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Crowd and riot response for the 21st century

With the Republican and Democratic conventions looming in Minneapolis and Denver, now is a good time for us to consider how our agencies will respond to large crowd and riot-control situations. Some departments have massive annual events requiring their response. The streets of Pasadena are lined with more than a million parade-watchers on New Year’s Day and the French Quarter of New Orleans is filled with throngs of people every year at Mardi Gras. Both the Pasadena and New Orleans PDs would be overwhelmed if they attempted to deal with these events on their own and each have had long standing agreements (and response plans) with other agencies. But it is one thing to manage large crowds that may act unruly. It is something else again to deal with sophisticated adversaries using tactics against us ranging from passive resistance to black bloc aggression. Crowd and riot-control tactics and equipment must grow and adapt to deal with all challenges that we might face.

After the events of May 1st, 2007 in MacArthur Park, my agency, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, took a hard look at itself and concluded it might not have done much better in a similar situation. It was determined that a full commitment to a modern crowd and riot-control unit would be created. This unit would be equipped with the most modern equipment and would also be designed to respond to jail riots (an all too common occurrence for us), natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. So was born the Sheriff’s Response Team (SRT).

It Starts At the Top
After the decision to form the SRT was reached, a few things were quickly decided, and leadership was chosen. Not everyone is suited to be a tactical commander charged with making command-level decisions moving large forces. There’s no shame in this. Crowd and riot-control is a specific law enforcement skill. People who are trained and are predisposed to lead these types of incidents should be selected to make these decisions. Those people were selected by Sheriff’s management.

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