Occupy Wall Street and the Police

As I watch police respond to public protest – most recently, Occupy Wall Street - it’s a good time to review our policing methods and how they apply to crowd control.  This isn’t Syria and our job isn’t to protect the government.

Basically, we apply the same concepts we use in other police situations from domestic violence to traffic stops with one significant difference.  We need to give great deference to the First Amendment right to free speech.  Most protesters aren’t criminals and we must recognize the difference between intentions to disrupt versus intentions to inflict violence.

Chemical agents, tasers, and bean bags have no place in protest movements except under very narrow circumstances related to personal safety.  They should never be used to get compliance for someone refusing to leave.  Doing so will almost certainly make matters worse and galvanize an even larger, more violent protest.   We do not want to become the focus of the protest.

We should be flexible and we should not use minor infractions as an excuse to make an arrest.

Mirroring the Madison Wisconsin approach, here are some key concepts we will follow:

1.      Begin with a soft approach with plenty of dialogue, preferably with event organizers before the event starts.  Explain up front:

a.      We are here to defend your right to demonstrate, but we can’t allow you to hurt others or destroy property. 

b.      Whether or not we support your position, we will remain neutral. 

c.      We will not allow others to harm you if you hold an unpopular position.

d.      If you want to be arrested to make a statement, we will help you with that and will treat you respectfully and not harm you while in our custody.  In turn, we expect you to cooperate with us.

2.      Avoid anonymity at all costs.  Police are to be easily identifiable, with their names and badge numbers clearly visible.  Avoid any depersonalization that reduces the police to be anonymous agents.  Anonymity encourages negative crowd behavior.  It can also lead to unaccountable behavior on the part of the police.  To protect the officers working with the crowd (depending on the size and type of protest) we might have a tactical team on standby in a location near the demonstration but out of sight.

3.      Have visible leadership with command officers present.  I expect to be called and may respond personally.

Occasionally, there will be a few knot-heads in the group that really want to egg on the police.  Don’t fall for it.