Police officers can be injured when they try to intervene in conflicts between individuals who know each other. For example, police officers who are called to the scene of a domestic violence incident face potential violence-related injuries themselves (Morewitz 2003, 2004). Law enforcement officers also face injuries when they try to intervene in conflicts between strangers. The highly stressful nature of police work and the associated difficulties of managing anger increase the risks for law enforcement officers (Novaco 1977; Sarason et al. 1979; Mearns and Mauch 1998).

Conflict management training programs have been developed for police to enhance their skills in managing conflict (Zacker and Bard 1973; Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations 2006). Initially, some police departments were resistant to these training programs because of their deeply ingrained military culture. However, these conflict management training programs have gained acceptance over time, and today many large urban police departments use such training programs.

In fact, law enforcement agencies have operational conflict management units. For example, the Delaware State Police (2006) uses a Conflict Management Team to assist in hostage negotiation, kidnap mediation, and other crises. In addition, law enforcement agencies have early warning systems in place to identify and respond to officers who have problems managing conflicts and other difficulties (U.S. Department of Justice 2001).

A discussion follows of the elements of conflict, different approaches to conflict management, interpersonal skills needed to manage conflict, and research on the effectiveness of police training in conflict management.

Elements of Conflict

Social scientists have identified five elements of conflict:

1. Needs. All of us have needs that are essential to our well-being. When we ignore our own needs and/or the needs of others, conflicts can occur. Needs should not be confused with desires, which are things that we want, but are not essential to our well-being.

2. Perceptions. Conflicts occur because different people interpret reality differently and perceive problems in different ways. Self-perceptions, others’ perceptions, differing perceptions of situations, and perceptions of threat may lead to misperceptions and conflicts.

3. Power. Conflicts may arise depending on how we define and use power. The ways in which we define and use power can determine the frequency and types of conflicts that arise. In addition, our use of power can affect how we manage conflict. When people try to take advantage of others or make others change their actions, conflict can emerge.

4. Values. We are influenced by our values—beliefs or principles that we consider to be essential to our well-being. When values are incompatible or not clear, conflicts can ensue. Moreover, when one refuses to accept that others consider something as a value rather than a preference, conflicts can develop.

5. Feelings and emotions. Conflicts arise when individuals allow their feelings and emotions to affect how they resolve problems. In addition, when individuals ignore their own or others’ feelings and emotions, conflicts can ensue. The fact that our feelings and emotions may differ over a particular issue also results in conflicts (Managing conflict 2006).

Conflict Management

Social scientists have noted that conflicts can be managed in five ways:

1. Collaboration. This ”win/win” strategy is considered the best way for dealing with conflict. The goal of collaboration is to reach agreement over goals. Collaboration can lead to commitment to goals and reduce bad feelings. The disadvantage of collaboration is that it can be time consuming and requires energy.

2. Compromise. This ”win some/lose some” approach is used to reach temporary solutions, to avoid conflicts, or when there is not enough time to resolve problems. A disadvantage of this strategy is that persons can ignore important values and long-term goals. In addition, this strategy can lead individuals to ignore the importance of an issue and can lead to cynical attitudes toward an issue.

3. Competition. This ”win/lose” strategy involves attempts to defeat your opponents in order to acquire scarce resources. Bargaining is one form of competition. Competition can lead to an escalation of conflicts, and losers may try to retaliate against the winners.

4. Accommodation. This ”lose/win” approach is used when the problem is more important to others than to you. This strategy promotes goodwill. It is also effective when you have made a mistake. The disadvantage is that your views are secondary to others. In addition, you may lose credibility and the ability to influence people in the future.

5. Avoidance. This ”lose/lose” strategy is employed when the issue is not important or other issues are more important. Avoidance is also used when conflict can be very dangerous or where more information is needed to resolve the problem. The disadvantage of this strategy is that issues may be decided by default (Managing Conflict 2006).

Interpersonal Skills Needed to Manage Conflict

Whatever strategies police officers choose to manage conflicts, they should understand their own feelings about conflict. Police officers should identify triggers, for example, a tone of voice or words that immediately cause negative emotional responses. Once police officers identify these triggers, they can better control their emotions and the emotions of others.

In addition, police officers should do more than just hear what another person is saying (Beyond 2003). They should attempt to understand what the other person is saying. Police officers should take the time to listen carefully, instead of thinking about what they are going to say next. As an active listener, a police officer should concentrate on what the other person is saying.

Law enforcement officers also should collect all of the relevant information. The law enforcement officers should come up with ideas that might help resolve the conflict.

Effectiveness of Police Training in Conflict Management

Morton Bard designed a training program to assist police officers in managing interpersonal conflict and using other interpersonal skills, such as empathy and self-awareness (Zacker and Bard 1973; Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations 2006). Police officers were trained using group discussions, real-life simulations of interpersonal conflicts, role plays, and lectures. Police officers who participated in this conflict management training program had higher clearance rates, decreased absenteeism, and other improvements compared to controls.

Next post:

Previous post: