On Saturday February 19th, the crowd around the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin grew to 70,000. The numbers swelled as demonstrators on both sides of the labor issue swarmed the capitol. One group chanted, “Kill the bill!” while another group chanted, “Pass the bill!”
The demonstration was large, but although the rhetoric was much warmer than the weather, the gathering was peaceful. The press release from Chief Noble Wray of the Madison Police Department read:
“On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights. You conducted yourselves with great decorum and civility, and if the eyes of the nation were upon Wisconsin, then you have shown how democracy can flourish even amongst those who passionately disagree. As of 5:00 p.m., no major incidents had been reported. There have been no arrests. However, discourse and discussion was - at times - loud and heated. That was to be expected. As previously indicated, the goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day.”
This press release reflects a philosophy of the Madison Police Department developed after the violent turmoil during the 60s and 70s, when Madison PD developed the “Madison Method,” for policing demonstrations.
If one took the opportunity to step back and observe the calm, professional police presence at the event you’d have seen this philosophy in action. The Madison Method consists of seven principles, in quotes below. The commentary which follows each is from this writer.
“We facilitate and protect the public’s right to freely speak and assemble.”
When officers realize that they are at the scene of a protest to facilitate the right of speech and assembly it guides and shapes the law enforcement response from planning to the implementation of the plan.
“We use restraint in the use of force. We protect people first property second.”
There is a very real possibility that force may have to be used at any large gathering, especially one born in passion. Those officers working such a large event have to realize that all arrests will be widely watched and recorded. These officers should be welled trained at making team arrests and that training should be freshly updated just prior to the event, whenever possible to insure the arrests can be made efficiently.
“We dialog with participants before, during, and after demonstrations.”
When events are being planned it can be extremely beneficial for law enforcement to speak with the organizers before during and even after that event. This re-enforces the police role as facilitators rather than a force to be confronted. By maintaining a dialog it allows for the opportunity to encourage peaceful gatherings and minimize sources of conflict.
“We enable citizens and the media through constant communication.”
In the age of 24-hour news, it is important to prevent potentially dangerous rumors from being reported as fact. Riots have been triggered after police use of justifiable force, because journalists have run witness accounts of incidents, even though those witnesses were nowhere near the incident, when it occurred. Law enforcement is not responsible for irresponsible journalism, but getting facts to the press in a timely manner can often be beneficial to the police, the public, and the media.
Here is an example of the press announcement which was released on February 18, during the protests:
“Large numbers of protesters are likely to gather around the State Capitol again today, and the Madison Police Department (MPD) is ready to assist in keeping everyone safe. Traffic interruptions are likely as demonstrators move to the Capitol Square. Contingency plans remain in place to close all or parts of the Square, depending on crowd levels. The MPD continues to commend the behavior of those who have gathered to peacefully protest. MPD officers have made no arrests this week, and have encountered no problems outside of the State Capitol.”
“We show leadership in preparation and training for special events.”
Rarely is there an opportunity for so many officers to look so good — or so bad — in front of the public as during a crowd-control event. When those assigned to the event are a trained to operate as a team, the crowd will see confidence and a level of professionalism that rises far above mere competence.
“Remember we are peace keepers.”
This is the primary function at any large demonstration. If an arrest must be made it should be somebody, who threatens the peace of the event. There may be a time when a decision may have to be made to disperse a crowd to preserve peace and prevent injuries and property damage. This can best be done by officers possessing the specialized skills and equipment to disperse a crowd. It is imperative to have a philosophy that encourages the peaceful gathering of people. It is imperative also to prepare for the people and circumstances that may dynamically and suddenly turn a crowd confrontational.
“We are open and communicate constantly.”
There may be just one crowd, but it is important to realize that crowd is made up of individuals. As long as the event is peaceful officers should remain approachable. They should be open to give directions if asked to the nearest ATM, the phone number of taxis, and directions to the parking ramp where their car is located or the hotel they are staying at. An Officer working a crowd would do well to remember the words of Dalton — the character from the movie “Road House” — who said, “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
These demonstrations did not catch the agencies around Madison totally unprepared. They had contingency plans ready, teams on call and equipment available ready to respond long before this prolonged demonstration. When (not if!) they come to you, is your agency ready to respond? Heads up, here it comes, so prepare!