An Invitation to Belonging
Conversation with Mike Butler ~ August 6, 2019
About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building social innovators as their guests. For their August 6, 2019 dialog Longmont, Colorado, Public Safety Chief Mike Butler joined them to talk about how he and his departments and more than 2,000 volunteers have used restorative thinking and practices to invite widespread community engagement.
Longmont, Colorado, Public Safety Chief Mike Butler developed one of the leading restorative justice programs in the country and turned the city’s fire houses into community health centers, where 6,000+ citizens have benefited from his approach to serve the community and not enter the criminal justice system. Under his leadership the fire and police departments pioneered the Edge Program, which pairs mental health professionals with police officers to reduce ER visits and jail time, and the Angel Program, which prevents overdoses by providing opioid blocking medication and helps people struggling with addiction find treatment. Every Sunday, Mike and his volunteer team walk local at-risk neighborhoods to promote safety, link residents with resources and invite community engagement.
John and Peter talk with Longmont, Colorado, Public Safety Chief Mike Butler about how the citizens of Longmont have changed the definition of justice from “an eye for an eye” to one of sustained accountability, where the community’s power and capacity to deal with offenders has been restored and victims walk away saying, “I feel much more whole.”
Peter Block: … This conversation means a lot. Years and years ago, I heard of a guy named John McKnight. This AT&T executive started giving me his pamphlets, and I became a follower of John. And then I get this strange call, and I always like strange calls, from the police chief in Longmont, Colorado. He said, “We’re having a community building day on Saturday, would you mind joining us?” And I said, “No, that’s great,” and so I go there, and he said, “We’re holding it in a church.” And I remember getting lost, because the church looked like an office building, so that was the precursor of the mega church.
And I go in there, and about to give my little talk, and who’s sitting in the back of the room but John McKnight? And that became probably a 25-year friendship, partnership, authorship, being together. And Mike, your consciousness as a police chief created that possibility for all of us, and I’m just so happy to have you around, and you’re still on the job. That’s interesting in itself. I don’t know how long you’ve been a police chief, but it’s got to be what, 20 some years? Anyway, Mike, thank you so much for coming.
Mike Butler: You’re welcome, and thank you.
Peter: There’s so many things to talk about, but as we were chatting, you talked about how connected you are to neighborhoods, and your job as a police chief is to shift people’s thinking about communities, to thinking about each other. Could you just talk about what still you find so compelling about the work that you do, and from the position of an officer of the law?
Mike: We see our role as much bigger than just law enforcers. As I said before, oftentimes, police departments are kind of seen as a necessary evil in communities, when in fact they can serve as a force for social good, and can make a lot of great things happen in communities. So, we’ve headed down that road. In fact, I just had a conversation with my staff about new ideas and perspectives that we might have in order to enlarge that role. So, we do have the role of enforcement, there’s no question about that.
But we also take our jobs and our profession here, our police and fire, in terms of saying, “What can we do to engage our community more?” We actually get to the point of making invitations to our community, and can hand off people who say yes to those invitations to a group in our community called Helping Hands. That’s 2,000 strong now that have joined a volunteer group. That says, “If you need us, call us, and we’re ready to do anything for you.” So, we keep on enlarging that group over time.
Police officers and firefighters also walk neighborhoods, and are making these invitations. It started with a good friend of mine, Dan Benavidez and I, back in July of ’14, walking neighborhoods. Walking neighborhoods to encourage people to feel and believe they belong to our community. And with every one of those conversations, we make an invitation to people to become more engaged, or ask what their interest is. So, believing that those folks need to be part of how we identify the problem, how we identify the solution, and certainly their sense of accountability and their willingness to take action to move forward with that.
So, we do a lot of that, but internally we also do things. We’ve done quite a bit of restoring justice. It’s a community-based process in which community members are actually running these processes themselves. Instead of arresting or summonsing people, we refer people that … Over the years, we have referred over 6,000 people that we might call offenders to this restorative process. For every one of those cases, there’s a victim, and for every one of those cases, there’s people in the community that represent the community as well. Literally thousands of people in this community of 100,000 have become engaged in restorative practices, and apply restorative principles to typically what would be referred to the criminal justice system, where the punitive force of retribution is in play.
So, we have turned a corner, not only in changing our culture here within police, but changing our community’s culture in terms of how we define justice, and no longer seen as a pound of flesh or an ounce, or an eye for an eye. But seeing it in a much bigger way in terms of where people choose accountability, where relationships are important, where respect, reintegration are important to move forward, to sustain kinds of solutions where people don’t recommit, don’t recidivate. Where victims become a centerpiece to the conversation, and where healing really does take place. Whether it’s the person who has committed the harm, or the person that’s been harmed.
“We have turned a corner … changing our community’s culture in terms of how we define justice no longer as a pound of flesh or an eye for an eye. But seeing it in a much bigger way in terms of where people choose accountability, where relationships are important.”
Peter: What’s your take on the heroin and addiction epidemic in this culture? I’m interested in how you see it, and then you can get specific about what you do about it.
Mike: So, these are symptoms of something much deeper inside people who are struggling with … Whether it’s opiates, whether it’s heroin, whether it’s methamphetamine, even alcohol, addiction with chemical substance can ruin lives, and so what’s behind all of that is where we go. Whether it’s people that’ve been traumatized, they often live in isolation, they often live disconnected. About two years ago, we implemented a program we call the Angel Initiative in which anyone suffering with a chemical substance addiction can walk through our front door and say, “I’m addicted.” They can bring their drugs, they can bring their paraphernalia, and we’ll just destroy that stuff.
And for everybody that has walked through our front doors, we have found treatment. We have agreements with over 100 addiction treatment service providers who provide free treatment to people who have walked through our front doors. Today, we’ve leveraged probably close to $3 million in treatment that people would not necessarily have. People who have insurance or the financial wherewithal can find that, but there’s a lot of folks, including folks who are struggling with homelessness who are also struggling with addiction, can’t find that.
So, we’re now a community in which everyone in our community has access to treatment. Not only that, but we’ve enlisted our community to help out as kind of pseudo sponsors. They take people back and forth from treatment. We have found businesses who are willing to employ people who are in recovery, and we work with apartment complexes and other affordable housing institutions, and we asked them to provide beds for people who don’t have housing. They’re struggling with addiction and/or their mental health to kind of move over into that arena a little bit.
So, we don’t just have a program that’s internal to this, we have a program in which we have invited and made a place for the community to engage in a much bigger way. And frankly, what I’ve learned over time, especially through these walks, Peter and John, is that people have gifts. They just don’t know how to offer them … And they want to. And so you have to go into this thinking that the goodness of your community can play out, and play out in very specific ways, and I think it’s up to us some level in government to create those mechanisms and structures where that space is created for people to really engage, and to bring who they are into this mix as we work with people. So, it’s not just a government program, it’s not just a treatment program. It’s a program in which people in our community are embracing others.
“People have gifts. They just don’t know how to offer them … And they want to. And so you have to go into this thinking that the goodness of your community can play out, and play out in very specific ways.”
Peter: Now, people go into law enforcement and firefighting probably for reasons other than the way you’re describing the roles. So, I’m interested in how you manage to utilize the fire station, which is … The churches and libraries, one of the most localized, centralized, in something more than waiting for a fire.
Mike: Well, we do that. In fact, they’re part of walking neighborhoods with us. They get out into the community. There’s time, often, between calls for service, not just fires. They don’t just respond to fires. Vast majority of America’s fire service, if not everybody … 70% of the work is involved with medical calls. So, they’re also engaged with this effort as well to deal with addiction, mental health…
Peter: When you hire them, do they know what they’re getting in to?
Mike: Yes, they do. In fact, we’ve changed profiles of those we hire so people are more relationship oriented in their perspective. We don’t want to hire lone cowboys, or people who want to not work as a team. We hire people that are predisposed to want to become more engaged in relationships, and feel comfortable doing that, not just the traditional work that police and fire have typically done.
John McKnight: Under all of this, Mike, I’m wondering … Because people will still, I think, measure police departments by an indicator called crime. How does all of this, in an accumulated sense, affect the traditional crime statistics? Do you see any relationship?
Mike: Yeah, we do. And when you consider a town of 100,000, and you look at 6,000 plus cases that have been referred to restorative justice, the recidivism rates have less than 10% versus the criminal justice system, which is 50% to 70%.
When you start doing that kind of math, you start seeing crime go down. So, at one point, we had almost 5,000 part one crimes in our community. We’ve gone down below 3,000, and we attribute a lot of this to lack of recidivism on the part of people who had been in the system, or people who now don’t even go into the system. And their recidivism rates are less than 10%.
The other part of this, sometimes when we’ve arrested people for possession of narcotics, or for something related to their addiction, we now have a program in which we work through a harm reduction model called LEAD, in which we give people opportunities to go another path. So not only with people committed crimes, they’re struggling with addiction and/or their mental health. These people, I mean, I can repeat numbers of people that we’ve encountered who we’ve gone on thousands of calls for service that we don’t go on anymore. So that’s just one indicator.
And of course, they’re not committing crimes. They’re not utilizing public safety or government resources as much, they’re not impacting emergency departments. And we get a community that literally … I mean, I don’t know if we have enough time, but it’s amazing to see what our community has done in terms of seeing addiction differently, seeing mental health differently, seeing people not being as people, and seeing their role, and seeing what they can actually individually do to help.
And I lined this at some level with tragedies that’ve occurred in our country … When I talk to high school kids, I say, “Who knows, in this school, people who are alone, who eat lunch alone, who seem friendless, who may seem a little odd?”, and everyone raises their hand. We all know that. And I invite those high school students to approach them, and to let them know they have worth and value. We may never be able to … I don’t want to say we won’t never be able to eliminate these kinds of tragedies that occur, but we can certainly decrease the probabilities of them occurring if we can figure out a way to let people know that they belong. Especially people who don’t feel that way.
So, we’re working on a lot of that, and that gets to the underlying … We think the underlying, sometimes, issues are causes of people feeling isolated, people feeling disconnected.
Peter: It’s the cause of violence, really.
Peter: And, now, you’ve been through a variety of administrations, and you’ve chosen not to run for mayor, so far I’ve heard. You must have a pretty solid day, because it’s this long period of time to have such a radical and humanistic point of view about law enforcement. Any challenges there in terms of shifting councils, and shifting elected officials?
Mike: Of course there is. But I think the bigger challenge is the one in the community, and we don’t just focus on changing our internal culture, we really do focus on our community. If you could bring our community along, the politics typically comes along with it, no matter what party they’re in.
It doesn’t matter. But I also spent time with our elected officials, and we have a lot of elected officials who embrace this over time, no matter where they’re coming from, where their politics are. If you’re solving problems by thinking through new possibilities, people see the potential effectiveness in that and it’s hard to argue.
John: We’ve talked about the effect on the community and on police officers. Can you say something about the effect of the restorative process on the people who are offenders? You’ve seen that up close. What happens?
Mike: So, let me just back up that question, John, and say I think we need to figure out new goals for our criminal justice system, and I’ll get to this. One is how do we keep our community safe? Number two, how do we minimize recidivism? And number three, how do we help victims of crime heal and become more whole? And so that third one is the one you’re approaching.
Mike: And with restorative practices, the victim’s voice becomes the centerpiece. They get to talk about how this has impacted them, how they felt harmed, how they have felt wounded. There’s a healing process that goes with knowing that their voice counts, and that they’re being valued. And so going from being victimized in a crime and feeling like you have some control over the outcome of whatever’s happening in terms of what this looks like is powerful for people.
So that’s one way in which we do that. But I also want to really emphasize that the goals of our criminal justice system, which are still rather antiquated and primitive, need to be, I think, founded in what I’ll call forces of the universe that can come into play that speak specifically to, “How do we keep our community safe, or make them safer? How do we deal with people who have committed crime to minimize their recidivism? How do we get them to become more accountable to not only the victim, but to the community and to themselves? And how do we create a place for victims to begin to heal?”
That’s a lot of what we’re doing with this, and so it’s a new way of doing business, but it’s also one that I think gets beyond the futility that a lot of people, professionals, within the criminal justice system feel.
“With restorative practices, the victim’s voice becomes the centerpiece. They get to talk about how this has impacted them, how they felt harmed, how they have felt wounded. There’s a healing process that goes with knowing that their voice counts, and that they’re being valued.”
Peter: The question here about how do you get in your own neighborhood, your own community, restorative thinking launched? One person here says they have a job as a safety and community engagement coordinator, and so they’re very supportive of what you’re saying. But how does Jeff launch this in Gilbert, Arizona? That’s what he wants to know.
Mike: I’d be happy to talk to Jeff on a one-on-one level for certain, because that’s an answer that goes a long ways. But you’ve got to keep in mind that there’s no overnight sprint process going on here. Oftentimes, it’s one person one room at a time. It’s a process in which you have to find champions for people within your community that are willing to embrace this. You’re not just a one-person show, but you’re many people. You leverage that many people power, and talking to other people who do have sanctioned power, whether they’re school boards, city councils, county commissioners, police departments.
But the important thing is that you have to believe that this is the way to go. You’ve got to believe that, because it’s always a three steps forward, two steps back operation. But I’d be happy to have more conversation with anybody. In fact, I have to go all over the place around the country to figure out … And because there’s a lot to this. There’s a lot of history here, and there’s a lot of people. The question asked is how, and so my first answer to that is if you believe it as you talk about so well in your book, Peter, The Answer to How Is Yes, is you’ll figure it out.
But I’d be happy to talk specifics with anybody.
Peter: I think you are talking specifics, and somebody in from Dayton said … “Well, this model might have benefits in my area”––of course Dayton has been in the news. I really think what you just said though is an answer to that. You decided this matters, and you find all the ears that you can, and that’s great.
John: Mike, you used two words a little earlier, harm reduction. And behind harm reduction is an idea that, I think, is a turning point in some communities. Can you say a little more about what that means, and how it gets affected?
Mike: Of course. So, harm reduction’s a model, if you will. It’s a framework for relationship. In terms of when we encounter someone who’s struggling with either addiction or mental health issues, is meeting them where they’re at. Respecting and honoring where they’re at in that moment. And typically, folks have some desire, sometimes it’s minimal, sometimes it’s more, in terms of wanting to take another path. So, we work with them, we’re very relationship oriented in what we do with our outreach. Let me just say this. We just don’t respond in crisis. Our officers do a lot of follow up with people, and our staff does a lot of follow up with people, because sometimes we become the only relationship they have.
Peter: How do you do that? What’s a follow up look like? Is it a knock on the door?
Mike: Following up where they’re at, and knocking on their door, and engaging with them, with the response is, “I care. How are you? What can we do for you? What’s happening today?” But we refer people to resources and services as well when they’re ready. So, we don’t push anything. We don’t push treatment, we don’t push abstaining. We really find out where they’re at and we help them help themselves recover and regain their dignity, and help them understand how they can begin to be part of another way of living their lives.
We believe, as Doctor Perry talks about as a neuroscientist, that healthy relationships are perhaps most healing force we have on this planet, whether you’re a kid, or whether you’re an adult, no matter what you’re struggling with or dealing with. So, we’ve kind of structured what we do around healthy relationships. When I said before we hire people who are more predisposed to be in a relationship and create relationships.
And any city can do this with police and fire. We have this incredibly legitimate, different, unique platform that we can leverage to do these things that may see unique and kind of odd at first, but that gets into that whole idea of changing ourselves from a necessary evil to a force for social good.
Peter: There’s a lot of people chatting who’d love to have those conversations, so we may have to organize them, just to let you know. You said, “I’d like to talk more,” we can organize that. Or if you have a specific question, let us have it now.
I’m wondering if there’d be a time to take some questions. Becky? Do you have anybody coming on?
Becky Robinson: We’re working to identify folks to bring them on camera and ask their questions, and we do have lots of interest and involvement from attendees. So, I’m going to invite you, if you are interested in coming on camera … It looks like Sheila might be interested in coming on. And if there are others who would like to join us on camera to talk, we’d be happy to bring you.
JB, you’re asking a really interesting question here. He says, “Mike, assuming you previously had a traditional view and approach to law enforcement, what was it? What experience tipped you over and changed your view and approach?”
Mike: Thank you for that question. It’s a belief that we’re here for each other. And I will say some of what inspired me is what Peter wrote. I’ve read other things that align with that what says that … I’ve had certain experiences in my life that have led me to believe that that’s the case. Everyone has value, everyone has worth, and that there’s other ways, there’s other forces in the universe, if you will, beyond retribution, that potentially … I think probably are, actually, more powerful, more sustainable, and more effective.
They’re here for us in our midst to build structures and mechanisms, like restorative practices and justice. It uses the forces of relationship, of respect, of choosing accountability, of responsibility, apology and forgiveness. If you start building those kinds of mechanisms, you have to trust that those kind of forces, as they manifest through those mechanisms, are going to be effective. You have to trust that. But we all know that the force of retribution only goes so far.
Becky: So, is there any particular turning point in your life and career, Mike, that helped you come to that belief system?
Mike: 40, 50 years ago, that’s when it started. When I was a young man, and my faith changed, my beliefs changed, and my perspective and outlook towards humanity changed.
John: Mike, can I ask another more general question? I’m pretty old, and I’ve never seen our nation as fearful as it is now. And it seems to me that in one sense, the police and law enforcement people are supposed to protect us from fear. Could you talk a little bit about that question of fear, and your relationship to it? Security and safety as against fear?
Mike: It’s a great question, and it underlies a lot, John. We know that people are often impacted by what they see in terms of the news and the media. It highlights what’s not going well. My phraseology is that for everything not well, there’s a thousand things that are going well, and here’s kind of the proof for that. That narrative doesn’t get told. It’s the narrative of the one that gets talked about… Fear is often kind of an underlying concern that a lot of people have. They think of something is happening somewhere else, it’s happening in your community as well. So, we address that. We address that often in our community. And when I go with other communities and talk about this, the first question I ask is, “What’s going well in your community? What’s happening that’s good? Let’s talk about that. How do we leverage that?” So, it’s a different conversation, and I know that it’s a conversation that people are not used to having, but that’s where you have to go and that’s where you have to leverage.
Because I don’t care what community it is, I know El Paso experienced great tragedy, Dayton, going back to Ferguson, or any community where kind of the media made it look like there’s just huge problems. If you go underneath what all that is, you’re going to find a lot of goodness. And if you start walking neighborhoods, and you see people in the community one on one, and you begin to see all the great things that are going on, you’ll shift your consciousness and awareness around what’s happening.
“The media highlights what’s not going well. My phraseology is that for everything not well, there’s a thousand things that are going well, and here’s kind of the proof for that. That narrative doesn’t get told. When I go with other communities and talk about this, the first question I ask is, ‘What’s going well in your community? What’s happening that’s good? Let’s talk about that. How do we leverage that?'”
I can go on, and on, and on around that, John, but that’s the reality. That is the reality, and what I’m very careful of in here is not unnecessarily scaring the community. Sometimes we have to deal with circumstances that are not pleasant, and sometimes we need the community’s help. But we’re very careful about not scaring the community. I want our council to not scare the community, I want elected official want-to-be’s platforms to not scare the community.
So, we do a lot of things to minimize that, and also at the same time infuse that there’s a lot of things that are going well. So, we do have Facebook, social networks, that publish all the great things that are happening. Not just what’s happening with crime, or disorder, or whatever that might look like. But I think it’s an underlying force that we have to reckon with, we have to reconcile with. We need to turn that around. How do we minimize what we’re afraid of? So that becomes our strategy.
Peter: How does the newspaper write about you? What do they make of you? You’re so outside the norm of investigative journalism. How do they write about you?
Mike: We have a few media outlets here in the community, and we have one that really kind of understands this, and yesterday I did a podcast with them. [See https://longmontobserver.org/featured/podcast-chief-mike-butler-on-the-recent-shootings-in-el-paso-and-dayton/] We have a newspaper that’s tied to a national conglomerate that’s run by a hedge fund that is different around how they see this, and so I’ve actually written editorials to the newspaper around how the media could become different.
I was saying earlier, a major broadcast station out of Denver invited me to come on to talk about this very issue. They didn’t like what I was saying around how the narrative in the media, and so they invited me to come on, and we actually had a great conversation. They actually changed their format and started talking about more things that were good.
Peter: You’re really talking about restorative journalism, aren’t you?
Mike: In a way, I am, because those principles apply everywhere, not just with justice.
John: Mike, one other thing I wanted to ask you about. When you’re thinking about the criminal justice system, it’s the state versus somebody. And that very idea, it seems to me, that I didn’t offend you, I offended the state, is something that you’re undercutting, in a way. And I wonder if you could speak about that, that kind of shift as to what is the state’s role, and what is the community’s role? And you’re shifting that, it seems to me, in a radical way.
Mike: Well, we’re shifting, but we’re also basically utilizing both systems. What we’re not good at, John and Peter, is determining who needs to be separated out from society, and who can work with other mechanisms and structures to help them pick another path so they’re not just identified by one even that occurred, or maybe a series of things that are a result of their health issues. But you’re exactly right. Restorative practices, justice, and principles makes it very personal. It’s not a crime against the state, it’s not professionals that are trying to resolve the issue, whether it’s police, whether it’s prosecutors, whether it’s judges. It’s one on one with people that’ve committed the harm and the people who are harmed.
Through those kinds of facilitated restorative conversations, we get to a much better, different place where people choose accountability. So, in essence, it’s that. But what’s interesting, too, is we now have our DA’s office pride themselves on using restorative practices. We have judges that now want to use restorative practices, we have police departments now around us that are more interested in restorative practices. So, the word is spreading, if you will, because everyone within the criminal justice system is well-meant as they want to be. They know that what they’re doing isn’t working.
Peter: I want to ask, what’s the value proposition you make? Somebody says, “What are some of the strategies to get buy-in from criminal justice professionals?” Is what you’re telling us kind of what you tell them?
Mike: Yeah, the very same thing. And what we have done in restorative justice that we’ve had in this community for 25 years is we have a track record. And they see the data, data’s often one of the things that people want to see. So, we have data. We have data from our Angel Initiative, from our mental health programs and our LEADS. So, we know that data can often be … People want to know what the facts are, what the data shows. So, we keep that and we show it to people, and it’s hard to argue with.
Peter: About that, what keeps you interested? So, you’ve been at this a while, you know what you’re talking about-
Mike: Let me just say this, and I’m not going to give too much away here, but I’m more near the end than I am the beginning, and I have a lot left in my tank that I want to be able to do other things, not one of them’s not political. The political system needs a lot of work in order for it to really become effective, and we could go on and on about that. But there’s other things I’m thinking about that I want to do where I want to leverage what I have left in my tank to move these along. Because sometimes in this role that I play as public safety chief, or police or fire chief, people put me in a certain box, and anything that comes outside of that box doesn’t necessarily sound good.
Peter: That’s great. I’m waiting for the book, and the documentary, and the full-length movie. That’ll be exciting.
John: And also, Mike, if people were interested in the data that you collected through time, or a piece of information that might help at their persuasive efforts other places, is it available?
Mike: They can contact me, and I will make it available for them. Some of it’s on our website, Longmont Public Safety [https://www.longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-n-z/public-safety-department], but a vast majority of it is in our files and the work we’re doing, and I’m available at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re welcome to get in touch with me, and whatever you need we will provide.
Peter: I love that you have that accessibility available to people at a personal level. Keep it personal and it might work.
Mike: It’s the only way to do it, so.
Becky: So we have Sheila on the line. So, Sheila, welcome.
Sheila: Thanks for having this conversation. I think it’s a very prominent conversation. I’m the director of the trauma recovery center here in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Seven Hills Neighborhood Housing, and you guys got some stuff going on that’s very interesting. Especially the accountability and the relationship piece that you were speaking about, Mr. Butler, and the work that you are doing within the community. I think that it’s very vital.
We have been focusing on some of the exact same things that you’re talking about, and I think community is very, very important in these pieces. We have been utilizing different training and allowing our community to be a part of, and they have actually been able to utilize their training skills in this community throughout their judicial and things that as they’re coming up, which I’m finding to be very helpful for the community, and themselves, and their families.
What we’re realizing is that preventative measures are very needed in these situations, allowing people to know how to prevent things from happening, not only to try to stop them. And I just wanted to commend you guys on this conversation, and the model that you’re speaking on. I’ve been having a little conversation with Doctor Garcia and Kenneth Parker, and they were talking about some things they were doing. So I think together, we can get this thing going, and I would very much love to be a part of anything you guys are moving forward with.
And I would also like to share some of the great work that we are doing here at the trauma recovery center. We have a building at this time, and we’re working very hard to have something like maybe a safe haven or something, like you were saying, struggling with the bed issues. Because we’re having a high volume of calls from hospitals, from different clients that we work with, that need that moment to be safe in between finding that place … Even for us getting housing right away to get their mental health clinicians in order to getting their medications filled.
So, we’re really working hard on moving our facility outside of seven hills neighbor house, which is a wraparound center now, and into its own entity, which I think will be very prominent and make a positive effect with all of these things that we’re talking about.
Mike: Sheila, thank you so much, and I appreciate that kind of service. We’re kindred spirits. Thank you.
Sheila: What makes up to me is you know that they find in five organizations, that we were the only community based. So, we’re out on the ground. We’re out in the community now. So, we appreciate you guys, and I would love to stay connected with all of you guys. Thank you, Becky.
Becky: We appreciate you joining. So, we have a question here from Mary, a really deep one. Mary is curious about how restorative justice principles and processes can be used to heal victims who may still be suffering as a result of crimes that occur during serious conflicts. And she’s specifically referencing some events in Northern Ireland, and obviously in the US, we have lots of recent events. So, Mike, could you speak a little bit to how these restorative justice programs can help victims to heal?
Mike: I’ll use the phrase restorative principles and restorative practices, and I very much relate to those folks who have been victimized by violence. Oftentimes, that can be very personal in nature. And by someone maybe you trust, or someone that you were in love with, or whatever that might look like. Those are often the worst, and there is very much room on this planet to heal through restorative circles, restorative practices and principles.
Sometimes it takes a while for people to get to a point where they’re ready to sit down at the table with that person or people who have victimized them. We see that. We see that a lot, sometimes in prison, where restorative practices are used with victims where a family member has been murdered, and the person who’s in jail. And part of their healing process they recognize is to meet with that person, and those are delicate, fragile conversations that have to be treated in a way where we don’t re-victimize the person through this process.
So, there’s ways of doing that… This is all voluntary on the part of victims and offenders, you can’t force this to happen. So oftentimes, victims kind of choose their own timing on this. It’s not necessarily something that happens right away, and oftentimes they have to get to a stable, safe, more healing place within themselves before there’re ready to do that.
But I will tell you that it’s very doable, we’ve done it, and it’s something that I think is driven more by the victim’s sense of timing than anything else.
Peter: Beautiful. Becky, you have somebody that wants to say something?
Becky: I do, I have Sioned who’s going to join us, and has some questions about the training that folks receive as a part of this type of process.
Sioned: We’re very fortunate, thank you for having me, and for this fantastic conversation. I’m calling in from Canada, and we have a pretty robust restorative justice practice on the North Shore, where I am the executive director of the North Shore Restorative Justice Society. One of the challenges we run into, and we work very closely with both our policing bodies. In our community, we have RCMP and also a municipal police force.
And although we’ve got great support and champions in the leadership position, it doesn’t always trickle down, and I’d be really curious, Mike, to hear about how you’ve supported the training, new recruits that come in who possibly don’t come in with any background in this, who have a certain perception about bad guys. I’m generalizing, I know, but how do we create that sort of ground swell necessary to really showcase the value and …
Mike: Thank you. So, let me just say that I talked a little bit about the people we hire. If you hire law enforcers, it’s a more challenging proposition than if you’re changing your profile to hire people who have kind of a wider breadth of attributes that include one of being involved, and want to create and engage in relationships. But two things that cops really respond to; One is people choosing accountability, and second, the plight of the victim. There is no one that sees the plight of the victim more in its rawest form than police officers do, and they want to see those people taken care of.
I sense that all the time with our police, and I sense that cops, when they see people over and over again in the criminal justice system, thinking and knowing that the criminal justice system doesn’t work, and they’re seeing these people over and over again, that if you can somehow highlight the fact that recidivism rates, and people taking more responsibility plays out much more with restorative practices and principles.
Those two things mean a lot to police officers. So, I would say that, but I would also say that changing the culture of police and/or fire’s not necessarily easy, and you have to stay with that, and you have to start … There’s champions within every organization. We have 17 people, police officers, that serve as lesions within our local restorative justice services.
So, we’ve created a collateral assignment which police officers are now flocking to become part of that effort. They are actually the ones that are championing the principles of restorative practices to our fellow police officers. It’s a building process that takes time. You promote people who are interested in this, you select people who are interested in this. People go from one position to another desired position or interest in this, and so you put it out there on some level as a value, as a principle, that we’re very much attached to … So, it doesn’t become a program, it becomes very much part of the philosophy of who you are, what you do, and how you do it.
So, you have to have that kind of inertia with certain kinds of strategies, then you have to just stick with it. I do talk a lot about how you change police cultures within organizations, and what that looks like to go from an organization that’s mostly just bad guy oriented, enforcement oriented, to an organization that can think, and react, and respond much differently given the social and health issues that we’re confronting.
So, there’s a lot to be said there, but I initially just gave you that aspect of it. I’d be happy to have more conversation with you, and/or the RCMP, or your police around that if they are in fact interested. I’m going to be doing a webinar on changing police cultures here soon, so I can let you know more about that, then, too.
Sioned: I’d love to, and I’ve got your email, so you’ll certainly be hearing from me. Thank you so much for all that you do, it’s very inspiring.
Mike: Best wishes.
Peter: When is the webinar?
Mike: It hasn’t been scheduled yet. I’m doing it through an organization called LEAP to Law Enforcement, American police. It’s a rising organization, L-E-A-P, Law Enforcement Action Partnership [https://lawenforcementactionpartnership.org/].
I’m going to be working with them, and they’ve become an organization, nationally, that’s very interested in changing police response. They’ve hooked me up with various communities around the country, around doing certain things differently. So, keep LEAP in mind in terms of that. We’re going to be putting that together, and doing it.
Peter: That’s awesome. Well, you’re just … It’s wonderful listening to you. You have such a great philosophy, Mike, and infinite patience, and understanding, and it’s just stunning. In the midst of the world we’re living in.
Mike: Well, the other thing I will respond to, having five daughters has increased my patience. I sometimes wonder if women weren’t put on this planet to visualize and socialize us men. And if you were to ask my daughters, they’d probably say they have more work to do.
John: On that point, Mike, have you noticed any difference in terms of the role of women as police officers?
Mike: Of course, there’s plenty of room for the attributes that women bring that are different than men, and we need them all. We need all of those attributes and so … Yes. There is, yes. And I find, actually, with the millennial generation, I don’t even know if it’s called millennial, if that’s right term. But they’re very attached to social responsibility, and police departments all over the country are struggling to find qualified applicants. We’re not, and I think one of the reasons why is when they begin to see who are, that we’re attached more to our community, more in different ways along lines it’s I’ve talked about, and are that generation’s more drawn to that kind of service that can very more impactful.
And they’re right there in the midst of it, so I would put that out there as a recruitment strategy for any police department to consider. If you’re struggling with finding qualified applicants, maybe change the way we’re doing business, and the qualified applicants will flow.
Peter: That’s awesome. So, I think we’re near the end. Any final thoughts, John, you have? And I’ll ask you, Mike, the same question?
John: Mike, I’m still interested in the transformative effect of this kind of process on people we call offenders. I wonder if you could say something about that. What happens in this process to the people that are looked down on, or sanctioned?
Mike: Let me say, John, that one of the things we do in our restorative process is that we actually talk about, within the conference or circle itself, the wonderful attributes that the offender has. So, we emphasize and reflect back to goodness, and the wonderfulness that they have. Oftentimes, that’s a first for them. So, we spend quite a bit of time with them. Each of those folks are important, they have value, they have something to offer, and many times, these offenders become community representatives down the road, because they get perspective on who they are.
I come from a perspective that there’s a piece of us, that there’s a higher good in each of us, and if you talk to that, and if you can reflect back what that really is inside people, and you talk to that part of people, that it’s amazing how people respond back to that.
“There’s a higher good in each of us, and if you talk to that, and if you can reflect back what that really is inside people, and you talk to that part of people, that it’s amazing how people respond back to that.”
Peter: That’s beautiful. I also want to circle back what you said in the beginning. You said you have a Helping Hand organization of volunteers, of a couple of thousand people, which is 2% of your community. Building that, in my imagination, is powerful in training police officers. Because there’s only going to be so many officers, and you can talk, but to have built over time 2,000 people who can do with the restorative practice in other ways. That’s powerful.
Mike: It is, and the idea is to build a lot of these organizations where those … Oftentimes, what government does is they build programs, and they’re built in isolation, in a way that only systems of professional government people, service providers, can beat, do. And so I think kind of the next evolution of these kinds of how these programs or structures are built is to create a place and a space for people in the community to become just as engaged.
Peter: John, you and I talk a lot about what it means to be a citizen, and the capacity to produce your own well-being instead of outsourcing it to paid professionals. It seems to me the restorative pathway is a great way of speaking of what it means to be a citizen, what it is to reclaim your neighborhood as your own. To me, you’re building social capital. That work is just stunning, especially in this world where we’ve become more afraid of the stranger. You just don’t buy the dominant narrative. No amount of persuading is going to influence you, and I bet those 2,000 people you’re working with feel the same way.
Mike: And there’s more than that. 20,000.
John: And Mike, it seems to me that what you’re doing is you’re redefining the function of the police, and redefining the function of the community. That the idea that something called crime is all to be directed to a system is why we failed, I think, and what your profound insight is, is that the central action, in terms of our dealing with security and deviance is in the community, and not to pass that off to a system. It’s our function to say, “This person is ours. We produced this person, and we need ways to…”
Mike: Embrace them.
John: … This person so that they can remain in our community and be a benefit. It’s just superb.
“The central action, in terms of our dealing with security and deviance is in the community, and not to pass that off to a system. It’s our function to say, ‘This person is ours. We produced this person, and we need ways to embrace this person so that they can remain in our community and be a benefit.'”
Peter: We’re going to close in a minute, but let me have one question. I’m on a neighborhood council, and once a month, we sit there for two hours, act interested. And we always begin with a police and fire report, and they tell us how many crimes, up, down. And the fire tells us how many of this … Is there any use for that report?
Mike: It has limited value. Because it defines what’s wrong.
And I think we have to become better at defining what’s working well, and I’m convinced, where it’s a person or an organization, community or country, that if you accentuate the strengths and the gifts, and what people have to offer, that you’re more likely … And you know all about assets, John and Peter, but that has to be taken to an entirely different level.
So, we’re defined as safe or unsafe by the level of crime, not by the level of goodness, or the level of great things that are going on. So, they have limited value.
Peter: Thank you.
Mike: And they’re really distorted documents, because not everybody reports crime.
Peter: Exactly. One time they even started listing the seven people they’d arrested in the last month. I stopped them. I said, “Don’t do that. I thought they were innocent ‘til proven guilty.” But anyway, thanks for the information, for my own feelings, whether I’ll be able to change that or not, I don’t know. I’d have to go to one of your workshops or webinars.
Becky: I want to make sure everyone knows about our next event. We will be back together with Peter Block and John McKnight on September 24th with Sarah Arthurs, and we’ll be talking about the topic of co-housing. So, for all who joined today, we hope to see you back next month.
Peter: Thanks so much, Mike, and Becky, and everybody. It was just wonderful to see you again.
Mike: Likewise, Peter and John. Thank you so much.
John: Thanks, Mike.
Peter: Appreciate all you’re doing.
- Building a Healthy and Just Community (McKnight, Block, Butler 2012 conversation highlights)
- The Belonging Revolution: Giving Life to a New Community Narrative (Bailey)
Home page image: Kristina Alexanderson