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5 steps of riot prep: How to do crowd control correctly

When the world is watching and crowds are at their worst, make sure your officers are at their best


Police stand in formation as a curfew approaches in Baltimore, April 2015.

AP Image

When it comes to riot response, many agencies possess an “it can’t happen here” approach of risk management.

You can certainly call them riots, but as someone who has experienced being in uniform during riots, I often describe them as “the great noise.”

This great noise can end careers, do incredible damage, injure, maim and even kill. Proactive administrators, commanders and officers who wish to prepare for the probability that their agency might be confronted with a large-scale civil disturbance must take these five steps of riot prep.

1. Train

When it comes to a major disturbance, departments will accomplish more with 10 officers working as a team than 100 officers working as individuals.

To be ready to be an effective part of such a team requires every officer present – from chief to beat cop – to have a full 24-40 hour crowd control class under their belt.

This training should be included in every police academy in the nation, but surprisingly it is not. Shared skills are an absolute necessity in facing large disturbances.

Officers trained in crowd control will be able to:

  • Manage peaceful crowds effectively.
  • Recognize the difference between an unlawful assembly and a constitutionally protected gathering of people.
  • Apply defensible arrest tactics when facing active resistance or passive resistance and be prepared to recognize the difference.
  • Demonstrate defensible subject control and wooden baton techniques.
  • Make tactically sound arrests, which are prosecutable.
  • Perform classic crowd control formations, crossbow movements and operate as an effective field force under stress.
  • Have some grenadiers available trained in the deployment of chemical munitions and impact munitions.
  • Recognize the type of crowd they are facing.
  • Identify dangerous behaviors in a crowd.
  • Implement their role in the department’s plan.
  • Be a presence, not just present, when working a crowd.

Trained commanders will be:

  • Able to lead these teams effectively.
  • Able to recognize when their teams should change out of their soft covers and into full gear.
  • Able to competently lead a trained crowd control unit. Bestowing rank upon a person does not automatically transfer knowledge, skill and ability. Commanding officers in a major disturbance is a specialized skill.

The knowledge and skills taught in crowd control training can be applied in all crowd situations. By applying these on a daily basis, some disturbances can be prevented.

2. Equipment

Head-to-toe protective equipment for your officers is costly, but it is a one-time purchase and when properly maintained will last for years.

Officers should all possess at the very least a helmet, a wooden baton and ring, and a fit-tested gas mask and carrier.

Chemical munitions and impact munitions should be available for these events. These need to be properly stored and checked regularly for expiration.

Since these events are personnel intense, you need to have access to extra tools such as additional radios and chargers, transport, flex cuffs, portable barricades and fleet keys. Many squads have been burned for lack of fleet keys.

Police cameras are a crucial part of a crowd control response and after the event will contain the only footage that will not have been edited to fit a biased narrative.

[Police1 Resource: How to buy riot response gear]

3. Plan

Pre-event planning should consist of:

  • Intelligence gathering, including pre-event communications with event organizers.
  • Public information specialist who is an expert at rumor control. (Don’t let a single incendiary lie be allowed to proliferate unaddressed!)
  • Delegating responsibility and authority to commanders on scene.
  • A callout protocol for additional personnel.
  • A pre-set detour plan for anticipated hot spots.
  • A communications plan.
  • A staging plan for vehicles.
  • Additional vehicle and radio acquisition plan.
  • Prisoner transport and mass booking plan.
  • Evidence packaging/holding and report writing plan.
  • Medical and fire escort protocol.
  • Protective response plan for gun stores and drug stores.
  • Field force activation protocol.
  • Street clearance plan.
  • Mutual aid agreements in place.
  • If the event is prolonged, a housing, feeding, and relief plan for officers working the event.

A plan sitting on a shelf is no good unless the people who have to implement it have been trained in its implementation.

4. Update

After initial crowd control training, agency members can receive training updates as a 3- to 4-hour block at in-services on a yearly basis. This can be an opportunity to officially have officers clean and inspect their equipment. Check helmets and shields for loose fittings. Munitions close to their expiration date should be pulled from service and used in training.

Updates should be scheduled just prior to known events. Team arrest, rescue and movement skills can be re-enforced. After re-enforcing old skills, specific tactics for the upcoming event can be practiced.

5. Repeat

After all the officers in your agency have been trained, train all new hires. Agency-wide skills can be totally lost over time through attrition. New officers should be trained and equipped to ensure department-wide capability.


If you take these five steps, you will discover that when the world is watching and crowds are at their worst, your officers will be at their best.

This article, originally published 03/30/2016, 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.