Conflict Theory

Understanding the Conflict Theory

John Q Sample

Professor Doe

CRJ322 The Criminal Mind


Welcome to our department’s Empathy Training course. This training is designed to provide officers with the tools to improve police-community relations and assist police officers in seeing offenders more as human beings rather than as their offense. For this part of our training, we will be looking at the Conflict Theory and how conflict with a community, within a society, can result in criminal or deviant behavior. Let’s look at the Conflict Theory…


Explain Your Chosen Theory

The Conflict Theory:

The Conflict Theory suggests that crime in any society is caused by social and economic class conflict and that laws are created by those in power to protect their rights and interests.

Similarly, the Conflict Theory also suggests that society is in a state of perpetual conflict because of competition for limited resources. Conflict theory holds that social order is maintained by domination and power. 1

The “conflict” that the Conflict Theory is talking about is in access to resources. Conflict Theory helps explains statements like “Keeping up with the Jones’s” and “The ‘Haves’ vs. the ‘Have Nots’” and, of course, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. It represents the struggles people experience in different social and economic classes trying to access resources and attempting to gain power.


Your Selected Theory’s Strengths and Criticisms


Examines inequalities among communities.

Looks for reasons of inequality.

Examines social relationships and benefits of those relationships.

Offers opportunities to promote change.


Does not allow for competition within society to be beneficial.

Does not line up with capitalism.

Does not explain crime not affiliated with accessing resources.

As you can see, the Conflict Theory has its strengths and its weaknesses. You will find the same with other criminological theories as well. That is why it is so important not to make assumptions about people’s situations and to engage in meaningful conversation when possible.


Major Theorists of Your Chosen Theory

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Mid 1800’s

In the late 20th Century, the Feminist Theory and Critical Race Theory were developed out of the Conflict Theory.

Other Conflict Theorists: Max Weber (1864-1920) and Georg Simmel (1858-1918)

Your Chosen Theory in Action: Scenario

A single-mother steals food from a grocery store to feed her children after losing her job due to company down-sizing.

Now that you have the basis understanding of the conflict Theory, let’s look at an example. Imagine the scenario where a woman is held for shoplifting at our local grocery store. You are the first responder. When you arrive, the store manager explains that the woman was stopped leaving the store with a cart full of food and diapers and over-the-counter medications without paying for any of it. That is shoplifting or retail theft and is a crime. You, as the police officer, would be well within your authority to place her under arrest…


Your Chosen Theory in Action: Motivation

An officer might be more understanding of the mother’s situation and use discretion when it came to choosing to make an arrest.

…but, you have a discussion with this woman. She explains to you that she had recently lost her job due to the company’s down-sizing and that she is a single mother of three children. She had been applying for work with no success. She had applied for government assistance, but there is so much red tape that she has had no luck. She tells you that she just became desperate.


Your Chosen Theory in Action: Possible Police Responses

If the officer arrests the woman, it would actually go to prove the theory. In this situation, the law of stealing would be used to keep this single mother down and possibly make her situation worse.

Again, you are well within your authority to place her under arrest and charge her with the theft of the grocery items. But, is that the best possible police response?


Your Chosen Theory in Action: Possible Police Responses

Using empathy and understanding, the officer might choose to help this woman. The officer has several options to assist her.

The officer could pay for the groceries.

The officer could provide the woman information on a food bank.

The officer could provide the woman information for local churches in the area.

The officer could run a fundraiser or start a Go-Fund-Me page for the woman.

The officer could show her compassion and understanding.

Understanding why a person commits an offense or engages in deviant behavior provides an opportunity to impact the cause of the action and not just the action.

Once you understand why this woman did what she did, perhaps you can better understand her situation and you can even put yourself in her shoes. What would you do if you lost your job and had no employment prospects and no government assistance? How far would you go if you felt desperate? What about these options?


Contrasting Theory in Action: Motivation

Psychological Theory: Kleptomania.

Kleptomania is the inability to resist urges to steal items that you generally don't really need and that usually have little value 3.

Although there's no cure for kleptomania, treatment with medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy) may help to end the cycle of compulsive stealing 3

A contrasting theory to the Conflict Theory is found in Psychological Theory. Kleptomania is a disorder that can result in theft charges. Unlike Conflict Theory’s limited access to necessary resources, Kleptomaniacs steal for no profitable reason. They don’t need access to resources. They need psychological help.


Contrasting Theory in Action: Possible Police Responses

Asking the right questions to identify a possible issue

Actively listening to the individual

Observing signs of mental health issues

Providing mental health resources

Because Kleptomania is a psychological disorder, an appropriate empathetic response would be to get help for the individual. While police could move forward with an arrest and prosecution resulting in court ordered counseling and therapy, using a diversion strategy by providing the person with information and resources regarding mental health treatment and therapy would address the needs of the individual and avoid further congestion in the criminal courts.


De-escalation Techniques With Conflict Theory and Empathy Training

Police officers are afforded a great deal of discretion in their work. Understanding the Conflict Theory and the challenges people face when attempting to get access to basic resources can help an officer to look beyond the act and at the person.

It allows and encourages other options when dealing with behavior by taking just a few moments to understand the underlying cause of the behavior.

Potential de-escalation techniques 3:

Do not be judgmental

Respect personal space

Use non-threatening verbal cues

Be an active listener

Be prepared to share available resources within our city


Community Policing Strategies Consistent With Conflict Theory and Empathy Training

Community policing programs that build trust and provide access to resources:

Police-Community Food Drives

Police-sponsored Backpack Programs for Schools

National Night Out

Police-Community Picnics

Police-sponsored Toy Drives

These types of programs will be effective in a twofold way. They will help improve the relationship between the police and the community and they will provide necessary resources to community members that need them.



When dealing with a suspect of a crime and when it is safe to do so, it is important to ask the right questions, actively listen to responses and be observant of nonverbal cues.

Be sure to know the resources that are available in our city and don’t be afraid to share them.

Take the time to connect with those you have interactions with. It is important that we are seen as a part of the community.

Empathy is an understanding. It is sharing feelings. As police officers, we are constantly interacting with individuals within our community. Taking a more empathetic approach to these interactions and taking the opportunity to connect with our community members will improve the police-community relationship.


Source List

Please list all sources used to develop your presentation in SWS format.

Ashley Crossman. 2019. Understanding Conflict Theory.

The Mayo Clinic. No date. Kleptomania.

Emily Eilers. No date. CPI’s Top 10 De-Escalation Tips.










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