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
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.