New Tactics In Response To Crowd Control And Civil Unrest

New Tactics In Response To Crowd Control And Civil Unrest

As demonstrations and protests for any number of reasons continue to grow in size and increase in levels of intensity, this much is true:  When public behavior is at its worst, law enforcement needs to be at its best.  INTELLEO outlines how agencies of all sizes and in all locations can benefit from evolving approaches to crowd control and civil unrest.

A Five Step Primer

Writing for, Lt. Dan Marcou, a highly decorated 33-year veteran of law enforcement, gets right to the point.  Any law enforcement agency ill-prepared or poorly trained in crowd control and civil unrest policies and practices, is asking for trouble.  From reactions to officer-involved shootings, to employees marching for higher wages, to flash mobs at shopping malls, and a variety of social justice and political movements, improper police response can lead to careers destroyed, officers unnecessarily injured, and law enforcement reputations tarnished in a heartbeat.  The author of several books on the subject serves up five points of preparation all agencies should consider.  Briefly they are:

  1.  Training:  At the top of his list, Marcou points out that at present, training in crowd control and civil unrest should be part of the curriculum at every police academy in the U.S.—but it’s not.  He stresses that teamwork, coordination and communication for agencies from 10 officers to more than 100 is critical.  Officers need to quickly determine the differences between unlawful assemblies and constitutionally protected rights of citizens to gather and march.  They must also be properly trained in methods of peacefully controlling crowds, lawful arrests defensible in court, and recognizing early on dangerous behavior exhibited by some in large crowds.
  2. Proper Equipment:  For cash-strapped departments, this can be a challenge.  But agencies of all sizes need to have their officers properly equipped from head-to-toe, and properly outfitted with police cameras, gas masks, portable barricades, debris shields, flex cuffs, etc.
  3. Planning:  Not every demonstration or movement comes as a surprise.  Some are well-planned, advertised and promoted on social media.  Here, Marcou encourages agencies to engage in pre-event planning of their own, covering contingencies such as intelligence gathering, communication strategies, staging plans for equipment and personnel, callout protocols in the event additional personnel become necessary, and the participation of experienced Public Information Officers to deal with media and rumor control.
  4. Updating:  Even agencies with sound civil unrest and crowd control plans should not let those plans or training grow dust on the shelves.  Frequent practice, equipment checks, munitions shelf-life checks and a constant state of readiness can go a long way in the successful police response to incidents.
  5. Lather, Rinse, Repeat:  Like all professions, policing experiences attrition.  Departments and agencies need to be watchful that new hires are as well trained as veterans, and that when experienced leadership departs, these officers need to be replaced by those with similar skills and training.

The Growing Role of Media and Social Media

In this day and age, police agencies need to understand that there are cameras everywhere and communication is instantaneous over a number of social media platforms.  Thanks to cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, what starts out as a small neighborhood street march can quickly escalate to a massive, uncontrolled situation in the streets.

As a follow up to massive public demonstrations and police response a few years ago, the City of Berkeley, CA, has posted an extensive White Paper on lessons learned.  Titled “A Review of the Berkeley Police Department’s Actions and Events of December 6 & 7, 2014”, under the subsection of Social Media, are half-a-dozen debriefing notes on how to deal and respond to protesters who used primarily Twitter to play a cat-and-mouse game with police when it came to deployment, then redeployment of personnel and resources as events unfolded.  The six social media use notations:

*Communicate that the police agency wants protestors to have a safe event and give tips on how to express their views lawfully.

*Attempt to affect crowd behavior before it escalates to the level of disorder that requires a dispersal order.

*Coordinate in-the-field press conference to inform media of dangerous situations.

*Explain why police are issuing dispersal orders that apply to everyone within earshot.

*Explain potential consequences of failure to disperse.

*Warn the public at large to shelter in place when it becomes necessary to deploy CS Gas.

Because news events of this nature are packaged and edited for the most dramatic visual impact, further suggestions on the evolution of crowd control and civil unrest procedures can be drawn from the U.S. military’s practice of “imbedding journalists” to give the main stream media a better understanding and context of police actions.

Available on the webpage, and published for the Police Executive Research Forum, another White Paper on the topic—“Police Management of Mass Demonstrations,” illustrates the potential benefits of embedded journalists, profiled in Tony Narr’s article located on Page 69 about these media savvy practices during civil unrest in the City of Miami.

As law enforcement agencies across the country endeavor to prepare for the growing necessity of training, policies and practices to meet an evolving civil unrest and crowd control landscape, additional insight and suggestions may be reviewed at these links among others:

*Crowd Management & Response:  The University of Texas System

*Crowd Management, Intervention & Control:  California Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training

*Shifts In Police Tactics to Handle Crowds (drawn from Occupy Wall Street Protests)  National Public Radio interview transcript.

*Guide To Critical Issues in Policing:  United States Department of Justice

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