Public Order Management and Conflict Resolution | Daily News

Public Order Management and Conflict Resolution

Worldwide police are mandated by their governments to uphold and enforce the law fairly, to protect life, liberty, property, human rights, and dignity of the members of the public. The police work to promote and preserve public order as well as to protect internal security by detecting and preventing terrorist activities, to thwart militant activities and any form of violence affecting the tranquility of the State. Police find themselves having to respond to a wide range of crimes such as theft, assaults, armed robbery etc. These can be regarded as minor crimes as they are normally classified as crimes against individuals. According to Agastra (2018), the role of police is to bring on board an array of strategies to contain these potentially dangerous conflict situations.

Conflict and society have co-existed for centuries. It is a constant factor in human existence. Conflicts occur at different levels which include; intrapersonal, interpersonal, intra-group, intergroup, and international levels. In yesteryears, conflicts were managed and resolved by the community leaders within traditional structures in which they occurred. The complexities of conflicts characterizing the contemporary world have placed greater demands on police organisations to intervene and manage the conflicts. Globally as police organisations grapple with these conflicts, they should develop clear and sustainable strategies to successfully manage conflict situations. Failure to manage conflicts is itself ominous to the well-being of the citizenry and unmanaged conflicts usually degenerate to worse scenarios like civil wars.

Mass protests

There is a long history of mass protests across the whole world. In Brazil, mass protests triggered mobilizations that toppled the government in 1984. Similar protests have occurred in Arabic countries; Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, Sudan and other parts of the world. The protests in Arabic countries dubbed the Arab Spring, have either triggered armed conflicts or deposed the ruling governments.

The appropriate police response in such situations will also vary greatly. On some occasions, a police presence alone will be sufficient, in other circumstances it may be necessary to resort to the deployment of large numbers of officers or even lethal force. Clearly, it will never be possible to document all the tactical options that could be deployed to deal with conflict. What matters is that the police response is lawful and proportionate in the specific circumstances and that, at all times, individual officer’s act within the law and the powers they are given.

To understand conflict management it is important to first explain what conflict itself is. According to Diez et al, (2006) conflict refers to a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals. While various strategies are available to contain or end the conflict, the terms conflict management and conflict resolution are often used interchangeably, but it is important to draw a line between the two, so that there is clarity of what conflict management is and what it is not. Wang et al (2007) point out that conflict resolution is focused on eliminating conflict. Paul and Brahma (2017) concur by indicating that “conflict resolution involves a more analytical and problem solving approach by identifying fundamental factors behind the conflict”.

The primary aim in such situations will always be to control and neutralize any threat in order to maintain the peace and uphold the law as safely as possible for all concerned. Feelings may also be important and it is worth noting here that it is not wrong for a police officer to feel frightened. Indeed, an admission of this may help another person to understand more clearly why the officers reacted as they did.

A correct and defendable decision is more likely to result from consideration of all relevant information and intelligence. This may come from what the individual officer sees, hears or even feels for themselves, or from what they are told by another person. Information from local or force-wide indexes, experience from previous encounters or data gleaned from a use of force reporting system may also be relevant. On the basis of the intelligence, an officer will be able to make an assessment of the threat they face. The threat to the officer is most likely to emanate from the person or persons they are dealing with, any objects that may be present or the place where the encounter occurs. Situational awareness is of great importance for responding police teams.

According to Deutch and Coleman (2006), some of the potential causes of conflict include differences in knowledge, beliefs and basic values, competition for power and recognition, a drive for autonomy, personal dislike; differences in goals, diverse economic interests, and loyalties to groups. Conflict may also result from uncertainties, class struggles, ideological differences and or lack of value consensus. Some conflicts arise as identity clashes or ideational differences (Cherney et al., 2019). This means that there is a wide range of causes of conflict between individuals and groups of people.

Different political agendas

Mass protests encompass a wider cross-section of the entire population which includes the youth, students, workers, political activists, media, and other action groups in society. Lumumba-Kasongo (2019) presents that mass protests are manifestations of adversarial relations among various societal groups. Protesters usually express their frustrations over a wide range of issues including governance, social and economic conditions, corruption and workers’ grievances. Mass protests are usually non-partisan but they can easily be captured by other groups with different political agendas. In the global domain terrorist groups can also take advantage of mass protests to unleash terror on targeted sections of the population. Worldwide today the police are involved in counterterrorism primarily through routine crime prevention as well as through higher-order policing strategies such as undercover operations and counterterrorism operations to detect and disrupt terrorist activities and communications. Since the 9/11 attacks terrorism has become a domestic and transnational concern across the whole world.

To strategically manage mass protests and prevent damage to property or threats to human life, the police should consider several factors, even the seemingly petite requests or demands made by protesters. Some factors that should be considered when dealing with mass protests include; the number of protesters or size of protest groups, key participants or organisers of the protests, slogans and enchantments, statements, requests, the location where protesters assemble, level of violence and damage being caused (if any), nature of property or persons being targeted as well as methods being used for mobilizing protesters.

World trends for policing mass protests or public disorder management have shifted from the use of force to what McPhail et al. (2018) describes as the negotiated management approach. This ensures that the police do not necessarily block the protesters’ constitutional rights to demonstrate for a just cause since it is believed that protests can be accommodated as efforts to bring social change. This approach entails that the police negotiate with the demonstrators before the demonstration, so that there are minimum conflicts with the police. However, there are challenges with this approach if protesters do not recognize the police as legitimate. In such cases, even when the negotiated management approach is used, cases of lawbreaking and civil disobedience occurring during protests are inevitable and the police are required to exercise their constitutional mandate of maintaining law and order, detecting and investigating crime, preserving security and safeguarding property and protecting lives of the people.

The role of the responding police negotiator (who has been trained for at least 6 months in this sensitive duty) is to deal with incidents and negotiate with subjects to resolve issues in line with the incident commander’s strategy and to provide stability and support to those senior police officers in command of such incidents. Police officers must be trained to negotiate, with a humane understanding that they are dealing with people who are expecting an answer. The Police officer must have a sufficient knowledge of human emotions, body language, non- verbal clues that shows the protestors mindset to talk wisely and positively, amidst a disturbing atmosphere. In case of a country having more than one language the responding police officer on the scene must have knowledge of the other languages to talk and win the trust of the protestors and communicate efficiently.

Police teams must have safety gear for themselves, along with snacks and water to be on duty for long hours. When using tear gas officers must be wise to check the wind direction. The use of rubber bullets is much better than firing live bullets. Sadly some countries have banned the use of firing rubber bullets, which should raise red flags about their perception of human rights.

Human Rights

It is recorded by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, August 27 to September 7, 1990 which reads thus – Whereas article 3 of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty, whereas the Seventh Congress, in its resolution 14, inter alia, emphasizes that the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials should be commensurate with due respect for human rights.

The UN document further states - Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms. These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons. For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and safe means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.

Constant interactions between the police and other players enhance the legitimacy of the police in the public eye. This framework is created in the interest of national peace and security, but the effects of such an initiative have obvious benefits for regional and international peace.


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