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Active bystandership in everyday conflict (American Police Beat)

Updated: May 10

In law enforcement, active bystandership is an invaluable practice. Stepping in when a colleague is gripped by conflict is not only good for partnership and mental health, but also for ensuring positive, constitutional policing outcomes. It’s excellent that the practice is catching on. According to ABLE, over 350 agencies in the US and Canada promote active bystandership among their officers.

Active bystandership is not only for law enforcement. It’s also essential in everyday conflict. Just the other day it worked for me.

My kids and their friends were playing out in the backyard, when I overheard someone say something awful about another person. The emotion it generated in me was strong and my reaction was immediate. I pulled up the window from inside the house and shouted down in my angry mom voice, “I can hear everything you’re saying up here!!!” I felt as if smoke was coming out of my ears, I was so mad.

My son, mortified, looked up at me with a pleading in his eyes to please not go any further. He didn't want me to embarrass him, I'm sure, but that look interrupted my response.

He was my active bystander in that moment.

For me, the trigger was real and my response felt absolutely necessary. I needed the kids to stop with the unkind words. But I didn't need to go further than a single reprimand. My son's look saved me from taking things to a level they didn't need to be taken to.

The moral is: let’s watch out for each other . This means noticing ourselves and noticing each other when conflict is arising so that we don't escalate and potentially make things worse.

Read more about the connection between active bystandership and conflict resolution skills in our American Police Beat article.


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