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16 police tactics for crowd control during modern demonstrations

Police departments must prepare to use proven team tactics for crowd control to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful and lawful assemblies

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In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, a fire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos burns on Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus.

AP Photo/Ben Margot

At recent demonstrations, symbols have been carried that indicate at least some of the demonstrators have an affinity with communism or neo-Nazism. Additionally “peaceful demonstrations” have been infiltrated by Antifa and anarchists who have used violence as a deliberate tactic. The carrying of communist and Nazi symbols – two ideologies responsible for over 100,000,000 deaths – is protected by the First Amendment. Acts of violence by those, or against those carrying them are not.

It should be disconcerting to all police officers that violence – or the threat of violence – by contemporary demonstrators have caused the cancellation of speeches, political rallies and concerts over the last two years. It is the sworn duty of American law enforcement to thwart through righteous action the efforts of masked or unmasked hooligans who would violently suppress the freedoms of others.

Modern demonstrators are sometimes paid, and often trained. Through scripted behaviors – called “conflict engagement” – they hope to trigger violence in the crowd, or an over-reaction by police officers.

Countries with national police forces task large numbers of permanently assigned, well-equipped and well-trained crowd control teams to manage demonstrations and unrest. In the United States these duties fall to local law enforcement. Police departments must prepare to use proven team tactics for crowd control to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful and lawful assemblies.

Here are 16 crowd control tactics every police agency in the nation should consider deploying:

1. Communication skills

Communication is important before, during and after an event with the media, organizers and crowd members. It is imperative that during these events – which will be heavily recorded – that police communications re-enforce the fact that the police officers are the good guys/gals. New technology such as long range acoustic devices (LRAD) enables police to communicate with a crowd clearly and concisely.

2. Team Arrest Skills

The ability to make a team physical arrest in the presence of the crowd and media quickly and efficiently is a necessary skill.

3. Crowd Dynamics 101

Officers present must recognize the dynamics that exist in every crowd. For example, many good people – who are followers – will engage in a violent disturbance if malevolent leaders take control without being deterred or arrested.

4. Classic Crowd Control Team Tactics

Every officer in the nation should be trained enough that they can form, fall into, extend, laterally support, wheel and move with any line, column or wedge under stress. In a crowd, more can be accomplished with 10 officers working as a team than 100 officers working as individuals.

5. Miami Field Force Tactics

These tactics allow a field force to quickly respond in numbers to mobile miscreants who engage in looting, arson, or beatings and immediately diffuse disturbances and disperse small groups of problem individuals. Mobile field force cavalry-style response tactics prevent little problems from becoming big problems. It’s easier to put out a cigarette butt than a forest fire.

6. Dynamic Los Angeles Cross-Bow Techniques

These tactics have proven effective against those who would turn a peaceful demonstration into a riot. A trained contingent can explode through a police line to disperse, encircle a group or arrest individuals.

7. Grenadiers

Trained grenadiers should be present and able to skillfully deliver less than lethal or less lethal munitions to specific targets on suspects in a crowd that pose an imminent threat to officers, and others. These grenadiers also need to be able to follow legal protocol and utilize chemical munitions to disperse an unlawful assembly that refuses to disperse, after being given lawful commands.


Own the high ground and have a squad of SWAT personnel out of sight ready to mount a quick response if necessary. Remember Dallas whenever any group with a history of violent rhetoric or action is demonstrating.

9. Mutual Aid Contingencies

Have a plan for mutual aid in advance, which includes protocols for personnel call-in, command and control, major event communication, transportation and mass arrest procedures.

10. Plainclothes Observers

Undercover officers should blend into a crowd using their phones to report and document crimes and incendiary behaviors. They can observe, report and identify leaders and violators. They should be cautioned to be just present in the crowd, but to not participate in any illegal acts to “blend in.”

11. Cameras

Police cameras should be well placed, documenting crowd and police actions. Video recordings will not only be evidence in court, but they will also be able to counter edited truth-bending recordings put out by both professional protestors and the “legitimate media.” Be timely in release of truth-telling footage. Rumors trigger more riots.

12. Protective Equipment

Some crowds warrant eight point hats and white gloves and others require protective equipment. Commanders must have the wisdom to know the difference and the courage to realistically prepare your officers for the challenges they face.

13. Know the Recipe for Failure

Take one highly trained (or especially untrained) crowd control team, garnish it with untrained leadership calling the shots (like micro-managing mayors) and you will cook up a memorable failure.

14. Detours and Designated Areas

By the use of detours and designated areas, police protect uninformed innocents from wandering into a volatile situation. When opposing forces deliberately schedule opposing events, police must endeavor to keep them separated.

15. Report Writing Skills

Enough said.

16. Know the Law!

Do what is right and do what is legal. You will notice that a trained response will look like a restrained response.

Neo-communists, neo-fascists, neo-Nazis, anarchists and Antifa thrive in violence and chaos. Nothing ensures their failure in achieving their violent ends like a well-equipped, highly-trained team of honorable professionals standing on that thin blue line between order and chaos saying, “Not in the land of the free…at least, not on our watch.”

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.