Policing an unruly crowd: Is your PD prepared?

Happy rioting is just as devastating to a community as angry rioting


Question: Are Classical Crowd Control Formations applicable for modern day disturbances or should Miami Field Force Tactics and Los Angeles Police Department Cross Bow movements be employed?

Answer: Yes.

Is there any team on your agency or in your mutual aid group able to employ these team tactics under street conditions? There should be.

Of late, rioting has been used to express displeasure with political leadership, economic conditions, war, and Koran burnings. It has even been used very recently to express delight by fans of the University of Kentucky whose team won a big game in the NCAA semifinals. Happy rioting is just as devastating to a community as angry rioting. The cars and buildings do not get any less burnt.

Rioting seems to have become as popular a sport around the world as soccer. By the way riots are to soccer, what fights are to hockey.

Classical Crowd Control Formations
All trained teams practice moving in columns. From columns, units are able to form lines, wedges, echelons, diamonds, and encirclements. These formations have been used to rescue comrades and defeat adversaries since the Roman Army conquered most of the known world. One could ask why they still are used after thousands of years, and the answer would be because like wheels, they have been around a long time, but they still work.

The modern day police crowd control unit should be able to deploy and move into these formations under stress as smoothly as each member can draw their service weapon in a gun fight. A team commander should be able to quickly assess a situation and know the tactic to apply to prevent or solve a problem.

Every confrontation makes certain options available. Participants can flee, fight, posture or submit. Some of the ill-informed outside and sadly even within law enforcement will describe the protective equipment and tactics of a trained crowd control unit as “confrontational.” If people in your command structure believe this, your agency is unprepared for a large disturbance. Agency spokes persons need to not only understand the movements are highly trained posturing meant to encourage a crowd to disperse and prevent violence.

Department representatives also need to be able to explain to the public that protective equipment on their police officers is no more confrontational than protective equipment on skate boarders, bicycle riders and even firefighters wear.

Miami Field Force Tactics
Miami Field Force tactics were inspired by events, during a turbulent period in Miami’s history, which took place in the early 80s. After a series of very destructive riots the Metro-Dade agencies combined to formulate a disturbance response plan, which included:

1.) Dialog with the community.
2.) Prearranged mutual aid pacts.
3.) Preset perimeter closing plans.
4.) Critical site protection strategies.
5.) A call-up protocol.
6.) Riot equipment issued to every single officer.
7.) Field force teams named and fully trained.
8.) Radio protocol.
9.) Incorporation of K-9, SRT, and arrest processing units with each team.
10.) A convoy unit response protocol.
11.) Team staging protocol.
12.) Scene deployment strategies.
13.) Disturbance resolution protocols.

Multiple Field Force Teams — Alpha Team, Bravo Team, etc. — were designated and trained. Each team was assigned a lieutenant, who as its commander had the authority of the chief at every scene. The team was trained to travel as a single unit, arrive and deploy as a single unit and operate tactically as a coordinated unit. It had at its disposal, an arrest processing team for mass arrests, grenadiers with chemical munitions, as well SWAT officers that could immediately deploy to any armed encounter.

The first deployment of the teams occurred after a “Not Guilty” verdict was rendered by a jury in an Officer involved shooting. Officer Luis Alvarez was not only innocent, but he was also unjustly charged with manslaughter due to public pressure after a justifiable police shooting of an armed, resistive suspect.

The police response to diffuse the riot after the verdict was praised by the community and even the media alike as “measured and professional.”

Field Force Tactics allow field force teams to respond and deploy quickly to multiple urban flash points and keep groups of trouble makers small, unbalanced and moving.

If the impressive arrival and deployment of a field force team does not inspire a problem crowd to disperse, the Lieutenant in charge of each team has the authority to declare an unlawful assembly, order the crowd to disperse. If after giving them an appropriate amount of time to accomplish that dispersal the crowd refuses to do so the Lieutenant has the authority to order a grenadier to utilize chemical munitions to disperse the group.

Los Angeles Cross Bow Tactics
The Los Angeles Police Department — no stranger to large disturbances — developed cross bow tactics to enhance classical formations. Commanders give commands and signals and in response, team members held in reserve in a column formation shoot through the line like and arrow from a cross bow to:

1.) Conduct a rescue.
2.) Effect an arrest.
3.) Encircle a group.
4.) Quickly secure ground abandoned by a rioting crowd.

Crossbow is a dynamic technique that, when utilized as a powerful psychological effect on a crowd.

Passive Resistance
At no time, during demonstration do the police have an opportunity to look so good, or conversely so bad than while dealing with passive resisters. Professional demonstrators (yes, there are professional demonstrators) train extensively on how to perform acts of passive resistance. They hope that the police responding to their “prayer circle” or “sleeping dragon” will not be trained in the slow, meticulous, professional dismantling of a group of passive resisters.

Protesters will scream and chant as if outraged by both a professional trained response as well as the untrained fumbling by ill-prepared officers. A calm determination is the hallmark of the trained response. Make no mistake about it though, the protestors will record and claim both to be excessive, but they’ll get more mileage out of the untrained response.

Readiness Check
A quick initial readiness check for your own agency is to ask a shift commander:

1.) Who has authority to authorize the use of chemical munitions against a crowd?
2.) Who has the training and certification to deploy chemical munitions?
3.) Where are your munitions kept?
4.) Are your munitions current or expired?

Clearly chemical munitions are not the only indicator of an agency’s Crowd Control readiness status, but a key indicator of the agencies readiness.

If your agency is not ready, now is the time to recognize that fact and get ready. If you do not believe it necessary to prepare, just query “Occupy Riots,” at YouTube. Then look up the term “Risk Management.”

Civil unrest lies ahead for American Law Enforcement. It takes neither a prophet, nor a clairvoyant to predict this. Prepare!

About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou

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