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The Relevance of Conflict in Our Society

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Conflict is defined as a hostile relationship between 2 or more people that features intense uncompromisable differences. Since humans are very diverse and sociable in nature, it’s easy to see how relevant conflict is in everyday life from relationships to more serious/violent cases of conflict in careers such as policing. This paper will demonstrate the relevance of conflict in our society by describing and analyzing a real-life conflict in policing in Canada, explain my thoughts, feelings, behaviours and reflections on my sim lab experience and explain why my views of frontline police offices have changed.

Conflict in policing is not always present, but there certainly are times where duties are met with conflicts with civilians. For example: on April 25th, 2017, at roughly 12:00 AM, a police officer in West Perth, Ontario received a call that later resulted in an SIU investigation. A concerned citizen called the police to warn them of a drunk driver at a local Tim Hortons. As the police officer realized that the suspect left the scene, several other officers joined to pursue the suspect by strategically blocking off certain exits. One police officer managed to locate the suspect and pulled him over successfully. The suspect, a 35-year-old male, complied by giving the officer his license and other pertinent information. Once the officer learned that the suspect had several warrants out for his arrest, he called another officer for back-up. The second officer arrived shortly and parked in front of the suspect’s vehicle to block him in. As the police approached the vehicle, it became apparent that the suspect was uncooperative as the suspect would not communicate.

The police threatened to break open the window, however, the suspect reversed this Chevy Tahoe into one police vehicle, then proceeded to hit the second police cruiser as he escaped the officer’s discharged gunshot and left the scene. The suspect hid for the rest of the evening until pursued by another officer which led to a “cat and mouse” chase for a couple hours. Eventually, the police caught up to the driver as he crashed into a tree and proceeded to try to escape on foot. The suspect climbed over a fence, and despite several warnings from an officer to cooperate, he was tasered twice.

The suspect continued to resist, so the officer tackled him to the ground and delivered a punch to the suspect’s shoulder in order to gain control and arrest him. The suspect had serious injuries to his collarbone, and due to the fact that is was defined as a “custody injury”, the case was further investigated by the SIU. The results released in September 2018 concludes that the force of the officer was adequate as the suspect resisted on several occasions. It is also believed that the injuries sustained to the suspect occurred when the victim was climbing the fence. Since there are no articles besides the SIU report, there was no information available regarding the exact charges laid. I suspect the lack of information is due to the fact that the incident was being investigated at that time. This example can be analyzed at every step of the process of conflict: before the incident, the prelude, there would have had to be pre-existing ideas of ethics, behaviours, opinions of police powers, and much more that I would not be able to analyze from an outside perspective.

Secondly, there is the triggering event: the suspect had been driving under the influence. Next, the response to the suspect’s behaviour (drunk driving) becomes evident when the cops pull him over to further investigate. The differentiation stage occurs when the suspect and police officers have a power struggle. In this case, the conflict escalates further as the chase goes on. Lastly, the resolution, in which the police officers finally caught the suspect and arrested him. It is also important to note that a whole other conflict begins as the SIU investigate the situation.Along with this connection, this incident could be defined as an intangible conflict because there is no struggle of assets or goods, however, there is a struggle between power, ethics, and cooperation between the suspect and the police. The suspect purposely avoided the police on numerous occasions which demonstrates the suspect’s desire for power and freedom, and the police’s desire for cooperation, justice, and power. This incident is also an example of the competing cycle; a type of dysfunctional conflict style. Although this example may not precisely resemble the cycle, it does have the same concepts: competing cycles often happen in threatening situations when there are no other options to turn to. Along with this similarity, they also both have the same distinguishing feature of either “winning” or “losing” a conflict.

I would imagine both the suspect and the police officers had this mindset: it was either the suspect getting away or the suspect being brought to justice. To gain an understanding of the reality of conflict in everyday policing, I completed a conflict management simulation at Humber College. The Sim Lab is an interactive virtual reality simulator that challenges the user to use and learn conflict management skills in a seemingly real scenario.

While I was waiting for my appointment for the sim lab, I felt very anxious. I understood that this was a simulation, and that the outcome of the scenario was not assessed, but I was still panicked as I did not know what to expect. (As a side note, I had forgotten to take some of my medications the day prior, so I was even more anxious than usual). When I was called upon and the instructor began explaining how to use the weapons, I felt very overwhelmed and began to cry. The instructor was very helpful in calming me down, but I still felt very worried, even after the trial run scenario. I jumped right into the actual scenario because I just wanted it to be over. In retrospect, the scenario went by very quickly and felt pretty real, besides the delay in response times. In brief, my scenario involved a mentally ill middle-aged man who was wandering around a public park yielding a large knife in his hand. This is an intangible conflict because there is the struggle of freedom (not wanting to go back to the psychiatric hospital) along with more complicated struggles with mental health.

As I assessed the situation, I began to empathize with the man- even though he was not real. This man was mentally ill and off his medications, so I could imagine how he may feel intimidated by authority figures that are armed with various weapons. I approached the man with my palms facing up to show there was no weapon out, and an open posture as an attempt to be seen as friendly. The man seemed calm at first but got aggressive as I asked him to put the knife down so we could talk. The man started to wave the knife around as he feared that he would have to go back to a psychiatric hospital. I tried to assert myself and firmly told him to put the knife down and that I was not here to hurt him. At this moment, the man put the knife’s blade against his own arm threatening to harm himself if I didn’t leave him alone. To de-escalate the situation, I stood my ground as I made sure to make my hands visible so he knew I was not going to draw a weapon against him. I made slow movements as to not scare or threaten the man. I calmly restated that I was not going to hurt him and we could talk about it if he puts the knife down. The man then complied and put the knife down on the ground. In this incident, in regards to the conflict cycle, the prelude consists of pre-existing mental health problems for the suspect.

The suspect’s trigger, as explained by a female witness at the beginning of the simulation, was the missed dosages of medication. The initiation stage occurred when the cop, myself, entered the scene and approached the man to confront him on his behaviour in public. The differentiation stage was quite apparent: the man clearly showed that he disagreed as he became hostile and then threatened to harm himself. I tried my best to de-escalate the situation, which led to the first step of a resolution: putting the knife down and discussing the matter.

As the simulation then ended, I felt very relieved but very certain that I could never be a police officer. For myself in any given situation, conflict is one of my main weaknesses because I am very passive. This is reflected through the confrontation avoidance/accommodation cycle. As previously explained, I get very anxious when it comes to dealing with any type of conflict. An element of all dysfunctional conflict styles are based on the idea that conflict is bad and should always be avoided. Similar to the cycle, I have an orientation to avoid or give into conflict, even if sometimes I give up my own values. This is largely due to my communication apprehension: the large amount of anxiety when communicating interpersonally .

I plan to try to improve my conflict style to learn how to be assertive and collaborating. A few hours after the sim lab, after I’ve assessed the whole ordeal, I realized that, if given the chance, I would probably want to try another scenario despite how anxious I was the first time. Ultimately, the experience helped me to understand my weaknesses and strengths in conflict.In current events, especially in the U.S, there is plenty of conversation surrounding police behaviours while on-duty. Due to all the media surrounding these events, it is very easy to criticize police and their actions. Before the sim lab, I saw these conflicts as black and white: it seemed so clear to me that the officer involved in a conflict with a civilian should have known exactly what to do in the given situation to minimize harm to themselves, society and to the civilians involved. I still see the wrongdoing in these police- civilian conflicts, but I do not see the issue as black and white anymore. Situations are so much more complex than the media portrays. Police have the resourceful tool of discretion: the ability to choose among several options when facing a conflict on the job. This can be a very helpful tool, however, it also has its downfalls. As I have learned from the sim lab, making a decision from an array of options is very difficult to make in only a matter of seconds. The options one chooses can vastly change the end-result of a scenario.

During my sim lab, I found it very difficult to think critically while feeling pressure from the situation and the pressure of time as well. By no means do I condone or excuse serious conflicts between police and citizens, however, I have developed a new understanding and empathize with how stressful and time sensitive the job can be at times, and how that can alter the end result of a given conflict.In conclusion, the sim lab assignment, although very stressful, was an excellent tool for discovering my strengths and weaknesses within conflict scenarios. I have also learned how to analyze and make connections within conflicts as they happen in real life.

Lastly, it has given me a new appreciation for police officers and their ability to critically think under pressure. I hope to again be able to work on my conflict management skills in another sim lab within the degree program.

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