Retired King County Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll has a new proposal for improving community-police relations.

In his latest audit, Carroll--who annually audits citizen complaints against the department--noted what most people already know. There's a "growing gap" in police-community relations, especially the relations between the department and the city's minority communities. However, Carroll offered some new insight. Part of the problem, he said in his latest report, is that the police take too long to investigate complaints. As a result, citizens don't feel like they're taken very seriously. In their coverage of Carroll's audit, the daily papers virtually ignored the judge's recommended solution: mediation. "[Mediation] is intended as a practical way to help break through this logjam of suspicion and mistrust that seems to permeate the relationship between the police and parts of the community," wrote Carroll, who co-owns a local mediation program called Judicial Dispute Resolution.

Apparently, Carroll's idea has caught on. Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske told The Stranger that he plans to have some form of mediation in place in the department "before the end of the year." He wouldn't say, however, what that program would look like.

"I think mediation can be helpful," Kerlikowske says. What's more, Kerlikowske claims that the biggest hurdle to getting mediation implemented may already be overcome. The chief says he's discussed the idea with Mike Edwards, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Edwards is for the idea "in some cases," Kerlikowske says. (Edwards refused to return The Stranger's calls.)

Police-citizen mediation works pretty much like any other form of mediation. A disgruntled citizen and the accused officer sit down together in a room with an independent mediator and they work out their differences. The citizen either comes to a better understanding of why police officers acted in a certain way, or the citizen gets an apology from the officer.

Cop/citizen mediation isn't a widely used phenomenon, but it does have strong advocates. Sue Quinn has five years' experience on a citizen police-review board in San Diego County in California and now heads the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Quinn says that mediation is beneficial because a lot of citizen complaints have to do with minor issues, such as situations where the officer acted rudely or arrogantly, or times when the citizen thought he or she was unfairly cited or ticketed. "A lot of people aren't looking for money," Quinn says. "A lot of people just want to understand what happened to them." No one--including Quinn, Carroll, or Kerlikowske--thinks that mediation should be used for serious complaints like excessive force. (Carroll notes in his report that excessive force complaints are up 16 percent from 1999 to 2000, and he stresses that better police recruit selection, training, and oversight are keys to addressing those problems.)

Quinn named the cities that have good forms of police-citizen mediation: Rochester, New York; San Diego, California; and Knoxville, Tennessee. Minneapolis has had a mediation program for 10 years now. Pat Hughes, the executive director of the Minneapolis Citizen Police Review Authority, cited that city's police department's impressive mediation stats. A total of 108 cases went to mediation. Of those, 83 were concluded successfully there. The remaining 25 cases were sent back to the citizen police-review board for an investigation--and of those, five were found to have probable cause, with the officer disciplined. The rest were ultimately dismissed without any disciplinary action.

Both Hughes and Quinn say the mediation process produces faster results than a typical internal investigation. Hughes says she's very selective about what she sends to mediation. "If there's going to be a lawsuit [by the citizen] or even an inkling of a lawsuit, then we won't send it to mediation," she says.

Whatever the solution, however, Carroll says the city needs to do something to address the issue. Bad community relations, he writes in his report, "cannot continue to fester." If they do, "we will see more incidents of conflict between the police and citizens, or worse yet, a reluctance on the part of police to respond [to complaints] aggressively."