Crowd Management Adopting a New Paradigm

By Masterson, Mike | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Crowd Management Adopting a New Paradigm


Masterson, Mike, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Managing crowds is one of the most important tasks police perform. Whether or not members of the public agree with this practice, they often judge how well law enforcement officers achieve this--if it is done fairly and effectively. Of course, officers should treat everyone with respect and courtesy without regard to race, gender, national origin, political beliefs, religious practice, sexual orientation, or economic status. Although perhaps daunting, the primary function of police is relational, whether they respond to a domestic dispute, investigate a crime, enforce a traffic regulation, or handle a crowd. Once officers understand this, they will find it easier to determine what to do and how to do it.'

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Lessons Learned

Studied by law enforcement for at least 40 years, crowd control is important due to the dangers posed by unruly gatherings. To this end, it proves fair to ask whether police leaders do all they can to share lessons learned and incorporate best practices into crowd management philosophy, training, and tactics.

As a young police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1970s, the author experienced the Vietnam War's aftermath at home and the eruptions of student unrest. A state capital and home to a major university, Madison at times is a hotbed for protests. From antiapartheid demonstrations and dismantling of shantytowns on capitol property to an annual alcoholladen Halloween festival, the author, along with fellow officers, monitored and managed partiers and protesters for over four decades. With groups ranging from 6 church members to 250,000 people celebrating in a city park, Madison police successfully balanced rights to assembly and free speech with citizen and officer safety.

The author benefited from those lessons on crowd management when becoming chief of the Boise, Idaho, Police Department in 2005. The city subsequently hosted the National Governors' Conference and the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. Boise police officers manage a wide variety of protests, parades, and demonstrations on issues, such as immigration, human rights, and most recently, a death penalty execution and Occupy Boise.

A police chief's involvement and direction prove critical to officers' ability to successfully manage emotional, potentially volatile crowds. The message received from top-level management greatly influences the behavior and mind-set of frontline officers. Shaping these attitudes begins with a solid understanding that police work involves building relationships with members of the public whom officers are sworn to serve and protect.

British Influence

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) have an increasing amount of information available on best practices in crowd management. PERF's recent publication Managing Major Events: Best Practices from the Field contains insight offered by law enforcement leaders from the United States and Canada on what has worked for them. This report includes the Vancouver, British Columbia, Police Department's new policy on tolerance and restraint when dealing with crowds. Police leadership in Vancouver recognized the success of British crowd control policies, sent their senior executives overseas to study the model, and brought back trainers to assist officers

with implementing this new style of crowd control during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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With British input, Vancouver police developed a meet-and-greet strategy. Instead of using riot police in menacing outfits, police officers in standard uniforms engaged the crowd. They shook hands, asked people how they were doing, and told them that officers were there to keep them safe. This created a psychological bond with the group that paid dividends. It becomes more difficult for people to fight the police after being friendly with individual officers. …

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