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Police officers are known as peacekeepers for a reason. Crowds gather to celebrate, to protest, and to exercise their Constitutional right to assemble. In most situations, crowds effectively maintain themselves and the police who circulate throughout are only there to offer assistance if it’s needed.
There are instances, however, especially when two opposing sides gather to protest an issue. Police officers must walk a fine line and remain as neutral as possible. No matter how they present themselves, they often get trapped in the middle and hated by one side or the other. At all times, they must honor and respect each person’s Constitutional rights.
Things to Consider
When you are discussing crowd management, you have two primary groups that you will deal with. The first group are commonly referred to as peaceful protesters. They are calm, gather together peacefully and work with law enforcement to ensure that any disruptions are kept to a minimum.
The second type is the radical protesters. They make as much noise as possible, damage property, and any attempt by police or other groups to squelch their activities is looked at as an attempt to deprive them of their rights. Knowing which group you will be dealing with will lay the foundation for your crowd management plan. Plan wisely.
Planning in Advance
While crowds can gather in a short period of time, they usually remain fairly small and can be effectively managed. Knowing in advance that an event is being held that will draw a much larger crowd will give you a chance to plan accordingly. This gives you time to put up barricades if they are needed and also request additional officers.
The larger the crowd, the more officers you will need on hand to maintain a peaceful and relatively calm environment. It is also a good idea to have a plan to fall back on if the crowd starts to get out of hand. Work with local business owners and city officials so that everyone is on the same page.
Working with Other Departments
Depending on the type of event that is being held, city, county, and state law enforcement officers may be requested to take part in the crowd management planning. Local civil defense and reserve police officers can also volunteer to help manage parking and other types of activities that may be included.
With all of the different departments working together, the public will get to see one cohesive unit made up of several departments, working together to maintain a peaceful environment. When everything goes as planned and all parties are respectful of one another, everyone will be able to enjoy the event and the knowledge that everything went smoothly.
Mode of Operations
A mode of operations is a plan of action that includes various scenarios. No two mass gatherings are ever the same. Many gatherings have a combination of people from both types of groups, peaceful protesters and those who are more radical. When everyone is getting along, police officers can mingle among the crowd. A show of presence is all that is needed to maintain the status quo.
Part of the mode of operations is to know how far to take crowd control tactics and restraints/arrests. Many issues will be easily handled by members of the crowd. Having law enforcement officers close at hand will also help to keep people under control or at least prevent them from going out of control. Maintaining public order can be accomplished if both sides continue to work together.
Utilizing the British Model
Public safety is always the ultimate goal. Law enforcement agencies, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, have come together at different times to compare notes when it comes to crowd management methods and tactics. One methodology that stood out above the rest was the British Model. Instead of presenting themselves as overbearing bullies, a meet-and-greet form of interaction was used from the beginning. As people started to gather, the police officers would engage them. They would shake hands and offer assistance if it was needed. Friendly gestures were offered and simple pleasantries were exchanged.
Building these proactive relationships worked to prevent many crowd disasters. People found it hard to be mean to officers who they were having meaningful conversations with just a few moments before. Multiple behavioral models also came from Britain as well. The first states that disorder is common when people believe they are being bullied by police. The second states that people are more likely to comply if they believe officers are acting fairly and treating them with respect.
The final ruling brings both perspectives together. Even the most unruly crowd will become calm if they believe they are being treated in a just and fair manner by police officers.
Communication Is Key
We all have a Constitutional right to free speech. Many mass gatherings revolve around that one premise. With that in mind, police leaders must be able to communicate during the planning stages of crowd management. It is up to the event organizer to work hand-in-hand with the crowd management event planning team to make sure any public demonstration is a peaceful one.
By developing a “mission” and relaying the information to the event organizers, who can then give their feedback. Initially, a soft approach is used, combining both conversation and constructive interaction. Police officers work their way through the crowd talking to people and establishing a positive rapport. The procedures they use mirror the participants’ behavior remaining as low-key as possible and diffusing situations as they arise.
Education and Negotiation Tactics
Law enforcement officers are taught crowd management tactics during their training. It’s essential for the police department to educate event organizers on how they can assist with keeping outbursts and unruly activities to a minimum. Many organizers may want to negotiate the number of officers or how they will be dressed. While it is important that they remain neutral and respectful at all times, they must also be able to prevent the destruction of property and injuries to participants.
If the event is to be successful on all levels, the event organizers must be willing to work with the police officers. Even at the most peaceful, well-organized events, arrests may occur. No matter what the situation, every person should be treated with respect and assured that any actions being taken are to maintain their safety and prevent them from hurting themselves or others. Although a person’s right to free speech should be protected at all cost, the wanton destruction of property, public or private, should not be condoned.
Always Maintain the Highest Level of Professionalism
Law enforcement agencies should always maintain the highest level of professionalism. Police officers are trained to avoid confrontation and remain as calm as possible. When a person promotes violence and starts to get out of control, it is up to the officers to diffuse the situation and restore peace within the crowd. Taking a professional approach and using the crowd management tactics they were taught during their training, will allow officers to regain control.
Professionalism is the benchmark that police officers must build their careers on. No matter how effective they are at enforcing the laws, their professionalism is what people will remember. A good police officer is able to maintain professionalism and compassion in the most difficult of situations.
Always Work Toward Building Positive Relationships With the Public
Positive relationships between the public and law enforcement officers do not just happen. They are built. The key to building these relationships is to be as visible as possible and interact with people whenever they can. It’s important to spend time interacting with the community on as many levels as they can. Attend events whenever possible. Teach schools and organizations crowd management tactics they can use. Be a friendly face that wears a badge, but be able to be firm as needed.
Crowd management can make police officers seem unapproachable. It’s essential for these tactics to be effective. In order for that to happen, police officers need to be seen as human beings. They need to be compassionate, but they also need to be seen as authority figures. Respect is earned and will be maintained as long as police officers receive it in kind. Protecting the public image of the badge doesn’t mean using a show of force. It means showing respect and allowing themselves to be visible to the public on a daily basis.