A simple recipe for successful crowd control
Has your agency done the necessary planning for large-scale crowd control, or is there a pervasive 'it can’t happen here' mindset?
Do the officers at your agency have the proper training, equipment and attitude to successfully deal with protests that turn violent?
Has your department established strong partnerships with neighboring agencies, the media and local elected officials to assist in the development of your agency's response plans?
Has your agency done the necessary planning for large-scale crowd control, or is there a pervasive “it can’t happen here” mindset?
Unfortunately, if you answered “no” to any of these questions you may have a recipe for disaster.
Recipe for success
Here is a simple recipe for success with crowds. Take a department full of officers with quality individual skills training, add a healthy dose of team skills training, garnish with the proper equipment, sprinkle in some planning and flavor the mix with well-trained partners. Marinate the entire team with some pre-event rehearsal.
Now turn up the heat and watch your officers rise to the occasion.
You might be surprised that many recruits are graduating their academies with no training in crowd-control skills. Furthermore, most agencies do no post-academy crowd-control training.
Every officer in this nation should have a minimum of 24 hours of entry-level crowd-control training. Before planned events, this training should be updated periodically with plans rehearsed for that specific event.
Training should consist of crowd dynamics, crowd behaviors, communications skills, thick-skin exercises, individual arrest skills, team arrest skills, baton training, classic crowd control movements, field force concepts and special-munitions training.
Few agencies can handle a large disturbance on their own. It is important to establish partnerships with other agencies nearby. These agencies need to have shared skills and unified command arrangements prepared in advance.
Mutual-aid response protocols have to be worked out in advance by many neighboring agencies. Some areas have established joint teams that they equip and train together for an event that might erupt in their areas. This allows them to save money by pooling resources and funds.
La Crosse (Wis.) historically has experienced many large disturbances at their festivals and therefore developed a unique way to expand their numbers. For their events, they would swear in "temporary" La Crosse City police officers.
These officers would be paid by the city, but were full-time officers from other agencies who were fully trained and equipped to blend in with the La Crosse Police Department Civil Unrest Team in the event there were problems.
During the night of the events, the State Patrol would come into the city and handle calls, while all La Crosse City Police Department officers along with the temporary officers would work the street festival. This partnership worked well because it ensured that a trained group of volunteers – who were familiar with the problem and possessed crowd-control skills – maintained the peace at an event that they had worked many times in the past.
Another powerful partnership that can be developed in advance is the relationship with your local media. Uneducated media representatives have contributed in the past to many unnecessary conflagrations. With one inaccurate report, a local or national media outlet can take a burning ember of discontent and dump gasoline on the fire.
On the other hand, a media partner can douse a simmering rumor with fact-based reporting and can potentially diffuse a million-dollar riot before a single squad car is overturned.
Hot-button issues that cry out for accurate reporting are:
- Use-of-force cases
- Racial issues
- Political issues
- Union issues
- Religious issues
- Anti-war issues
- Abortion issues
Believe it or not, these partnerships with the media can be established and maintained on the local level (national level, not so much).
Elected officials must realize that their words are powerful and that their commentary should be wise and measured. National and local officials must realize they represent all the people, not just special interest groups making the noise in the streets.
Elected officials need to be reminded they also represent the police officers on the front lines, as well as the many thousands of citizens in their homes and business owners peacefully going about their daily lives.
Just before the Rodney King riots igniting, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said during a press conference, “We must find ways to express our anger…” The mayhem that followed was horrific. People died and a city burned.
To a group on the edge of violence, the words of a powerful man or woman can be either positively or negatively impactful. Before giving a speech during volatile moments in history, everyone from the president to the city council member should ask, “Am I going to be the voice of reason or the voice of revolt?”
Gandhi used the term “Ahimsa” to describe his philosophy of achieving goals through non-violence and non-injury. Chiefs and sheriffs should attempt to remind officials to remember this before they speak.
Partners in the crowd
Most cops are great communicators, and crowd control events are excellent opportunities to use those skills. This dialogue can be maintained with event leaders before, during and after the crowd gathers.
The focus of the pre-event discussion with the crowd leaders must be an emphasis on their responsibility to keep the demonstration peaceful. It will be an opportunity to let them know the police will be there not only to protect property and keep the peace but also to protect the group’s right to peacefully assemble and make their point. This type of dialog can let those leaders know that we’re there to police thousands of individuals in a crowd, not an individual crowd of thousands.
The tools that can be used most often in crowd control by officers on scene are dialog, a good tactical handshake and a smile. These are like a superpower when used in a timely manner. They do not replace the baton but supplement it. “Walk softly, but carry a big stick” is still good advice for crowd control today; officers can be courteous right up to impact and beyond.
The crowd control survival triangle
Finally, success in crowd control depends primarily on three things:
- Proper team training
- Proper team equipment
- Proper team attitude
Knowing that they are part of a skilled team gives every officer an air of professional confidence. They know that they possess the knowledge, skills and attitude that will ensure that when confronted by the worst, they will be at their best.
This article, originally published 07/16/2013, has been updated