Trending Topics

Crowd control: Are you prepared to face the great noise?

Ten officers acting as a team armed with tactics and a plan can accomplish more than 100 acting as individuals


People confront police officers during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Chicago, Saturday, May 30, 2020.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

A successful police response does not happen by accident in a crowd situation. Departments need to train, plan and practice to shine when thrust by the events of history onto the world stage to face what I like to call “the great noise.”

Here are some key considerations.

It is Essential to Possess Shared Skills

Any officer should be able to step suddenly into a crowd control event and already possess a shared skill-set obtained through pre-training. These skills should include, but not be limited to, classic crowd control formations, team arrest capabilities and Miami Field Force tactics. These should be trained at entry-level and updated shortly before the event as a team.

Police Presence Rather than Officers Present

Officers trained in crowd control know exactly what they are expected to do and how they fit in the team at the event will be a presence not just present. Ten officers acting as a team armed with tactics and a plan can accomplish more than 100 acting as individuals.

Courtesy up to Impact and Beyond

While policing an event, officers should be the most courteous people at the scene, even in the midst of overcoming resistance. “Sir/Ma’am, stop resisting!” should be heard over and over again. It shows that an officer is respectful and tells anyone listening that the suspect is resisting. Always strive to reinforce, “We are the good guys and good gals here.” We can walk softly because we do carry a big stick.

Show Proper Body Language

When policing a crowd, cops have to be masters of body language. You want to send the message that you are a team and are alert, as well as able to maintain the peace.


Digitally record the signs, movements, requests, commands and arrests of the crowd as a whole, as well as individuals in the crowd. If you do not, the only video record will be those taken by the media and the professional protesters, which are subject to agenda-based (biased) editing.

Avoid Crowding

When policing a crowd chose tactics that allow the crowd time to move and an avenue to move through. The team should attempt to maintain a reactionary gap between itself and the crowd it is policing.

Never Express a Personal Opinion

In a career, an officer will have to police many different events protesting many different issues. At events, a police officer needs to maintain a man/woman in the middle presence to be most effective.

Never Use Profanity

You can punch, kick, baton, TASER, pepper spray and even shoot people when proper justification exists. You can’t conjure up justification to call someone an “asshole.” Once again, always look like the good guys/gals.

Never Get Hooked By Provocations

Anarchists and professional demonstrators train in tactics and techniques to get police officers to “over-react,” or appear to over-react. A team of professional police officers looking calm, confident and purposeful will defeat these types. When an officer falls into their trap, the anarchists win. When an officer maintains the moral high ground, the police win.

Whenever Possible Explain What You’re Doing and Why

During crowd management, you are both managing a crowd and interacting with individuals in a crowd. If possible, “We need to get an ambulance through here, folks, please step to the curb,” can be more effective than just, “Move!” Granted, sometimes “Move,” is still appropriate.

A Large Crowd Can turn violent at Anytime

An aggressive crowd can form at a bar fight, after a big game, at a Black Friday Sale, a “peaceful political demonstration or even at a traffic stop at the wrong spot. A large disturbance can be a planned event or completely spontaneous.

Don’t Act Alone

Solo heroics are generally not only ill-advised but also ineffective in a crowd. A crusty, old sergeant said it best when he said, “In a crowd, don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash, son. Call for the help you need before you act and you won’t need to scream for help later.”

Monitor a Crowd for Danger Signs

A team of officers at the scene of a crowd should constantly monitor the individuals making up the crowd for danger signs. Officers should listen for individuals urging on a confrontation. Establish an identifiable “police space,” early on and monitor whether or not members of the crowd are pushing into that space.

Watch Everyone

Professional demonstrators are teams. They will often bring in backpacks and carry equipment such as masks, locks and chains for sleeping dragons, tripods, feces, caltrops for mounted police, weapons and the black uniforms of the anarchists. On command, members in the crowd will change into the uniform of the anarchist and turn a peaceful gathering into a violent confrontation.

Don’t Enter a Crowd

Do not enter a crowd when another alternative exists. One officer will totally disappear from sight, once he or she moves past the first two layers of a crowd. When you must enter a crowd, this should be done with a formation of officers. A wedge can be used to separate a crowd and a tight well-re-enforced diamond can be used to cut through a crowd to rescue someone down.

Rely on the Right Equipment

Check the status of helmets, protective equipment, shields, special munitions (are your grenadiers available with updated certifications?) and tear gas (check the expiration dates), riot shields, gas masks (are your officers fit tested?) radios (do you have a plan to get many more if needed?) and whatnot.

In working crowds, there is a time for the uniform of the day to be eight-point hats and white gloves. There is also a time for helmets, gloves, shin guards and chest protectors, batons, gas masks and carriers. You want your team dressed appropriately for the event.

Let Them Leave

When it is time to disperse the crowd let them leave. Do not tie up your personnel with petty arrests and do not overload your arrest teams. Concentrate your efforts on identifying and arresting the trouble makers, before they turn a gathering into a violent riot.

Once you get the crowd moving, keep them moving. Classic crowd control formations get them moving and Miami Field Force Tactics allow units to move quickly as a team to moving pockets of trouble makers.

Watch Your Transportation

Watch your transportation. Fleet keys will be very helpful when vehicles need to be relocated quickly. Vehicles are often targeted for destruction as an inanimate symbol of the government. Do not get trapped with a vehicle, however.

Use Cover Officers

Control the high ground with officers possessing optics. Sniper teams have the equipment to observe and provide a protective over-watch. They can record from this vantage point also.

Watch your Station

Mass arrests can lead to another crowd arriving at the station to arrange for bond. Be aware of this aspect of mass arrest and make preparations to deal with it.

Take Your Time on Stationery Suspects

Anytime you have passive resisters who are refusing to move, remember time is in your favor. Use tactics designed specifically for passive resisters. Take the time to dialog with each suspect individually letting them know they can still leave. If they still refuse, make the arrest. The key is to spoil the show by taking it slow. Search them well and repeatedly.

Have a system in place to make certain that each arrest is documented with an arresting officer assigned to complete the corresponding paperwork.

Critical Points to Remember

  • Have a practiced plan.
  • Possess shared skills.
  • Don’t intervene until you are ready.
  • Don’t act out of emotion.
  • Coordinate actions.
  • Act decisively, but with restraint.
  • Never forget, “We are the good guys/gals.”

NEXT: Crowd control tactics: The difference between kettling and encirclement

This article, originally published 12/08/2011, has been updated.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.