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5.1 discussion


Organizational conflict is a necessary aspect of a vibrant organization. Without conflict, positive change for the organization or employee may be slow to achieve because the need for change is not identified, publicized, and scrutinized resulting in a less agile organization to adopt change. An effective criminal justice practitioner views conflict as an opportunity for communication and potential growth of the organization or employee.

Initial Post Instructions

Complete the Chapter 11 Think like an Administrator activity (at the end of the chapter). Respond to all the questions that follow the activity. Incorporate academic concepts from the chapter and an outside academic resource.

5.2 discussion


A requirement for criminal justice practitioners is to defer personal beliefs, morals, or biases regarding discretionary decision-making. Guidance for discretionary decision-making consists of Constitutional limits, policy, procedure, and particular circumstances.

Initial Post Instructions

What are some of the biases that would underlie a police officer’s discretionary decision whether or not to make an arrest? What biases or beliefs do you possess that would impact your decision to make an arrest or to release the offender? Incorporate academic concepts from the chapter and an outside academic resource.


Like other topics this book has explored, the idea of conflict is one that is intui-tively understood yet technically difficult to assess or measure. For this reason,researchers interested in conflict in organizations often employ a number of dif-ferent conceptualizations.Conflict is defined as a dynamic process in which two or more individuals in an orga-nization interact in such a way as to produce“conflict episodes”that may or may not lead to hostile behaviors(Pondy, 1985:383). Pondy, for example, suggests four ways in which conflict can be understood in organizations. First, researchers often explore the antecedent conditions of conflict, such as resource scarcity, policy differences, and disagreements concerning preferred outcomes for the organization. When, for example, a treatment specialist does not agree with an immedi-ate correctional supervisor on inmate supervision, the disagreement may be a precursor to conflict between subordinate and supervisor. This is the classic goal conflict that occurs within correctional institutions. In this example, the treat-ment specialist may believe that the primary goal of the institution should be the treatment of offenders, whereas the correctional supervisor may hold that security concerns of the institution override treatment programming.Second, conflict in organizations can be understood as producing affective states in workers, such as stress, hostility, or anxiety. In our example, a corrections officer who is upset by what she perceives as an incorrect policy choice by the immediate supervisor may experience a great deal of stress as a consequence and may ultimately become dysfunctional to the organization. Much of the research on stress in criminal justice organizations may reflect the worker’s inability to deal effectively with a con-flict situation in the workplace. The examination of stress among criminal justice employees may thus require an exploration of the conflict process in those organiza-tions. For this reason, perhaps, criminal justice organizations have introduced conflict-management seminars for their employees.Third, conflict can be viewed from the individual employee’s cognitive states. Once again, in our corrections officer example, the officer may or maynot be aware of the conflict she has with the supervisor. Researchers interested in conflict processes in organizations have examined employees awareness of conflict in their organizations and the degree to which it influences their behav-ior. We may, for example, survey corrections officers and ask them whether they perceive conflict situations in their work and how they deal with these situations.Corrections officers are, in fact, good at adapting to or accommodating the “conflict inherent in their roles. As Lipsky (1980) suggests, much of what street-level bureaucrats, such as police officers and corrections officers, accomplish isdone through a series of accommodations (Stojkovic, 1990). There have been similar findings among criminal justice administrators (Stojkovic, 1995). We Would add that these accommodations may be in reaction to the conflict situa-tions they face.Fourth, conflict in organizations has been examined by exploring the con-flict behavior itself, whether it is passive resistance or outright confrontational or aggressive behavior. Many researchers interested in correctional institutions can understand this form of conflict research because of the voluminous material on the nature of disturbances or riots in correctional institutions. Much of the research has examined the etiology of these riots (Barak-Glantz, 1985; DiIulio,1987; Useem and Kimball, 1989).We also can examine conflict at multiple levels. This approach to defining and examining conflict attempts to comprehend it as having many antecedents(something we discuss later) and is engendered at the intra-individual level, the dyadic level, and the group level. Much of the early twenty-first-century research on conflict has especially focused on these levels and has not examined them simultaneously while employing a multilevel strategy (Korsgaard, Jeong, Mahony, and Pitariu, 2009). This level of complexity makes conflict manage-ment even more difficult. At the end of the day, as criminal justice administrators, we have to comprehend the sources of conflict in our agencies and propose interventions that address them in useful and practical ways.


We can identify four types of conflict in organizations, each of which requires a different adjustment mechanism. They are personal conflict, group conflict,intra-organizational conflict, and inter-organizational conflict. (See Chapter 8 fora discussion of goal conflict.)Personal ConflictPersonal conflict exists within the individual and usually is some form of cog-nitive conflict. Typically, this form of conflict results from failed expectations.For example, a young police officer who holds certain ideals about the police profession may find that many of them are not consistent with the reality of the police role or the police organization. The officer may feel a great deal of personal conflict because he cannot reconcile his own expectations with those of his superiors. In short, the officer may feel what Festinger (1957) refers to as“cognitive dissonance.”To deal with this conflict, the young police officer may change his expectations to bring them in line with the organization’s expectations, or he may seek to understand the conflict and thereby reduce its impact.Whatever the decision, it will affect his future behavior. In the extreme case, the officer may decide to leave the organization because he cannot resolve his “personal conflict. For this reason, conflict-management programs, which we discuss later in the chapter, are critical to criminal justice organizations.Group ConflictGroup conflict occurs in organizations when individual members disagree on some point of common interest. The resolution of the conflict is essential to the survival of the group and may even enhance the effectiveness of the group in the long run. Take, for example, a group of police officers who work in a patrol unit. A conflict arises because of a disagreement over writing tickets. The department has formal expectations about the number of tickets the group is supposed to issue, but the officers have their own norms, which are different.Conflict occurs because some officers in the group believe that the expectations of their superiors override the group’s informally derived expectations. The ensuing conflict can improve the coordination and communication processes ofthe group by forcing them to be cohesive and coordinated in determining an acceptable level of ticket writing. Obviously, if the conflict escalates too far, possibly because proper conflict-resolution techniques are not employed, then the group may disintegrate. Group conflict can also be healthy and productive if itis properly handled by the immediate supervisor. In our example, the sergeant can use certain techniques to benefit the group in the long term.In addition, research has suggested that the nature and scope of group conflict can be broken down into two types: task conflict and relationship con-flict. The former refers to disagreement among group members about the content of the tasks being performed, while the latter refers to“interpersonal incompatibility” among members of the group (Tekleab, Quigley, and Tesluk,2009). Current research has examined the relationship among task conflict and relationship conflict and team cohesion, suggesting that as task conflict and rela-tionship conflict vary, there are differential effects on the cohesion of the group.In other words, it is not clear that conflict management (a topic we explore later)has clear beneficial effects when addressing task conflict and relationship conflict in organizations.Another form of group conflict is intergroup conflict, in which group within an organization compete for valuable and limited resources. If we look at police organizations and examine the multiple groups within them, we can see why intergroup conflict exists. Many police departments are composed of functional units—patrol, detective, vice, juvenile, and traffic—each with its own objectives and tasks. Given differing tasks and finite resources, it is common for conflict situations to arise. If, for example, the detective unit is favored by the chief and given the most resources, conflict is likely to ensue. The other units may perceive the chief’s favoritism toward the detective unit as an unfair advan-tage and may request increased allocations for their own units. In this example,the chief may resolve the conflict by providing good reasons for allocating more resources to the detective unit than to the other units. However, if the other units believe that the explanation is inadequate, the conflict may escalate.When the conflict among the competing units does escalate, the police chief “can use the competition among the groups as a mechanism to engender improved performance.Thus, intra-group conflict may be healthy for the organization. An example of this type of administrative use of competition was documented by ArthurSchlesinger (1958) in his analysis of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.Roosevelt was able to use the conflict generated by competing governmental units to control information about the workings of the federal bureaucracy while simultaneously generating improved levels of performance among subordinates. This method of conflict management may be effective, but if particular units continually fail in the process, they may become demoralized and assume a defeatist attitude that will be detrimental to the organization in the long term.If it escalates too far, intergroup conflict can be counterproductive. In our exam-ple, the competition among the different police units must be monitored to ensure that it remains effective and beneficial.Intra-Organizational ConflictAlthough group conflict deals with the relationships within and between groups in organizations,intra-organizational conflicts generated by the structural makeup of an organization—that is, by formal authority in the organization and how it is delegated. There are four major types of intra-organizational con-flict: vertical conflict, horizontal conflict, line-staff conflict, and role conflict(Hellriegel, Slocum, and Woodman, 1995).Vertical ConflictVertical conflict exists between workers at different levels in an organizational hierarchy. Within a department of corrections, for example,corrections officers sit below sergeants, sergeants sit below lieutenants, and so forth; this paramilitary model makes vertical conflict an inevitable event as superiors try to control the behavior of officers. The relationship between corrections officers and prisoners is so tenuous that conflict usually ensues whenever superiors try to tell officers how to supervise inmates. This perceived encroachment by supervisors on officers jobs is the antecedent condition for conflict. In fact, a body of knowledge about corrections work supports the vertical nature of con-flict in correctional institutions, not only between supervisor and subordinate but also between inmate and officer (see Crouch and Marquart, 1989; Johnson,2002; Lombardo, 1981). Whatever the location, it would be fair to say that ver-tical conflict is ubiquitous within correctional institutions. Similar research find-ings support widespread vertical conflict in police organizations (Angell,1971:19–29; Mastrofski, 1991).Moreover, the conflict that is produced may be more pronounced for some subordinates and less pronounced for other subordinates in the vertical hierarchy of organizations. Schieman and Reid (2008), for example, found that the interpersonal effects (conflict) of a higher authority position in an organization are different along the dimensions of age and gender. Younger workers tend tohave more stress and experience more interpersonal conflict than older workers,especially younger male workers. While gender cannot be totally negated in the “relationship between interpersonal conflict and job authority, it is much more dynamic and felt more acutely by younger, male workers. This may be due to their striving for higher positions within an organization and the concomitant stress that is associated with that pursuit. It is interesting that older workers, in general, experienced less interpersonal conflict when compared to their younger colleagues. This is not necessarily just because they have more authority, but they also may be perceived as more experienced and legitimate by others in the organization, thereby minimizing the level of interpersonal conflict they experience. When applying this finding to criminal justice organizations, it is clear that respect and deference are oftentimes granted to“older”workers due to their years of tenure on the job. Thus, the impact of vertical conflict on them maybe minimal or irrelevant at this point in their careers when compared to younger employees who are still striving for higher positions in the organization.

“Is Conflict Management Possible in Criminal Justice Administration?

According to Thomas (1985:412–415), successful conflict management deals with all three dimensions of conflict outcomes. The first is goal attainment by conflicting parties. In the conflict between treatment staff and custodial personnel, goals must be attained by either one group or the other or both. In an optimal sense, both parties should gain something from the conflict. Although desirable,such an outcome is highly improbable in this case. Thomas even states that one would not want to grant every party equal weight in the conflict. Custodial Functions, for example, may be more important to the prison organization than treatment programs, or vice versa. If the conflict does resolve anything, it may be the priority of one function over the other.For this reason, effective criminal justice administration requires communication of the priorities in an organization. Once subordinates understand these priorities, the number of conflicts in the organization may decrease. This same line of reasoning can be extended to conflict at the inter-organizational level. Clear communication among the components in the criminal justice system will reduce the likelihood of long-term conflict among them. If an administrator perceives that the parties in conflict are of equal value, however, then the opti-mal strategy is some type of compromise so that each believes that it received a portion of what it sought in the conflict.Second, administrators in the criminal justice system must be aware of the consequences of a conflict episode for the people involved. If, for example, treatment staff perceive that they have been treated unfairly by the administration of the institution in resolving a conflict, this perception may adversely affect their productivity and outlook toward the job. Such long-term effects on performance can also be the result of inter-organizational conflict. Because the parts of the sys-tem are so interdependent, it is crucial that administrators understand the impor-tance of maintaining stable relationships with each other, as this chapter’s case study demonstrates. These relationships may be the most pivotal aspect of effec-tive criminal justice administration today. Here, collaboration seems to be the best possible method for dealing with conflict. The collaboration strategy enables conflicting parties to see that their concerns are being recognized even though they may not get what they want.Third, conflict management in the criminal justice system must beeconomic of time and effort.A tremendous amount of effort is put into dealing with conflicts “both within criminal justice organizations and outside their boundaries. Energy Used to deal with conflicts could be used for constructive activities within the organization. Good criminal justice administrators understand, therefore, the importance of efficient conflict management in their organizations.This point leads us to a question: Is conflict management possible in criminal justice organizations? We think that it is not only possible but essential. The key lies in improving communication both within and among the components of the system. At present, communication is fragmented at both levels. For conflict management to work, this problem of poor communication must be resolved. Improving communication will require some structural changes, including more specific lines of communication in the organization. At the inter-organizational level, this would mean raising the consciousness (process intervention) of criminal justice administrators to help them see that improved communication is essential to their effectiveness.


A number of views have been advanced over the years about the role that conflict plays in organizations. Our position is that conflict in criminal justice organizations can be both beneficial and harmful. Much of the conflict that occurs is good in the sense that it promotes change in those organizations;conflict makes the system responsive to the demands of a changing environ-ment (Wright, 2004). Assume, for example, that a police organization is viewed as unresponsive to demands from the community for changes in the way police services are delivered. In this situation, conflict may arise not only between community groups and those who run the department but also between department administrators and the officers. If the department does become responsive to the community, rank-and-file officers may feel that the department is trying to appease the community groups to their detriment.Conflict in this situation may be good because it forces the department to rethink its relationship with the community and its own officers, a task that can be beneficial to the organization’s operations and delivery of services.The ultimate goal of conflict management in the system of criminal justice should be an increase in organizational effectiveness. This view is supported by research that suggests that when it comes to task conflict, it is not automatic that a reduction in it is desirable. Instead, moderate amounts of task conflict may actually provide a greater voice to those in the group who would not otherwise be heard, and, until their views are heard, the level of group cohe-sion might be less than optimal (Tekleab, Quigley, and Tesluk, 2009:176). Conflict can also be harmful. If, in the previous example, conflict between the officers and the department over the role of the community escalates to the point that the functioning of police units is jeopardized, then conflict has become detrimental to the long-term operation of the department. Management has failed to control the escalation of conflict, and, as a result, the effectiveness of the organization may be diminished. “Conflict in criminal justice organizations is, however, a normal process, and eliminating it is not only unrealistic but also counterproductive to their long-term health. In short, conflict serves a useful function. Although long-term and deeply entrenched conflict is of no value to any organization, conflict enables an organization to grow and adapt successfully to its environment. Because conflict in criminal justice organizations seems inevitable given the fact of frequently incompatible goals, managers have to learn how to live with, adapt to, andy cope with it. Conflict-management programs need to be developed to train managers and administrators how to do so effectively.”

“Think like an Administrator”

Conflict is common within criminal justice organizations. Criminal justice administrators have recognized that the best they can do is manage conflict; eradication of organiza-tional conflict is not only impossible to achieve, it also may be counterproductive. So,the best strategy is to appropriately manage conflict within organizations. Because we know that eradication of conflict is not possible within criminal justice organizations, how do we best manage organizational conflict?

1.Can you harness conflict by encouraging competition among groups within the organization?

2.How much conflict centers on the distribution of resources in the organization?

3.How does the desire for critical information create an atmosphere of conflict across criminal justice organizations?

4.How does a poor reward system create conflict within criminal justice organizations?

5.Describe“the-conflict”within police agencies, especially those agencies focused on multi-jurisdictional drug investigations.

6.How can conflict be used to initiate change within criminal justice organizations?

7.How do you know when conflict is both productive and/or nonproductive?”


A decision is a judgment, a choice between alternatives (Houston, 1999). The decisions you made when you opened your closet this morning and the parole board’s decision whether or not to parole an offender may seem to have little in common. Your choice of clothing and a parole board’s decision, however, both “resulted from processes that share some basic elements. Those elements are shown in Figure 12.2. In general, some theory or broad framework guides most decisions. As you examine your wardrobe, your selection of what to wear may simply be based on your beliefs about what looks good on you, but complex decisions may involve sophisticated theories. In his study of parole board decision making, for example, Hawkins (1983) found that broad support of classical is morpositivism frames board members decisions—that is, some members of the parole board place great importance on whether an offender has been punished for a suitable time, whereas others are concerned with evidence of rehabilitation or change in the offender’s outlook. Wilson’s (1968) styles of policing may also be seen as broad frameworks within which police officers make decisions to arrest or not arrest. Officers in departments characterized by the watchman style, with its primary focus on maintaining order, may be reluctant to arrest if less drastic means will control a disturbance. Officers in legalistic departments, however, may invoke their power toarrest based solely on whether a statute has been violated. More recent research,however, suggests that organizational structure or styles of policing only partially predict arrest rates, and factors such as crime rates or violent crime rates may be a stronger determinant (Chappell, MacDonald, and Manz, 2006). Goals in the decision-making process are specific to each decision, and they refer to what a decision-maker would like to achieve. In a decision to prosecute a particular case, the prosecuting attorney’s goal may be to gain a conviction; in the decision to dispatch a police car to a burglary scene or to schedule an appointment, a dispatcher’s goal may be the efficient use of personnel. Goals may not always be so obvious, however. In his study of probation officers ’sentencing recommendations, Rosecrance (1985) concluded that “ball park “recommendations” serve the goal of maintaining credibility with the judge and may have little to do with particular cases. However, plea bargaining, mandatory minimum sentences, and sentencing guidelines have reduced the role of probation officers’ recommendations in sentencing decisions (Stinchcomb and Hip-pensteel, 2001).Decision-makers also need three kinds of information. First, they must be aware of alternatives, or choices. If there are no alternatives, no decision must be made. Second, they must also be aware of the possible consequences of the alternatives. If consequences do not differ or if there are no expectations regarding consequences, an alternative can be selected only at random. Third, some information is needed about the subject of the decision in order to guide the selection among the alternatives. A judge’s sentencing decision can illustrate the importance of information. Evidence of a convicted offender’s crime and criminal history provides a basis for selection among the sentencing alternatives as provided by statute. All of this information is considered in light of the expected consequences of each possible sentence. Among these consequences may be dan-ger to the public if an offender remains in the community, the possible brutalizing effects of a prison term on a youthful offender, and public dissatisfaction if a substantial penalty is not imposed.The availability of the information, however, does not necessarily produce a decision. That information must be processed. Processing occurs through the decision rules, which govern how the elements of the decision are combined.In criminal justice, many decisions rely on essentially clinical decision rules that are based on education, training, and experience. Arrest decisions, sentencing decisions, and classification decisions usually rely on the clinical judgments of individuals. At the other extreme are quantitative decision rules, involving the assignment of numerical weights to pieces of information. Those weights are added to produce a sum that dictates the decision. Scales based on these principles have been developed for use in prosecution, bail, sentencing, and parole decisions.The processing of information according to decision rules produces outcomes.People are arrested, sentenced, transferred between prisons, or paroled. Policies are implemented, changed, or dismantled. The outcome is the result of the decision. In many but not all cases, the decision process is not completed with the outcome. Many types of decisions are repeated again and again. Police officers soon face new decisions about whether or not to arrest, and judges continue to sentence convicted offenders. In a cybernetic, or self-correcting, decision model, the outcome of prior decisions provides feedback to influence future decisions. Cybernetic decision processes are based on mechanical models similar to the thermostat in a house. When the heat is turned on, the temperature rises until the preset temperature high is reached; then the thermostat turns off the heat until the preset low temperature is reached, at which point the heat comes on again. Criminal justice feedback is not nearly so simple, but the same principles apply. Police officer’s arrest practices are influenced by prosecutors’ decision to pursue prosecution or dismiss charges. Parole board decisions are influenced by information about the failure of some parolees”