As the story goes, a Texas Ranger arrived on the scene of a large disturbance after he was dispatched to the report of a riot. As he stepped confidently out of the squad to face the unruly crowd someone asked him incredulously, “Only one Ranger?”
His response was immediate, “You only have one riot, don’t you?”
You have to admire the confidence of that ranger, but if you’ve ever stood in front of an aggressive crowd of a few thousand, you want the officers standing beside you to be properly equipped, share a plan, share skills, and have a good on scene commander. If not, you’ll likely wish you had taken a vacation day.
Reasons for Large Disturbance
When does a crowd become a riotous mob? If you look to history you will see that crowds have rioted over the every thing from the draft to sporting events. Heck, we don’t even need to look at history — we need only look at this weekend and the recent Los Angeles Lakers’ Championship Victory. Riots will erupt at demonstrations on all kinds of issues such as civil rights, gay rights, fishing rights, environmental rights, homecoming events, Halloween celebrations, local festivals and most ironically, at peace demonstrations.
Anytime you have a crowd, a large disturbance can erupt for any reason (or no reason at all).
Types of Crowds
By definition, there are four types of crowd. An external and or internal stimulus can have one type of crowd transition easily into another.
Casual Crowd – The casual crowd is gathered at a mall, a tavern, or on a street going about their business. They share a space, but have their individual purposes for sharing or moving through that shared space.
Cohesive Crowd – An internal or external stimulus now brings the crowd together to focus their attention on one thing. It can be a fight at bar-time. It could be a speaker, a ball game, the antics of a lawless individual, or at a concert. The crowd now shares a space and a shared focus.
Expressive Crowd – The crowd not only shares a space and a focus, it now begins cheering at the same time, chanting at the same time, or singing at the same time. They begin to share a voice. That voice can be a happy voice, a sad voice, or and angry voice. A few negative leaders can potentially lead the crowd down a path toward destructive behavior with the wrong type of leadership in the crowd.
Aggressive Crowd – The crowd now begins focusing its energies in a destructive manner. Good people can become terribly destructive and dangerous when they occupy space in an aggressive crowd.
Individuals’ Behaviors in a Crowd
A single crowd might contain one, two, or several thousand individuals. These individuals initially bring their personal identities to that environment, before some of them surrender that to the identity of the crowd. Some never surrender their personal identities to “the mentality of the crowd,” but many will.
When policing a crowd, watch and identify these behaviors in the crowd.
Impulsive/Lawless – Every crowd will have some percentage of this type of individual. They have a tendency to act impulsively and criminally on a daily basis. This type of person will thrive and take a leadership role in turning a crowd into an aggressive crowd. They will come to the forefront early. They are lawless every day of their lives and if they take a leadership role they will lead the crowd down a lawless path. The impulsive/lawless can be found in larger numbers in a prison cafeteria than in a high school cafeteria but they exist in both environments.
Supportive – This type of individual will make noise and shout encouragement, but rarely get physically involved in the fracas.
Resister – This individual, finding themselves a part of the aggressive crowd, will not abandon their own identity in the crowd. They will maintain their individuality. A negative resister may choose to fire shots, or throw bricks. They will have their own violent personal agenda.
A resister can also be a good resister. This person will resist the pull of the crowd dynamic, because they have the will to resist what they know to be wrong under all circumstances. They may attempt to assist people, who are in trouble or attempt to convince rioters to stop what they are doing. They will be shocked by the behavior of their fellow citizens.
Suggestible – This is the largest segment in most any crowd. When in a crowd they take on behaviors of the crowd’s personality, because they are suggestible. This is why hundreds of good people, who have never been in trouble in their lives find themselves suddenly rampaging through a city kicking out windows and burning cars. They quickly turn violent, even if they are not normally violent, because they are followers and the behavior has been suggested by a strong crowd identity they have become one with. In this crowd they feel anonymous.
Cautious – This person will hang back. They will not get involved unless it appears they will have anonymity. Alcohol will cause caution to dissipate. Police video cameras encourage the cautious to remain uninvolved.
Yielder – This person is lees concerned with anonymity than they are about unanimity. They will wait until it appears there is 100 per cent buy in for the violent direction the crowd has taken and then they will join in.
Psychopath – This person is a person with a psychiatric disorder, who views the crowd activity through a distorted lens. It is impossible to determine how the person will react in the midst of a violent crowd. This person is a wild card and is as volatile as nitro-glycerin on 100 miles of bumpy road.
Leadership in the Crowd Determines the Direction of the Crowd Dynamic
It is easy to see that an impulsive-lawless individual taking a leadership role can take the thousands of “suggestible” crowd members that inhabit crowds down a violent path.
Officers working any crowd must realize they must be a presence in the crowd not just present in a crowd.
Officers, who are working a crowd are constantly in contact with the individuals in the crowd and need to identify the impulsive lawless before their leadership takes hold. Officers can diffuse or minimize the impact of the impulsive/lawless on the crowd, by a watchful presence, some well placed, well spoken words of caution, or even a lawful arrest made efficiently.
The Texas Ranger
The lone Texas Ranger may have had great difficulty stopping a riot. However, a team of strategically placed Crowd Control Trained Texas Rangers armed with an effective crowd management plan and posing an indomitable presence as well as positively, proactively working a crowd, might prevent one.