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Why every PD needs a PACE plan in place before the next protest

There are many management considerations for police response to protests, demonstrations and riots


Police form a barrier to keep counter-protesters separated from members of Patriot Prayer and other groups supporting gun rights march during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, at City Hall in Seattle.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Every American has a right under the First Amendment to demonstrate and protest when part of a peaceful assembly. Once the peace is broken and businesses or transit is disrupted, violence introduced, and/or properly crimes ensue, the right to assemble ends.

Tactical teams, Mobile Field Forces and crowd control units are often deployed in response to demonstrations before they turn into riots. Agencies should create a management plan, including contingency plans, before each event.


Having a Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency (PACE) plan in place will help agencies anticipate the unexpected. The PACE plan should be flexible, scalable and achievable. It should be created in the Incident Command System (ICS) structure to identify the mission and execution of plans and include command, control and communications.

Primary plan

The primary plan is just that. If a planned event is a repeated, annual and peaceful occurrence, a previous version of a plan may be used as a starting point.

Dates, locations and staffing issues need to be updated by contact with the event organizers. Even then, situational awareness should be maintained through reviewing informational flyers about the event, social media posts, weather reports and current events that may impact alternate, contingency and emergency planning.

If agency policies allow, conduct a social media and websites investigation to determine if there are plans for disruption, civil disobedience, or criminal activity. Keywords and phrases may be researched in order to gather important information on an upcoming event. News reports of similar events will be helpful in the planning stages as well.

Alternate and contingency plans

Alternate and contingency plans help anticipate potential negative activity. The plans should include:

  • Checkpoints for weapons or projectiles;
  • Traffic control strategies;
  • Allocating traffic or march re-routes;
  • Scripting unlawful assembly warnings;
  • Preparing for arrests;
  • Provision of first aid services;
  • Addressing transportation issues and shelter needs.

Emergency plan

The emergency plan addresses violence, arrests and critical incidents. Plans for evacuation or shelter-in-place should be included.

The command structure should be included in each segment of the PACE plan. It is important to identify the incident commander or designees to pronounce an unlawful assembly, a critical incident, or a disaster.

Depending on the issue at hand and the situational awareness at the time of planning for the event, a PACE plan is necessary to plan and practice for anticipated possible activity. With any luck, the primary plan will be all that is necessary to manage an event but should the situation become unstable, a PACE plan is invaluable to keep everyone on the same page as the situation changes.

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In conjunction with PACE planning, there are several other administrative steps law enforcement agencies should take:

1. Pre-event planning with stakeholders.
Information should be shared relating to the date, type and location of the event. Capacity should be determined for each stage of the PACE plan. Rules of engagement should be determined for each stage of response to a demonstration regarding exhibitions of civil disobedience, property damage and physical violence.

2. Intelligence gathering. This process includes contacting organizers and possible counter-protesters to help accommodate a peaceful assembly. Have a film team photograph and film the event before, during and after to memorialize it. A cataloged film of the event at various phases is valuable to show due diligence and appropriate steps followed in addressing a hostile situation. The film may be used to aid in prosecution, defend against lawsuits and assist during debriefings to critique the response.

3. Staffing plans for each segment. Include all segments in an emergency operations center (incident commander, operations, planning, logistics and administration/finance sections).

4. Identify communications, staging and transportation issues. Communications should address dedicated radio channels for the event and identify channels for specialized teams to use. Staging areas for vehicles and personnel should be close to the event. In the case of a march or movement of the venue, consider using buses or shuttles to transport personnel, rather than march. Down rooms for rest periods and meals, as well as restroom facilities, should be identified near the event.

5. Assign a public information officer. The PIO will act as a liaison with the community and media before, during and after the event.

6. Conduct a post-incident debriefing. This should address response costs, gaps and successes, as well as strategies to address continuity planning if necessary.

7. Enlist allied agencies. The following should all be involved during the planning process:

  • Regional mutual aid support (police, fire, EMS);
  • Local, county, or state emergency operations center (EOC) personnel to help coordinate and manage a scene off-site with resources and communications;
  • Sheriff for booking and transportation of offenders;
  • District attorney or prosecutors for offense criteria and prosecution;
  • Fire department for fire suppression, shelter assistance, first aid, and decontamination for pepper spray, tear gas, or hazmat agents;
  • Public works for barricades, trash and bonfire material removal, and property collection;
  • Animal care and control to take control of dogs and animals belonging to individuals arrested;
  • Public health and emergency medical services to assist with first aid, hypothermia, and treatment and transport of those with medical emergencies.
  • Juvenile or youth unit to detain and transport juveniles involved as necessary.


Having a pre-determined PACE plan that is available to use for planned events and incidents is essential to avoid “planning on the fly.” Agencies are advised to apply the plan at large-scale events to ensure uniformity and conformance to policies and procedures within their jurisdictions. The PACE plan can also be used as a template for developing and evolving situations where otherwise no operations order has been prepared. The PACE plan can be used by investigative teams, fugitive recovery teams, and correctional institutions and other situations where suspect behavior cannot be predicted.

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.