Power plays a significant role in conflicts among individuals, organizations, and nations. Typically, power is mostly held by people who occupy positions of influence in society such as politicians, priests, celebrities, and prominent businessmen. According to Prorok (2017), the relationship between power and conflict in any country emanates from the fact that most state leaders are rational, self-interested individuals who prefer to evade punishment such as prosecution and assassination. As a result, they strive to maintain political power, which grants them tremendous influence over domestic and state resources (Stokes & Waterman, 2017). These leaders use the police force to keep law and order among the citizenry. However, law enforcement agencies are met with constant difficulties while dealing with the public, which can be attributed to numerous factors including perceptions of power. The knowledge of the dynamics of conflict and power is key to developing strategies that can facilitate an effective relationship between community members and police.
The conflict between members of the public and law enforcement is contributed by various factors, including ethnicity, gender, and culture. Racial profiling has been considered one of the major causes of rivalry between the two sides (Maguire, & Duffee, 2015). Recently, allegations of law enforcement’s ethnic profiling against African Americans, particularly random searches and traffic stops, have become issues of national concern, as demonstrated in the escalating media coverage (Maguire, & Duffee, 2015). Subsequently, sociological factors such as gender and culture have made significant contributions to the police-community conflict. For instance, studies suggest male police officers are highly likely to use excessive force while dealing with citizens compared to their female counterparts (Prorok, 2017). Similarly, most cases of violence against law enforcers are mostly perpetrated by young and adult men. Moreover, society members who have a culture of drinking alcohol have been associated with increased law enforcement-community rivalry (Prorok, 2017). According to Maguire and Duffee (2015), “use of improper force is more likely if the citizen exhibits signs of drunkenness” (p. 171). These factors destroy the needed trust between law enforcers and the communities they serve.
Perceptions of power on both sides of a rivalry have been attributed to the conflict situations. Characteristically, power is not a personal attribute but a product of social connection, where specific qualities put someone in a perceived influential position (Stokes & Waterman, 2017). Most citizens recognize the power held by their local leaders through their respective positions and roles. However, they view their national and state leaders as people who should stay of out control of their daily lives (Stokes & Waterman, 2017). This situation deteriorates when such authorities try to exercise their constitutional powers over the citizens. In circumstances where communities find it difficult to solve an issue with various societal aspects such as employment agencies, they may require the help of local law enforcement (Maguire, & Duffee, 2015). If such assistance is not delivered on time, tension grows between the two sides, leading to protests and riots as the community tries to demonstrate its might through revolution (Maguire, & Duffee, 2015). As a result, perceptions of power between authorities and their subjects can lead to dispute situations.
The relational theory of power can be used to explain how perceptions of power are deterrent to successful conflict resolution. It suggests that the power held by one person over another is equal to the dependence that the two have on each other (Prorok, 2017). In addition, this power is not constant as it keeps shifting based on the resources that an individual may offer. According to Stokes and Waterman (2017), there are three main types of relational power: distributive, integrative, and designative. Distributive power is held by one person over another, which is depicted in common relationships that are characterized by a domineering person and a meek partner. Integrative power exists where every side believes that they have something to gain from the association as demonstrated in a democracy. Moreover, designative power is assigned based on the position that a person holds, such as a president or a police officer. Thus, people in a conflict have different perceptions of power, when are often difficult to change. This disconnect makes it difficult to resolve a disagreement between warring sides.
Numerous strategies have been developed to help curb law enforcement-community conflict. One of the most promising approaches is the implementation of police-community partnership, which is key to developing mutual trust between the two sides (Maguire, & Duffee, 2015). This strategy aims to create a well-defined relationship between the public and the police by establishing an open communication channel, which helps in changing people’s perception of law enforcement. In addition, mobilization of community resources such as social services organizations, and civic and religious institutions is key to reducing rivalry between citizens and police (Prorok, 2017). This approach is instrumental in offering direct service, language, cultural, and training opportunities to law enforcers in a community-oriented manner. Besides, potentially violent situations can be managed by setting departmental procedures that can guide police officers whenever responding to common circumstances such as domestic disputes (Prorok, 2017). This method can be essential in avoiding situations that might result in a citizen or an officer sustaining serious bodily injuries or even death. The three strategies are crucial in alleviating the tension that exists between community members and law enforcement agencies.
The strategic step of having drafted procedures to guide law enforcers when dealing with certain situations can have positive outcomes in terms of its impact on perceptions of power. While no two circumstances will be exactly similar, law enforcers have faced numerous situations before (Prorok, 2017). Therefore, it is possible to create departmental guidelines based on prior review analysis. As a result, police officers can execute their duties with great commitment to their in-service training through a systematic program. Moreover, studies have shown that most police contacts with suspects or citizens have the possibility of violence occurring (Prorok, 2017). Thus, having a carefully designed system that is constantly reviewed and regularly updated can play a crucial role in ensuring law enforcers’ safety and alleviating police-citizen violence. In the same vein, this approach can positively impact perceptions of power that lead to conflict between the two sides. The possible outcome is that the citizens will acknowledge the designative power of the police. Likewise, the law enforcers will appreciate people’s integrative power, striking a balance between their respective power perceptions and allowing a fruitful conflict resolution.
In conclusion, the understanding of the dynamics of conflict and power enables the development of strategies that can foster an effective relationship between law enforcement and citizens. The rivalry between community members and law enforcers is attributed to numerous factors such as ethnicity, gender, and culture. In addition, perceptions of power on conflicting sides have been associated with conflict situations between the two sides. The concept of relational power can be used to elaborate how perceptions of power are barriers to conflict resolution efforts. Crucially, numerous strategies have been created to help deal with the issue of law enforcement-community conflict, which include police-community partnership, mobilization of community resources, and departmental procedures to guide law enforcers in various circumstances. The approach of having a systematic program can positively impact perceptions of power that lead to conflict between citizens and the police.
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Stokes, D., & Waterman, K. (2017). Security leverage, structural power and US strategy in east Asia. International Affairs, 93(5), 1039–1060. Web.