Mediation center idea moving forward

Soldotna police chief pushing program as a positive force in the community

Posted: Monday, April 22, 2002

Police officers normally become involved in conflict situations after a law already has been broken, but Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Gifford said it doesn't always have to be that way.

Gifford is one of the main proponents of a project to develop a Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue on the Kenai Peninsula. Gifford recently gave a presentation before the Soldotna City Council outlining the plan for the center. She told the council one of the benefits such a center could bring to the community is that her department would be able to spend more time fighting crime and less time solving petty disputes.

"Sometimes when the police get involved, it's too late," Gifford told the council.

She said she'd rather have her officers working the streets instead of becoming embroiled in minor disputes.

"When we arrive on a scene there are times when both parties have a good point. What we would like to see is dialogue," Gifford said.

That's where the center would come in.

The center will offer affordable conflict resolution, problem solving, mediation and facilitation services, Gifford said.

The idea is that, one day, the center will become a positive force in the community, a place people can turn to to solve their problems in a constructive way, she said.

The center still has a long way to go before that can happen. However, the first steps have been taken toward developing it.

"We have a very diverse group of people from our community who have been working on this for over a year," Gifford said.

She said although she was intrigued by the initial idea for a center, she didn't think it was feasible. However, after working on the project, she's changed her mind.

"Initially, I wasn't sure we could pull this off. Now I believe in it lock, stock and barrel," she said.

The center's goal is to train mediators and conflict resolution specialists who will lend a hand in solving all kinds of disputes, according to Dan Chay, a professional mediator who also is working on the project.

"We'll have a volunteer pool of mediators" available at the center, Chay said.

He said the volunteers would be able to offer affordable conflict resolution for people who would otherwise have no resource to turn to in conflict situations.

Gifford said she's enthusiastic about the project moving forward. The group adopted its bylaws in October and is hoping to build interest and private support for the project. The center doesn't have a physical address yet, but Gifford said a building to house the center is one of the long-term goals.

"We'd like to get a building, but we want to get it up and working for us first," she said.

"I see this being a tremendous asset ... a permanent fixture in our community."

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