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Branford: A Town at Peace

Local resident Joe Brummer is bringing his mediation skills to town in the hope for our little zip code to be the first in the state to utilize non-violent communication in all sectors.

Wouldn’t our town meetings be so boring if there wasn’t anything to fight about? He’s not making any promises but Branford resident Joe Brummer*, who is the Associate Executive Director of Community Mediation, Inc. in New Haven, is working towards the day where that may be a possibility.

Engaged in dialogues with the , and , Brummer is hoping to establish mediation training and services as a town-wide initiative–the first of its kind in Connecticut.

Since 2006, Brummer, who was to the Board of Directors of the National Association for Community Mediation, said he’s been hoping to offer mediation services on a large scale for a town. “Wouldn’t it be nice to come into a whole town and teach conflict management skills?” He commented. “Wouldn’t it be a nice place live?”

This town effort was initiated by a chance meeting between Brummer and Branford Chief of Police, at a recent restorative justice conference at the University of New Haven.

Soon after their meeting, Brummer sat down with DeCarlo, Deputy Chief Tom Fowler and Community Mediation Executive Director Brenda Cavanaugh to see how the center's skills could be incorporated into the police department. A second meeting involved Second Selectman Francis Walsh who was interested in working with Brummer; a third meeting included Superintendent of schools, Hamlet Hernandez.

Brummer, through Community Mediation, Inc. in New Haven, has already begun work with the police department but is waiting for local grant funding to make this town-wide effort possible. Brummer estimates that the initiative will require $30,000 to $50,000 for a sustainable, three-year pilot.

So what exactly is mediation and when do you use it?

Brummer explained that mediation is a practice of allowing two disagreeing sides to work through their problems and come to some sort of solution. Though the New Haven-based organization, which is one of the oldest in the country boasts a high success rate, Brummer added, “Success doesn’t necessarily mean agreement; it means you walk away understanding each other a little better.”

Brummer continued, “Conflict is a guarantee. Whether or not you handle it adversarial or collaboratively is the key to whether or not you have pleasant meetings.”

For town hall, Brummer is hoping to get employees trained in mediation skills so they can handle potential issues better. “When there is a conflict,” said Brummer, “like taxes or , there is an answer immediately. That’s what we are working towards here.”

Additional services to the town would be Community Mediation’s offering to take referred cases. Currently, Community Mediation has taken several referred cases from the Branford Police Department according to Brummer, though none have gone to mediation. All of these cases, shared Brummer, involve neighbor disputes. Community Mediation contacts both parties and offers services with an example of how mediation works; there is no obligation for parties to participate.

More recently, the Police Department and the town have enlisted Community Mediation trained volunteers to attend a neighborhood meeting between Indian Neck residents and the East Shore District Health Department regarding a dispute over an upcoming clamming event. The trained mediators will facilitie dialog for the meeting.  

Branford Patch had a first-hand experience of how mediation works last week at Quinnipiac University where legal studies students mock-mediated a conflict between two parties as part of a final exam for Professor Jessica Hynes.

Mediation begins when two parties agree to the service voluntarily. A trained mediator explains that mediation is an opportunity for two people or groups to voice their sides of an issue–all meditations are confidential and nothing said during a mediation can be legally binding. The next phase is for each party to have uninterrupted time to share his or her side of the issue. A mediator then sets an agenda to find out what needs each party has and what problems are present.

“On the surface,” said Brummer, “it seems like one big conflict but it never is. It’s a series of small ones.” Breaking down conflict, said Brummer, means just that. Mediation, said Brummer, “Is intended to get people past their positions and down to interests, which is mediation lingo for let’s get to the root of this quicker.”

Quicker is an important word when it comes to the added value of Branford enlisting mediation services across the board. Trained conflict management individuals, said Brummer, can evaluate a situation and know what to look for in less time. In the case of the Police Department, officers are often in the thick of conflict. A trained mediator can turn a 40-minute police visit into a 20-minute call, said Brummer. “That’s a lot of wasted tax-payer dollars to go out for things that don’t belong in a police officer’s hands.”

On a recent ride-along with Branford Police Officer Raashad Roach, Brummer witnessed the officer mediate between neighbors over a misunderstanding about newspaper delivery. Roach was able to get to the root of the matter for the two parties. “That’s mediation,” said Brummer.

The neighbor disputes that sometimes end up in breach of peace conflicts, disorderly conduct or minor assault will end up in the legal system if arrests occur. Those cases, ones that do not involve weapons, have a great chance of ending up in mediation through Community Mediation’s partnership with the Court Support Service Division of New Haven GA 23 court. About 80 cases per month are referred from CSSD to the Community Mediation according to Brummer. If a mediation can be done, some cases are thrown out of court and/or charges and fines can be reduced.

When it comes to working with the school system, Brummer explained that 85 to 90 percent of juvenile cases–conflict between youths–revolve around social media and online bullying. “Since social networking started, this has been a growing issue,” said Brummer. “There have been horrific events because of electronic bullying.”

“In New Haven you get a lot of bullying and fights that are physical and when you get into Branford it doesn’t mean there is less violence, it’s more passive violence.”

Brummer and Hernandez have talked about bringing mediation training to peer helper groups in Branford schools–something Brummer has done with more than four magnet schools in New Haven.

The global goal of bringing mediation to Branford can mean many things for all town services including the start of better relations where it may be needed and the strengthening of strong existing efforts.  When it comes down to the core of it, Brummer is hoping that through his work with Branford, people will start to understand more about what mediation is. “I think people are skeptical. I don’t think people realize there can be a really good outcome when you get through all the muck.”

Starting Monday, May 16, Community Mediation will be offering online counseling services through a blog on Branford Patch. Read more about the and how your conflicts can be mediated.

Community Mediation offers services to all people in need. Businesses and organizations will pay around $250 for initial consultation and the first mediation. Meditations for general public are offered on a sliding fee scale and can costs between $5 and $75 per session. For more information, check out Community Mediation online.

Editor’s disclosure: Joe Brummer has been my next-door neighbor for two years; we’ve never had any “neighborly disputes” but he sure has helped me through some conflicts!

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