Power Differential Makes Restorative Justice Inappropriate

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Letters to the Editor

Originally Published October 10, 2019 in the Arlington Advocate

I too am concerned about the reinstatement of Lt. Pedrini. Clearly, many citizens are uncomfortable with this decision — and they should be. As a psychiatrist, I know that people who harm others can change, but I also know that none of us change quickly, also that being required to change often results in a superficial appearance of change.

The Restorative Justice process was inappropriate for this situation. RJ is an innovative and idealistic approach to wrongdoing in a community — but its application is not appropriate for all situations. As with mediation — another alternative to traditional legal procedures — there must be no significant power differential in the picture; for example, domestic violence is never referred to mediation. RJ can work well for teens charged with vandalism or shoplifting, or even in some cases of adult wrongdoings of a similar nature. But in the case of a police officer who has written materials threatening to the public, the power differential is huge. Also, the threat is a serious one . Communities for RJ (which I understand supported this process with the lieutenant’s threatening writings) should have rejected the use of RJ in this situation.

I believe Mr. Chapdelaine’s decision to use RJ was well intentioned, but it was in fact a poor choice. Oddly, he has stated that he was motivated in part by concerns that if Lt. Pedrini were fired and then sought arbitration, arbitration might not support the town’s action. This despite the fact that the town has fired officers, and gone through arbitration successfully twice in the past. The data in fact suggest that Arlington would have been supported in this situation too, if the town had taken an action that again led to arbitration.

Hate speech has been rising in the U.S., and hate crimes have followed. Arlington needs to go back to square one, put the lieutenant on desk work for now so that residents are not subjected to the fear that the town’s police force might mistreat them, and work to find another, better, approach to this situation.

Kathleen Lentz
Newport Street