Conflict and Power: Law Enforcement and Citizens

The Factors that Contribute to Conflict Situations Between Law Enforcement and Citizens

Notably, power is an instrument that law enforcement must utilize wisely and responsibly. Without an ethical life, this power can be misused, resulting in a power dynamic that is detrimental to law enforcement and society and causing potential conflict (Jones & Mendieta, 2021). Essentially, authority, resources, and discursive legitimacy are the three sources of power (Maron & Benish, 2021). Consequently, the right to decide or act in a socially recognized manner is referred to as authority. Formal legal power, including the capacity to overturn the acts of subordinate state entities, is a significant source of public networks whose members hold official functions and positions in government. Maron and Benish (2021) suggest that another form of power is the capacity of members to deploy resources, including tangibles like financial resources, people, technology, and supplies, as well as intangibles like expertise, culture, and capacities. Finally, discursive legitimacy refers to a member’s ability to represent a discourse or speak on behalf of a significant societal problem.

Usually, conflicts arise because of power misusing by law enforcement or ignorance, misperception, and disobedience on the part of citizens. According to Jones and Mendieta (2021), law enforcement officers wield considerable authority, which they may use to deprive civilians of their liberty, search them and their homes, take their property, and apply force against them. Consequently, these powers are permissible under certain conditions, and law enforcement officers are educated to recognize when they can be used legitimately. Because law enforcement officers are among the most powerful jobs in society, their capacity to utilize their power is exacerbated by their frequent interaction with relatively powerless and disenfranchised individuals who may be unable to oppose an officer’s illegal use of that power.

Perceptions of Power and Their Contributions to Conflict Situations

First, the wrong perception of power contributes to conflict situations. Every law enforcement personnel should understand the significance of due process. Misusing power strongly contradicts the concept of due process, and officials who abuse their position create a conflict in an atmosphere in which due process cannot thrive (Jones & Mendieta, 2021). Significantly, the legislation to confront racial prejudice and the use of excessive force by law enforcement is stalled in Congress. Nonetheless, there is widespread public support in the United States for allowing citizens to sue police officers in order to make them responsible for misbehavior or the use of mindless violence (Pew Research Center, 2020). According to the study, Americans largely support requiring police officers to be taught nonviolent alternatives to lethal force; 92 percent approve of this idea, with 71 percent strongly supporting it (Pew Research Center, 2020). Thus, it is crucial to implement police-community conflict resolution.

The abuse of power by law enforcement results in a distorted view of power among citizens, which leads to conflict. According to Decker et al. (2019), gender, cultural, ethnicity, and race-based disparities interacted at the institutional and local levels to dissuade residents from contacting the police. Hence, police misbehavior, a perceived lack of concern for residents, power imbalances, and fear of danger from police were all fundamental effects on complaints from citizens.

The Relational Theory of Power

The relational theory of power identifies that perceptions of power affect the ability to resolve police-community conflict. For instance, power is a relational ability, a process that allows an individual with the requisite opportunity to exert asymmetrical influence over another social actor (Madoyan, 2019). Moreover, this impact assumes that the person executing it will be motivated by a powerful actor’s will, interests, and values. Power can be used by coercion, such as physical violation or the threat of physical violation. Significantly, the correct perception of power from both sides, namely law enforcement and the community, can facilitate resolving conflicts, while the wrong perceptions may affect the growth of conflicts. Additionally, power is spread throughout all realms of human activity rather than being concentrated in one sector or institute. Nevertheless, there are certain areas where power concentration is more visible and impactful than others, such as law enforcement.

Strategies for Reducing and Resolving Conflicts Between Police and Communities

Essentially, I believe that strategies such as better police training in ethical issues and greater civic engagement in addressing issues effectively reduce and resolve conflicts between police and communities. While community policing strives to be more open and integrate the community into justice, it still leaves the community relatively weak regarding effective participation in their justice concerns (Glowatski et al., 2017). Thus, the police keep the final decision-making ability in their hands of the police. Additionally, there is still a schism between the police and the general populace.

From my point of view, officers must be willing to delegate some conflict resolution authority to citizens directly affected, trusting that the community has the capacity to handle conflict even if that capacity has yet to be proved. Although ethical training is necessary because it educates law enforcers, it would not handle arisen conflicts without civic engagement. Law enforcers must support community engagement that includes interconnectedness, allowing individuals to become incorporated into decision-making processes about their participation in resolving conflicts (Glowatski et al., 2017). When police actively seek to develop social inclusion, the likelihood of transitioning to a restorative policing paradigm increases (Glowatski et al., 2017). Such transformations provide credibility to police officers due to improved connections with the people they serve. Thus, restorative policing as a strategy is recommended because it can help enhance community attitudes toward justice and police officers.

As a result, restorative policing may lessen the number of events police must deal with since the community may be more involved and effective in resolving their issues. Restorative justice and community policing both encourage civic participation and social responsibility in order to accomplish collaborative problem-solving with the goal of cultivating understanding, accountability, and respect (Clamp & Paterson, 2017). A transition to restorative policing will necessitate three significant improvements in policing. First, there must be a shift in how police and communities understand crime and a transformation in how crime is addressed (Clamp & Paterson, 2017). Second, the police function should be enlarged beyond that of peacekeepers and peacemakers to include officers as community builders. Finally, Clamp and Paterson (2017) argue that transformation necessitates police allowing the community to play a larger part in resolving conflicts and making decisions about local justice concerns. By permitting more participation, citizens will become more responsible, courteous of one another, trusting the police, and eager to confront conflict.

To conclude, the focus can be directed to justice in terms of relationships, as interpersonal and social injustice demand relational equality and fairness to be most beneficial. Many police departments are already involved in community-building efforts, such as projects that encourage community input, engagement, and transparency. More restorative justice methods should be used by police personnel. Therefore, such an approach might be an excellent strategy to start when it comes to building community and resolving conflicts.


Clamp, K. & Paterson, C. (2017). Restorative policing: Concepts, theory and practice. Routledge.

Decker, M. R., Holliday, C. N., Hameeduddin, Z., Hameeduddin, Z., Shah, R., Miller, J., Dantzler, J., & Goodmark, L. (2019). “You do not think of me as a human being”: Race and gender inequities intersect to discourage police reporting of violence against women. Journal of Urban Health, 96, 772–783. Web.

Glowatski, K., Jones, N. A., & Nicholas Carleton, R. (2017). Bridging police and communities through relationship: the importance of a theoretical foundation for restorative policing. Restorative Justice, 5(2), 267–292.

Jones, B., & Mendieta, E. (Eds.). (2021). The Ethics of Policing: New Perspectives on Law Enforcement. NYU Press.

Madoyan, G. (2019, May 4). About the relational power. The Enlight Analytical Forum. Web.

Maron, A., & Benish, A. (2021). Power and conflict in network governance: Exclusive and inclusive forms of network administrative organizations. Public Management Review, 1–21. Web.

Pew Research Center (2020). Majority of public favors giving civilians the power to sue police officers for misconduct. Pew Research Center. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Conflict and Power: Law Enforcement and Citizens." September 17, 2023.