Former Madison, WI police chief David Couper runs a blog about improving policing. A recent post covers how police can better handle crowds and large protests. Alex Pang sums it up the advise: “Milspec gear, tear gas- bad ideas unless you WANT a riot,” but those are Alex’s words, not Couper’s.
Couper cites some research in Britain on crowd control at football (soccer) games:
“’[L]arge-scale disorder tended to emerge and escalate because indiscriminate, heavy-handed policing generated a group mentality among large numbers of fans that was based on shared perceptions that the police action was illegitimate. This had the effect of drawing ordinary fans into conflict with the police’.
“The finding here is that when a crowd perceives the police as overreacting or being heavy-handed, crowd members have a tendency to stop observing and start taking action. To prevent this from happening, Stott advocates using what he calls a ‘softly, softly’ approach—a low-key approach in which officers mix with and relate to crowd members on the basis of their behavior, rather than their reputation. If police approach a crowd with the expectation that its members are going to make trouble, it often turns out that way. This will not be unfamiliar to Madison residents or their police.”
Couper offers various bits of practical advise for the police, including:
Be able to protect officers working with the crowd. If the situation warrants it, we have a tactical unit (with full protective equipment) on standby in a location near the demonstration but out of sight. They are available as an emergency response to protect or rescue officers in or others in danger of being harmed. Their mission is to protect people first and property second. Deploying the emergency response team is a last-ditch tactic and will indicate that we have not been effective in managing the crowd with softer methods.