Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

March 15, 2012

Have a dispute? The CCJ can help

GOSHEN —  A countywide program has been implemented to keep spats between neighbors from turning into disputes far more severe.

The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department and Goshen Police Department have joined forces with the Center for Community Justice (CCJ) in offering a community mediation program designed to mediate problems between neighbors.

Police officers get called regularly to incidents involving barking dogs, burning leaves and landlord-tenant disputes. These incidents don’t necessarily lead to arrests, but are cause for police to step in nonetheless. When arrests are not needed to be made, the Center for Community Justice can step in.

The Center for Community Justice is a conflict resolution agency that provides programs — based on the principles of Restorative Justice — that strengthen community safety, provide support and compensation for victims, aid in the restoration of offenders, and promote reconciliation among victims, offenders and the community. With this specific program, the liaison for CCJ can make arrangements for disputing parties to come together to discuss the issues and jointly arrive at conclusions by which all parties can agree and abide.

The mediation program began toward the end of last year and according to Connie Caiceros, executive director at the CCJ, was designed to build relationships and ultimately build a better community.

“The goal is to empower people to be able to resolve their own conflicts,” Caiceros said. “We just give them the opportunity to address their own issues before they get to a point where the police have to get involved.”

Prior to Center for Community Justice’s involvement, a similar program was implemented and operated by the Community Relations Commission for the purpose of assisting residents with neighborhood disputes. Sheriff Brad Rogers — then a patrolman — explained that funding dried up and upon becoming sheriff, he saw an opportunity to revive the program.

“Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to crime reduction,” Rogers said, “we saw an opportunity to partner up with the Center for Community Justice.”

The sheriff’s department and the Goshen Police Department are currently the only departments involved with the CCJ in the county. Rogers said they have only been involved for about a month, while city police have been working with the CCJ for a few months longer.

A Goshen police spokesperson explained that being a part of the program has proven to be a valuable resource to their agency, freeing up officers to concentrate on criminal issues.

Caiceros said since the program is still in its infancy, they have not received too many referrals thus far, but the hope is that disputes are kept at a minimum so much that they won’t be kept too busy. But thus far, the program has provided a useful tool for officers called to a neighborhood concern. “We strive to uphold the ‘serve and protect’ mantra,” Rogers said, “so why not have more tools in our toolbelt like this?”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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