A 15-point plan to survive to prevent or survive a large disturbance

When you find yourself facing an angry mob, stand proud and prepared with your fellow officers, and know that you are privileged to literally stand on that thin blue line between order and chaos


By Dan Marcou, C1 Contributor

Law enforcement leaders — and street officers — have watched from afar as large scale disturbances have erupted and quickly gotten out of hand. We have to remember that if we don’t learn from history, we’re bound to repeat it. 

Remember that in Baltimore, it was 1968 when a similar period of mayhem last happened. Remember that the American Revolution was born out of the overreaction of a few British soldiers to a crowd throwing snowballs at them in Boston. 

This Feb. 4, 1980 file photo shows guards at the New Mexico State Penitentiary cleaning up cell block six at the prison in Sante Fe, N.M. after a violent riot at the state's maximum-security penitentiary near Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
This Feb. 4, 1980 file photo shows guards at the New Mexico State Penitentiary cleaning up cell block six at the prison in Sante Fe, N.M. after a violent riot at the state's maximum-security penitentiary near Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

Here are fifteen things to remember for preventing or surviving a large disturbance.

1. Know what you are facing.
When you have the luxury of having an advance notice of a crowd-control situation, determine the “who, what, when, where and why” of the event. This kind of intel can help you set a winning strategy for preventing violence, or responding quickly if violence does occur. 

2. Don’t act alone.
That old story about “one riot, one ranger” may be true, but chances are you are not a Texas Ranger. Crowd control takes a coordinated team effort to succeed. 

Solo heroics are not part of the program.

3. Recognize that a large disturbance can ignite with little warning.
A dangerous brew is to mix a large number of people, add one negative leader and stir in a generous serving of emotions. The passion can emanate from something as major as a burning social issue, or as minor as a homecoming game.

4. Monitor a crowd for danger signs.
Don’t be just present in a crowd, be a presence. 

Pay attention to the demeanor of inmates gathering and what they are saying. Take early notice of people who are urging violence, or pushing into your space. 

5. Don’t enter a large crowd if another alternative exists.
Give verbal command first and get enough help to be effective before you choose to enter a crowd. 

6. Stay alert for entrapment.
A sudden disturbance or obvious violation can be a set up — a trap set for unwary officers who might rush in to stop one thing and end up being caught up in another. 

7. Control the location of any contact.
Avoid making contacts in volatile spots where trouble makers can be found in large numbers.

8. Recognize officer baiting.
Professional trouble makers know how to get officers to overreact. Recognize the spitting, the screams, and the “going limp when you touch them” as the behavior of a professional agitator. 

Contrast the professional agitator’s outlandish behavior with your calm demeanor.

9. Rely on the right equipment.
There is a time to police a crowd wearing a regular uniform; there is also a time where officers should be in full protective gear. 

The question “helmet or hat?” should be answered by an analysis of the tactical situation at hand, not the political situation at hand. 

10. Consider the effects of noise.
An approaching siren may encourage some members of a disturbance to disperse. It may also have the opposite effect. Pounding shields may encourage a crowd to back-off, but it may also rile them up. 

Be cognizant of what is working — and what is not — and be flexible enough to change tactics quickly as needed.

11. Let crowds leave.
Never forget you are outnumbered. Give crowds enough time to leave after commands are given and leave a path open for them to travel. 

It is not wise to trap a crowd or to slow its dispersal by making minor arrests. 

12. Watch everyone.
Be especially aware of people making threats, communicating with hand signals, and/or carrying potential.

13. Protect your transportation. 
Have fleet keys — and a defensible parking plan — at large events because the destruction of a squad car is all the impetus that the makers of mischief need to get a crowd to invest itself in violence. 

Don’t provide the opportunity by leaving behind an unoccupied squad. On the other hand, don’t get trapped within a squad.

14. Act decisively, but with restraint.
A crowd does not start a riot. Individuals in a crowd incite riots. Identify trouble-makers early. Gather enough evidence to make your case and – when it is tactically sound – make the arrest quickly and efficiently. Remember that it is easier in a crowd control situation to extinguish a cigarette butt than a forest fire.

Arresting the right person at the right time in the right way can send a powerful message. Arresting them in the wrong way can inspire chaos.

15. Don’t act out of emotion.
The first person you must control when doing crowd control is yourself.

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2021 Corrections1. All rights reserved.