Staying safe and ethical in 'Occupied' territories
As frost bites firmly into green grasses and cement sidewalks across the country, living safely in a tent city becomes more difficult — and dangerous
Back on September 17th when the so-called “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement began, New York City had Chamber of Commerce conditions, with temps in the mid-60s under partly sunny skies. By all accounts, this is utterly delightful camping weather. Well, the “Occupy” movement is well into its second month, and as frost bites firmly into green grasses and cement sidewalks across the country, living safely in a tent city becomes more difficult — and dangerous.
Nearly every “Occupy” encampment — and according to a variety of sources, there are upwards of 70 permanent/ongoing sites across our great nation — has independently indicated their intention to “stick it out” even through the most inclement conditions “Old Man Winter” can heap on them. In preparation for the coming winter, many protesters are seeking “advice” from military veterans, outdoorsmen/survivalists, as well as the homeless community and indigenous peoples. Still others have started “wish lists” on Amazon.com — seeking donations such as blankets, camp stoves, fire extinguishers, and Motorola two-way radios. Seriously. Check this out.
We must prepare for the inevitable fact that there will almost certainly be an increasing number of calls for service within those camps. Already, there have been an increasing number of alleged sexual assaults and other serious crimes reported in recent weeks, necessitating crime fighters to apprehend offenders within camps we all know to be openly hostile toward law enforcement efforts to protect protesters from harm. Furthermore, there are many calls routed to Fire/EMS personnel — hypothermia, pneumonia, and gastro-intestinal maladies caused by poor food storage — and a variety of gnarly illnesses caused by living in close proximity to public urination and defecation.
Make a Plan
Connect with your counterparts in the EMS and Fire disciplines now, before the issues arise, to create a plan of action for response. While firefighters and paramedics might be welcomed into these compounds with open arms, police officers — who might be first on the scene of a call, or who may have to escort the stretcher-bearers in and out of the melee — are inexplicably considered part of that “1%” targeted by the protesters. That opinion is goofy on many levels, but this is neither the time nor place for that conversation.
You undoubtedly have cross-disciplinary training and/or SOPs for responding to a mass-casualty incident. You have also worked with your public safety counterparts on myriad calls dealing with one or two simultaneous emergency medical situations (like the two protesters in Denver who were hospitalized with hypothermia during a storm that brought several inches of snow this week). But have you contemplated a 10X multiple of these “low-grade” deals all going down at the same time? It’s a real possibility we need to get our heads around, because should that scenario come to fruition and police officers are not previously prepared, we all know who the mainstream media is going to skewer.
The fact is, many of these people have never camped out in the snow, and they simply don’t know what they don’t know... and what they don’t know can hurt them.
Don’t Get Cute
We shared a good laugh, and then turned serious. Don’t start gathering Intel on your Occupy protesters unless you have clear authorization to do so! In fact, if such orders are given to you, it may be a good idea to bear in mind that this type of activity didn’t work out too well for Maryland State Police.
For example, I heard a rumor that at least one agency someplace on the East Coast — for obvious reasons, I’m not going to go dropping names here — had used some sort of thermal imaging system to reveal the fact that many of the tents in that jurisdiction are actually empty at night (does that make it the ‘Unoccupied’ movement?). While it’s probably OK to do this, particularly if you’re trying to map out how you’d respond to a serious threat to public safety, it is also borderline enough that I would seek some clarification from your department’s legal team.
Justice Department Guidance
The DOJ guidance goes on to say that officers shall not:
Remember, one of the most valuable freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution is the right of persons and groups to peaceably assemble. You’re there at those First Amendment events to protect life and property, ensure fair and impartial enforcement of laws, statutes, and ordinances, and enable those “unwashed masses” — and in the case of the “Occupy” movement, many of them truly are unwashed — to and collectively express, pursue, promote, and defend their common interests.
These protesters may not appreciate your efforts in this regard, but I and many millions of other Americans most certainly do.
Stay safe out there my friends.
|Back to previous page|