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Chelsea, Massachusetts: A City Helps Its Diverse People Get Along

NCJ Number
Chadwick Bash; Maria Amato; Michele Sacks
Date Published
7 pages
This report describes the development, characteristics, and effectiveness of Chelsea's (Massachusetts) Conflict Intervention Unit (CIU), which was created to determine whether individuals from the community could be trained to help people solve the conflicts that often escalate into assaults or litigation.
In Chelsea, keeping low-level civil disputes from escalating into violence and lawsuits is much more difficult than in many other communities, because neighbors speak different languages and do not realize that their behavior might offend the cultural norms of the family next door. Chelsea leads the Boston region in unemployment, has the State's highest crime rate, and is home to an estimated 10,000 undocumented Hispanic and Southeast Asian immigrants. These problems are compounded by the fact that Chelsea's population is squeezed into fewer than three square miles. In September 1997, the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded $75,000 to the Chelsea Police Department to start CIU. The unit, which consisted of a director and an assistant director, began accepting cases in May 1998. From the outset, CIU was designed to address noncriminal disputes. It was not designed to handle domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or divorce cases. Convincing police officers that the program could make their jobs easier was critical to the program's survival. The CIU staff work and live in the community and understand the language and customs of Chelsea's Hispanic community. Of the 111 disputes CIU mediated from May 1998 through August 1999, only 5 have gone to court. The program has saved the Chelsea Police Department thousands of dollars and hundreds of patrol hours. Keys to the program's success are rapport with the community, a qualified staff, flexibility, independence from the police and the courts, feedback, and follow up. 4 references