sheriff’s Department.
Participants discussed how they usually interact with each other on a surface level, often about complaints. They practiced the skill of listening to the complaints of the parties in a conflict and hearing the underlying needs. By tuning in to the deeper needs that all humans share, they are able to move past arguments and toward resolution.
The participants walked away with tools to improve relationships, not just between the residents and law enforcement officers who attended, but also when interacting with other representatives from the Sheriff’s Department or with the community members who use Vista Community Clinic’s services. Many shared that they also planned to use the skills they learned in interactions with their friends, family, and in their work.