GVSU Police Academy cadets receive mediation, conflict resolution training

A unique partnership between the Grand Valley State University Police Academy and the nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan is providing cadets with additional training beyond the state requirements in effective communication skills with the public. 

With law enforcement agencies receiving scrutiny for their use of force, sometimes with tragic consequences, the GVSU Police Academy is training its cadets with skills in mediation and conflict resolution to diffuse situations, said Williamson Wallace, director of Criminal Justice Training.

“When you look at the majority of what the officer does, it’s going out there trying to diffuse things and give people resources,” said Wallace, a former law enforcement officer. “If they’re unable to communicate effectively in these situations, then sometimes the situations tend to escalate. 

“We want to give the cadets all the tools necessary so they can properly handle situations so they’re not put in a position where they have to use force.”

Police Academy cadets sitting in classroom
Cadets in Grand Valley's Police Academy listen to an instructor during class time. The Police Academy and the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan have partnered to build a training program in mediation and restorative practices.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Jennifer Marson-Reed, assistant professor in the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, said the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards requires police academies to provide eight hours of training in interpersonal communications. 

The Grand Valley program provides 40 hours — 30 in the classroom and 10 online.

The Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan developed the curriculum, applying its experience with conflict resolution in legal situations and molding curriculum suited to law enforcement, said Marson-Reed.

“What the Dispute Resolution Center has done is entirely unique,” she said. “They’ve created a hybrid model and tailored the training to specific situations that law enforcement will see.”

Based on his research, Wallace said the GVSU Police Academy is the only one in the nation with this level and coursework of training, addressing mediation and restorative practices.

“You’re dealing with humans, and you need to understand what motivates people, how to effectively communicate with individuals, and understand human nature,” said Wallace. 

“In my experience, nine times out of 10, people just want to be heard. If we can resolve this situation, in the long term, we’re not coming back, and there’s not going to be a repeat 911 call.”

Marson-Reed said she hopes the skills cadets are receiving can influence other police academies and law enforcement agencies to implement the training.

“My hope is that 10 years from now this type of training is being added to every police academy in the country to help repair fractured relationships between law enforcement and the community,” said Marson-Reed. 

Learn more about the GVSU Police Academy online at gvsu.edu/academy.


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