Thursday, 22 February 2018

Police versus Judiciary Security: Negotiate or Mediate?

On Tuesday 7th July 2015, security guards at the Arima Magistrate's Court informed police officers they needed to be searched before entering the court and that firearms would not be permitted. Subsequently, a meeting between Acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams and President of the Police Social Welfare Association (PSWA), Inspector Anand Ramesar was held where a decision was taken for police officers to ignore directions from the security guards. However, on Wednesday 8th July 2015, police officers encountered the same issue with the security guards. The police officers refused to appear in court on both days at the Arima Magistrate's Court.

Issues raised by the conflict include:
  • The law authorizes police officers to keep firearms on his or her person in the court
  • The magistrate cannot change the law.
  •  Security officers do not have the authority to search police officers because they are of a lower rank than 
  • police officers
  •  Police officers need to protect themselves
  • Police officers' lives are not endangered in court and they do not need firearms in court
  • The policy was implemented is to avert a situation where firearms being snatched from police officers in court and used to kill or physically harm others
  •  internationally different positions have been taken on police carrying firearms in court
  • The policy implemented by the security officers have existed for years 
(Newsday, 2015)

I will discuss the possibility of using alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve a conflict which occurred locally by making considerations to theories, sources of the conflict, power and communication. The chosen theories that will be used for this conflict are transformational theory and attribution theory. The paper will discuss two (2) sources of conflict, specifically: procedure conflict and role conflict. Two (2) conflict resolution methods will be discussed as options to resolve the conflict. The methods that will be explored are mediation and negotiation. I will explore both the advantages and disadvantages of the two (2) methods. However, I will focus on how mediation is the more appropriate alternative dispute resolution method for resolving this particular conflict. Elements of power and communication will also be examined in the context of the conflict.  

Procedures and roles are two primary sources of conflict identified.  Procedural conflict is evident by differing views of the police officers and the security guards. Role conflict is revealed by the police who do not think the security guards understand their roles in relation to the chain of command. These sources of conflict are important for determining what type of conflict resolution method may be used in the matter. The role conflict raises the issue of power imbalances, whereas procedural conflict calls for clarification of policy. The sources of conflict may be further examined from a theoretical perspective.

The application of transformational theory to the conflict means viewing the conflict as an opportunity for change. This theory portrays conflict as a functional element of society; without conflict change is limited, and without change progress seems impractical. The conflict between the security guards and the police officers exposed ambiguity between our laws and legal policies. Although the law permits police officers to carry firearms in public places and a court is a public place (Firearms Act, 2011), judicial officers stated that the policy of the Judiciary forbids police officers from carrying firearms in the court (Newsday, 2015).Transformational theory may address the conflict by examining possibilities for change. This theory looks at past events that lead to the escalation of the conflict and how relationships may be transformed.  

Attribution theory applied to the conflict would direct attention to what or who caused the conflict and how each party reacts in relation to these attributions. The fundamental attribution error occurs when we blame an individual behaviour on personality traits rather than on the situation. To resolve the conflict from this theoretical orientation we have to facilitate discussion amongst parties about why they acted in a particular way. The aim is to correct erroneous assumptions. Attribution theory also asserts that people tend to attribute situational causes to their own behaviours and dispositional causes to others' behaviours. One of the issues raise in the conflict between the security guards and the police was the issue of power. The police felt that the security officers were not authorized to search them as the police officers are higher in rank.  To resolve the conflict this theory point in the direction of uncovering each parties' perception about what caused the conflict and correcting any errors in perception. It means each party hearing the other's story.

Communication is the vehicle by which conflict occurs. It is also the means by which the conflict may be resolved. The conflict occurred between the security guards at the court and the police. However, the Inspector Anand Ramesar urged Magistrates to abide by the law as he interpreted it. Although no mention was made of Magistrates being involved in the conflict he was making the assertion that they were responsible for the policy of the Arima Magistrate's Court. Concerns about power dynamics were also raised by Inspector Ramesar. This is an indication that hostile communication may have caused the conflict to escalate. Acting Commissioner, Stephen Williams, indicated that he would meet with the Registrar of the High Court to attempt resolution. The Attorney General, Mr Garvin Nicholas also expressed intent to communicate with the Chief Justice and the Police Commissioner before any action was taken. Therefore, communication is the tool which could have been utilized to resolve the conflict.

Negotiation and mediation are possible conflict resolution methods that will be examined. These forms of conflict resolution requires each party to prepare in advance their best alternative to a negotiated arrangement (BATNA) and their worst alternative to a negotiated arrangement (WATNA). Using their BATNA and WATNA parties meet for discussions with the option of using (a) negotiator/s to bargain for an agreement. Negotiation may be either distributive by utilizing hard or soft bargaining styles, or integrative by using interest-based bargaining. Mediation, however, utilizes a neutral third party or mediator who facilitates discussion of interest rather than positions. Mediation is confidential and it empowers parties to speak for themselves and come up with their own solutions to the problem. Both negotiation and mediation may have been used in the dispute to bring about an agreement between the judicial officers and the police, but, there were more factors to consider.

Negotiation is used for matters that are simple and where power is evenly distributed and this conflict is complex. Therefore, mediation is the favoured conflict resolution method over negotiation. This particular conflict was triangulated with the Commissioner of Police and the President of the Police Social Welfare Association on one hand and the Magistrates and Chief Justice on the other hand. If the Attorney General makes a decision based on discussions with the Chief Justice and the Commissioner of Police, it also meant that the persons directly involved in the conflict have been removed from the actual face-to-face discussions. Those elements created a complex situation to resolve via negotiation. Any resolution may not provide satisfaction for parties involved as the real underlying issues may not be brought to the surface through negotiation. One focus of mediation, however, is to expose and explore underlying issues. This makes any resulting agreement more likely to be mutually satisfying to all parties involved.

Power imbalance also would have made mediation the preferred alternative dispute resolution method over negotiation in this particular dispute. Power imbalance in negotiation may lead to the stronger party winning by using hard strategies and the weaker party losing out if they employ soft strategies. If distributive negation is used then parties would approach the discussion table by attempting to concede as little as possible. Parties try to deceive each other and not disclose true interests at the beginning. This is used in hope of gaining as much ground as possible. With integrative negotiation, parties disclose and try a collaborative approach to problem-solving.

Power-play was introduced into the discussion by the assertion that security officers overstepped their authority by implementing the policy of searching police officers before they may enter the court. It raised the question of security officers having less power than police officers and steers discussions away from the actual cause of the conflict. Any resulting outcome may not meet the needs of all parties involved if negotiation occurs along those position-based rather than interest-based lines. Mediation may have attempted to eliminate power play by either balancing power in problem-solving mediation or empowering parties through transformative mediation. That would have shifted focus to interests and may have produced a satisfying and therefore lasting resolution.

Negotiation in this conflict may have taken on a top-down, hierarchical approach to discussions whereas mediation would have included the parties directly involved in the conflict. In the case of negotiated settlement discussion, the Commissioner of Police would represent the police and the Chief Justice would represent the security officers at the Arima Magistrate's Court. Mediation and that would yield a lasting resolution because all parties involved must be included in the discussions and everyone would be given the opportunity to be heard. This gives mediation the advantage over negotiation. Mediation is also a confidential process and it creates face-saving opportunities. It is a safe space for discussions and it encourages people to make full and honest disclosure without the threat of penalties.  

Emotions are the fuel for social interactions and expression of emotions is encouraged in mediation, but not in negotiation. According to neurologist Antonio Damasio, 2005, emotions help people make decisions. He discovered that people with brain damage to the part of the brain that deals with emotions are capable of thinking rationally, but, unable to make decisions. By discussing emotions, people could make better decisions about how a conflict may be resolved. This makes mediation preferable over negotiation for this dispute.  There is a strong emotional element which can only be expressed by the parties involved in the conflict. The conflict involved power play which usually inspires strong emotions in people. Expressed emotions are usually reciprocated from the other party. Negative emotions have an adverse effect on negotiations. In mediation, emotions are given as much attention as the actual issues. They are acknowledged and explored. It gives people an opportunity to be heard and expression of emotions encourages empathy. Therefore, the resolution may have been more satisfying for both parties even if they do not reach an agreement they have the satisfaction of being heard.

Mediation and integrative negotiation may both separate people from the situation and make use of objective criteria to assist in the resolution of a conflict, but, with distributive negotiation, parties use hard bargaining techniques. They take a position, and hold on to it and conceal their "true views and making small concessions only as necessary to keep the negotiation going" (Fisher and Ury, 2011). Any resolution that is reached via distributive may not be satisfying. That couldhave lead to an impasse, litigation or a cold conflict. An impasse is undesirable because both parties would be dissatisfied, and the court functions may be disrupted. Litigation tends to be very expensive and time-consuming.  A cold conflict means there is resolution and apart from dissatisfied parties, the conflict may flare up at a later time.

Finding as many agreement options as possible before choosing is ideally accomplished through brainstorming with all parties involved in the conflict, and brainstorming with competing parties is more feasible through mediation rather than negotiation. Integrative negotiation encourages brainstorming with opposing parties. However, it is difficult to accomplish as each party's focus is on achieving their own goals rather than help the opposing side achieve theirs. Distributive negotiation rules out brainstorming its approach is to narrow options rather than to create more options.
Although mediation appears presents more advantages than negotiation, there are some disadvantages of mediation. Mediation may be time-consuming as it takes time to discuss all issues and emotions, brainstorm and chose a mutually satisfying outcome. In some situations, a mutually satisfying outcome may not even be possible. Mediation is also not focused on an agreement; rather it facilitates discussion of the issues with the hope of coming to some mutually satisfying resolution. Additionally, a mediated agreement is not binding for parties. It allows for revisiting the issue and trying an alternative option. This may be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Furthermore, mediation is not fact-finding. It does not look for truth or examine or cross-examine evidence.

Despite these disadvantages, mediation would have been more likely to produce a favourable outcome for both parties in the conflict discussed. That meant an agreement that parties would uphold and feel satisfied with. This post explored the conflict between security guards insisting those police officers entering the Arima Magistrate's Court subject themselves to being searched and not enter with firearms from a theoretical perspective and making considerations for sources of conflict, power and communication. Negotiation and mediation were explored as possible alternative dispute resolution methods. Particular attention was paid to why mediation would be more beneficial than negotiation for this conflict.

Monday, 25 July 2016

"Thank God for small mercies"

I tell people that I am happy with my life. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life because I can provide for myself. I have everything I need and more than I ever expected out of life. It has not always been that way with me. It took 33 years of hard work and focus and determination to the point of "bad mind" using the words of my friend. I looked failure in the face and said with conviction "You WILL NOT GET ME DOWN!!!". People were certain I would fail. I was stubborn about it and I stuck to my guns. If I believe I am right there is not a soul in this world that will stop me from fighting for what I believe in. No one can tell me I am not going to achieve what I set out to do! I will look them in their face and tell myself "watch me do it, I am going to prove you wrong!" Nothing fuels that fire in me to succeed like a person telling me with certainty that I will fail.

So I have to say I am grateful for everyone in my life. I am grateful for those who believe in me and push me to achieve my fullest potential. I am grateful for those who support me in everything I do, asking for nothing in return. I am grateful for those who taught me to love unconditionally, it is the only way to love. I am grateful for those who stuck with me during my worst and lowest moments. I am grateful for those who continue to love and support me even when they know my deepest and darkest secrets. I am especially grateful to those who doubt my abilities and question me because they help me to dig deep and find my inner strength. They provide the fuel and substance to keep that fire burning inside me to achieve my goals.

So when you come face to face with someone who doubts your abilities, think about what I wrote. I hope I can inspire you to take their words as a challenge to be a better you. If only we could learn to love our enemies, Those who put us down are only giving us a reason to be better than we are now. We must learn to accept criticism. Not everyone is going to package the criticism in a way we want. We must have self-worth. Belief in oneself and holding steadfast to one's cause will help one to achieve unimaginable success.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

School Bachannal: Bullying

Several years ago, when I was attending secondary school, I entered my form three (3) classroom. Some students were standing in the doorway. One of those students was a girl I disliked. She was a popular student and I thought that she was loud and mean. As I was entered the classroom I stumbled on her foot. She did not acknowledge me or apologize! She started laughing and I assumed that she was laughing because it was a deliberate act of bullying. 

I was very angry but I did not say anything. I felt that I allowed her to get away and desperately wanted to get back at her. Instead, I went to my desk. Later on that day I complained to a classmate about the incident. He told her what I said and she started making comments like... "so why she didn't come and tell me she have a problem? You is a police or what?."... She was loud and I was embarrassed. Instead of telling her about how I felt, I bad-mouthed her. Anytime I had an audience, and always when she was not in earshot, I called her a bully, I described her as being mean and made many unflattering comments about her dating life, to put it mildly.

I was not the best moments of my life, I handled that situation terribly. I was scared to approach her when the conflict occurred. I was smaller than her and felt intimidated. Nonetheless, my pride was hurting. Therefore in order to get back at her, I tried to hurt her reputation. I made comments about things I did not know about and supported anyone who said negative things about her. I sensationalized the story to make it worse than it was. When people reported what I said they added to the story and she retaliated by saying derogatory things about me. 

Had I confronted her by telling her that I stumbled on her foot and refrained from making comments to a third party I may have been able to earn her respect and avert many years of negativity between the two of us. We later met at university and the scars were so deep we remained enemies. By bad-mouthing her with other people I caused a domino effect and made the situation progressively worse. I should have separated my emotions from the situation. I could have enlisted the help of a friend to act as a third party to resolve the conflict. I also could have dealt with the situation in a private and confidential manner by asking to speak with her alone.

If we train youths to deal with conflict in a positive maybe we can curb violence before it starts. Think about it. Do you recall any conflicts that happened in school? How did you deal with them? How do we solve these issues?


Peer Mediation involves training young people to handle conflict in a positive way. It teaches young people about active listening, focusing on issues and not personalities, how to intervene in a conflict situation before it escalates out of control. Furthermore, training in peer mediation as a young person means that by the time these young people enter the workplace they would advance in managing conflict. All these social skills are necessary for life; at home, at work and in our communities. Peer mediation addresses the concerns of bullying and is a preventative measure for domestic violence. Instead of spending millions on fixing the damage would it not make more sense to prevent these recurring social ills?

What are your thoughts?

"Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child"

"Spare the rod and spoil the child"

I was returning to Tobago from Trinidad. On the plane just a few seats ahead of me, a woman was sitting with her son. He was probably about 5 years old and was sitting on his mother's lap. The flight was about to take off and the flight attendant informed the woman that she must strap the child into the seat before we take off. The woman's response to the flight attendant was "but he would cry". So the flight attendant insisted that he wad buckled in even if he cried. 

The woman complied with her son crying loudly and fussing. However, after takeoff she unbuckled him and placed him on her lap once more. When we were landing she left him on her lap despite the usual announcement from the flight attendant that we should buckle our seat-belts and stow our tray tables away. 

I was upset. He was disturbing me with his annoying crying! I was very tired having had very little sleep the night before and I thought the woman was being selfish, foolish and inconsiderate!

Did she "spare the rod to spoil her child"?

But wait. What is "the rod"? 

Corporal punishment has been made illegal for teachers and parents in Trinidad and Tobago, yet, we still use violence to punish.

 Capital punishment to some is the best deterrent for a person who commits murder or rape. We insist that these people must be punished! Is this not revenge? 

Can we undo what the hurt and pain? Does it bring back our loved ones? After finding the culprits and making them pay, what next? 

Much had been said about ISIS and about how some cultures use violent means to punish crimes. Are we any different? 

But why do we take these contradictory positions? Well, we have been taught to do so. Bridget Brereton wrote an entire paper on the culture of violence in Trinidad and Tobago Stemming from colonialism. From the genocide of the Amerindians to African Slavery and East Indian Indentureship and now corporal punishment and capital punishment. 

So how do we discipline or solve society's criminal activity without violence? 

Have you ever heard of Mediation and Restorative Justice?

Police versus Judiciary Security: Negotiate or Mediate?

Conflict On Tuesday 7th July 2015, security guards at the Arima Magistrate's Court informed police officers they needed to be searc...