The Cycle of Conflict

This blog has been amended following comment from Dr Clifford Stott, whose feedback I am indebted for. The amendments are in the second last paragraph

One of the public order commanders I work with regularly has a favourite quote which she uses at all her briefings

‘Don’t be the tube on YouTube.’

This reflects how officers are always under scrutiny and a one off incident caused by a lost temper can be uploaded to the Internet and go viral in seconds. One of the challenges for supervisors in public order incidents is managing the attitude of police officers to ensure that they don’t cause an escalation in conflict.

Betari’s Box models how the attitude and behaviour of one person during an interaction affects the other person they interact with in a cyclical way.


The natural outcome of this model is that if there is negative attitudes or behaviour then they will continue to escalate until there is a conflict. Within a protest situation this escalation can affect the attitude of the group and create a ‘crowd’ focussing on the negative attitude of the police.

The model is not an absolute rule and it is possible to break the cycle in various ways. The best way is not to ‘break’ the cycle, but not to become involved in it, not to allow negative attitudes to impact on the attitude of the officers. This is achieved by strong briefing prior to the event and ensuring that officers morale is kept high.

If it becomes apparent that officers are becoming involved in the cycle, then efforts should be made to remove the officers who are being affected before the interaction escalates to conflict. As one senior Tayside Officer put it in the run up to the G8 Conference

Let’s suppose an operational officer gets a custard pie in the face … Saying ‘get a PSU in there quick’ is the wrong answer. Get himout of there. An officer’s been pied by an eejit [idiot] and is boiling about it – get him out of there, cool him down

There is a strong recognition that adopting a positive attitude whilst policing a protest event is beneficial in reducing conflict; plans and briefings always emphasise the policing style to be used, which is usually a positive community focused approach.

It would be naive to assume that conflict is only generated by the interaction. In protest, and other areas of policing, both parties in the exchange are likely to have preconceived notions about the other group. However, an awareness of the cycle of conflict and ensuring positive attitudes and behaviour can positively influence these preconceptions, as happened with the protester liaison teams in Sheffield.

I was introduced to this model during a teaching methods input on an instructors course. It is not taught or recognised to my knowledge as part of public order training or general police training. I have preached it’s value to officers both during public order and during night-time economy policing. If any readers are aware of its use in public order, please let me know.


Just there for a Ruck? Violence and Non-Violence in Protest Policibg during the 2005 G8 – Hugo Gorringe and Michael Rosie


About PoliceGeek

I am a police sergeant with a strong interest in policing public order, both professionally and academically. I love ultra running and seeking new challenges
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7 Responses to The Cycle of Conflict

  1. New to the site – there will be much to learn here. I like the two quotes you have given. I can think of a multitude of times where that advice would have been useful.
    Added to future potential briefing notes.

  2. Pingback: The Cycle of Conflict | Policing news |

  3. I have seen this model used on level three training at GMP. I think its a good model at some levels, in particular because it starts to reflect upon the impact of police behaviour on others – as you know, something central to our theory of crowd dynamics. Yet at the same time I think there are issues. First, the model implies and decontextualizes inter-personal relations and as such tends to ignore the importance of group level interactions and context.

    It is not always individual officers that cause reaction, but that the historical context of police interactions during and event informs how people behave toward the police as a whole. This is particularly important for PLTs during crowd events where ‘public order’ tactics can break down the capacity of the PLTs to work. In this sense it is other officers initiating group level interactions that set the context for these inter-personal interactions. So you as an individual officer may be met with hostility – not because you have done something negative – but because some other officer has elsewhere.

    Also I think there is the broader social context of policing. How police actions are interpreted has a lot to do with a general historical process. For example, at present there is growing antagonism toward the police among the protest community because of events like the policing of the student demonstrations, G20, etc., etc. Moreover, with increasing emphasis on distance weaponry, ‘total policing’, and other issues the contexts in which police try to interact to construct legitimacy among radical protest groups is being undermined. So there is of course an inter-personal process at work but how that plays itself out has to be seen within the broader context in which policing takes place.

    I also think its important to focus on the positive way in which this cycle of action and reaction can be harnessed. It’s not just a matter of pulling out officers likely to react negatively, as I’m sure you realise. Its also about putting in officers who can and do interact positively, and whom have the training and competencies to manage these processes – i.e. PLTs. Moreover, by using such skills as a primary tactic one can go a long way toward creating group level dynamics which make positive inter-personal relationships (as set out in the model) sustainable in high risk situations.

    • PoliceGeek says:

      Thanks for your comments, I was taught the model at GMP.

      With regards to your comments, the use of PLTs, in my opinion, strengthens the model, with positive behaviour and attitudes by the police leading to positive reactions from the crowd, the Sheffield example demonstrates that.

      The historical context is important as you rightly highlight, but it many ways that sets a base level for the model, there is antagonism and conflict prior to the interaction, but the way the police react to that can change the base level. If I, as an individual officer am met with a negative response, I can provide a positive response which may change the perception of the individual I am interacting with, if that is echoed across the officers deployed, it can potentially change the attitude of officers.

      My experience of post-riot policing in London last year provides a good example. We were deployed to a housing estate in Central London for a shift. We started to patrol in pairs and, as Scottish officers do, spoke with everyone we met. At first we were met with hostility, but as the evening progressed, the people we met began to interact with us, share a joke and by the time we left the estate, we were very much the goods guys.

  4. “plans and briefings always emphasise the policing style to be used, which is usually a positive community focused approach”.

    I think there is a powerful piece of work to be done on the disconnection between this approach at policy level (in the strategy, briefs, etc) and what can and is maintained on the ground. It seems to me that keeping a neighbourhood policing approach intact in ‘public order’ situations is a central challenge. Processes need to be identified that makes this maintenance possible, particularly when there is a high level of perceived risk. If you’re interested perhaps we could collaborate on developing some research on some of the issues you discuss here?

  5. Pingback: ‘Losing by Appearing to Win’ | Police Geek

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