Why every crowd control team needs a trained negotiator
Communication with organizers before, during and after events can help head off problems
One of the most overlooked but essential needs when law enforcement responds to large crowd events and riots is for a highly trained specialist who, in addition to possessing the full knowledge and skills of other team members, is also a skilled negotiator who can serve as the spokesperson for the team.
The team’s negotiator will find opportunities to facilitate peaceful outcomes for most events by engaging with organizers. An essential trait for this team member is to be able to “talk to anybody.” This natural ability should then be supplemented by training such as:
- Professional communication training
- Hostage negotiation training
- Crisis intervention training
- Verbal judo training
- Public speaking skills
- Communication technologies training
- Any other training that enhances a team member’s ability to achieve positive outcomes through communications
Your team’s negotiator should be in contact with event organizers before, during and after their events.
The negotiator should reach out to speak with event organizers and develop a working relationship before the event takes place. With that, the negotiator should be able to determine, shortly into any conversation, whether the event as planned has the potential to become problematic. During these discussions, the negotiator can often make suggestions to ensure the event remains peaceful. For example, perhaps a planned march be rerouted so it does not pass directly in front of the opposing party’s headquarters or shut down rush-hour traffic on a busy thoroughfare.
With negotiation beforehand, an intent to stage mass passive-resistance arrests may even be averted, avoiding a potentially confrontational situation.
If event organizers say they are serious about maintaining a peaceful demonstration, they may be receptive to advising their participants in advance to:
- Not bring backpacks.
- Not use pipes, wooden poles, etc. to hold up signs.
- Not carry inflammatory signs, flags, or symbols.
- Not carry or wear shields, helmets, or masks.
- Not bring fireworks, frozen water bottles, etc.
- Come with peaceful intentions or do not come at all.
- Realize the police will be present to protect their right to peacefully assemble and maintain the peace.
If an event is an entertainment or political gathering at a large venue, negotiators can suggest that organizers:
- Not issue general admission tickets.
- Avoid overbooking.
- Allow for a flexible start time.
- Arrange for a crowd overflow area.
A great deal can be accomplished by having a trained negotiator contact event organizers before a demonstration or event.
That rapport established between event organizers and the team negotiator before the event can prove invaluable during an event or demonstration. Communication can continue throughout the event, which can include reinforcement of the positive direction a peaceful gathering is taking.
Recontact can also be made if members of the demonstration start acting out. Organizers may have enough influence to dissuade instigators from taking demonstrators down a negative path. By making this contact, the negotiator may also be able to discern whether the violent path is intended or even encouraged by the organizers.
The negotiator can be the person trained to operate the long-range acoustic device (LRAD), bullhorn or public address system to speak with the crowd. They can be the commander’s designee to effectively notify the crowd if the event becomes an unlawful assembly and give a defensible order to disperse.
Whether the event remains peaceful or becomes violent, the information passed on by the negotiator can give crucial insights to the team commander to aid in facilitating decision-making.
In one of the many riots that occurred in 2020, a police negotiator who contacted the leaders of the demonstration before the crowd took to the street was told by those leaders that they did not recognize the police department’s authority over them or their actions. These leaders refused to even talk with the officers. Even in this case, the blanket refusal to negotiate proved to be valuable information to have in the formation of an effective team response to suppress the violence that followed.
In the case of a peaceful outcome, the negotiator can recontact event organizers for an informal debriefing. This discussion can reinforce the positive actions on both sides that made the event a success. Any positive input received can be passed on to the team commander for his/her consideration in future events. All interaction before, during and after the event should be documented as part of a permanent event record.
That’s also true if an event becomes violent. In these cases, the negotiator’s communications before and during the event may serve as evidence of the intent and intransigence of individuals who instigate violence.
Communication can be an invaluable tool for preventing problems and ending violence. That is why having a professionally trained negotiator as a part of your crowd control/management team will prove to be as essential to your success.