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Weekend will Test Handling of Protests

April 19, 2002
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Weekend will Test Handling of Protests

Weekend will Test Handling of Protests by Petula Dvorak, Washington Post

The varnished wood police baton D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer will carry for today's multi-themed demonstrations in downtown Washington is the one he used in the 1968 antiwar protest in Chicago that turned into an infamous confrontation between police and protesters.

Gainer and his boss, Chief Charles H. Ramsey, have come a long way since they were rookie cops that summer in Chicago. These days, they are in demand as consultants in handling special events and large crowds of demonstrators, like those who have assembled in the nation's capital this weekend.

Their successful track record with major demonstrations, including the April 2000 large-scale protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, has brought them or their aides invitations to share their crowd-control tactics with numerous other police forces across the country and around the world.

Ramsey's and Gainer's reputations will be tested again today.

"If you're a pitcher in major league baseball, you're only as good as your last outing," Ramsey said. "So we may have had a successful outcome at the last protest, but if this one goes south on us, we'll all be sitting here trying to figure out what went wrong."

The two officials are building on a policing specialty cultivated in the District for more than a century. This weekend, D.C. police plan to stick to a playbook passed from chief to chief, with a few contemporary touches.

"We have always shown, when it comes to special operations and tactics, that our police department is one of the best," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

April 2000 was a test for the District. When huge protests were held without the same downtown destruction that occurred during similar demonstrations in Seattle, the D.C. police force was jubilant.

"I've had people from [the special operations division] also go to Quebec City, Genoa, Sydney, New York, Seattle, Salt Lake City," Ramsey said. "We share police tactics, but more importantly, we learn tactics used by demonstrators that may be used against us."

Robert Klotz, a former commander of the special operations division who worked many D.C. demonstrations from the 1950s to 1980, said Washington has been successful handling the large protests because the city has so many of them.

"It enables the men and women of the police department to be less uptight about it," he said. Also, they are trained to work in groups.

"Police officers generally operate alone or in pairs. They have a lot of discretion, a lot of autonomy," Klotz said. "When they're in a demonstration, they've got to be trained to work as a group, which is foreign to the way they work day-to-day."

But protesters contend that the crowd-control measures D.C. police are teaching are illegal.

"Look at the illegal raid on the meeting center and offices of the protest organizers in April 2000," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, attorney for many of the protest groups. "That was exported to Philadelphia, where police raided and seized the large, beautiful puppets and expressive materials in advance of the Republican National Convention. That was also exported to Los Angeles and the Democratic National Convention."

This seizing of protesters' materials before the demonstration, she said, is the same questionable police tactic used against union organizers in the 1930s. A lawsuit against the D.C. raid in 2000 is pending.

"This conduct is now replicated from place to place," Verheyden-Hilliard said.

It's not the first time D.C. police tactics have been challenged in court. The mass arrest of about 8,000 people during May Day protests in 1971 were ruled illegal.

"All we want to do is make sure that we're not the story the next day," Ramsey said. "Then, we've been successful."

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