When/Then Thinking and Training for Police Amid Threat of Post-Roe "Protests"

Regardless of what may come to pass with the SCOTUS decision on Dobbs—and in your community—in weeks and/or months, the police will be the people holding the line between the lawlessness and the law abiding.

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Earlier this month, a wonky Washington DC "insider" publication called Politico ran a story containing what is widely now accepted to be an initial draft majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court—written by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated within the court for consideration before being finalized and released—that would overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which struck down a Texas abortion ban as unconstitutional.

Almost immediately after the leaked document on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health became public, protesters seeking to pressure the court into upholding Roe—and keep abortion legally protected under the nearly 50-year-old decision—gathered outside the Supreme Court Building. Emotions were frayed and tensions ran high, but in those first several hours there was no sign of unlawful unrest—no violence, no rioting.

As the week progressed, people gathered in cities across the country, exercising "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

A fence was erected around the court even as some people upset at the prospect of Roe being overturned published the home addresses of the Court Justices considered most likely consider decisions on the issue of abortion a power "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution" and therefore a matter to be determined by the elected representatives of the states.

Regardless of how the Court rules on Dobbs—and potentially by extension, Roe—this may turn out to be another summer of political unrest and upheaval. Because police must prepare for that possibility, here are some reminders on crowd control preparedness.

Train, Train, Train!

First and foremost, take the time to put every officer who might be called to respond to a large-scale protest (or riot) through "refresher" training on crowd control tactics. Officers should be reminded on formations and movements the agency uses.

This training should incorporate loud sounds into the environment because commands must be heard, understood, and acknowledged even in the din of an out-of-control crowd.

Arrest and control techniques for people who have "gone boneless" and are lying dormant in the street need to be rehearsed. Arrest and control techniques for people who take the exact opposite stance—one of active defiance and resistance—need to be refreshed and refined.

Check Your Gear

Second only to training is making sure your gear is good to go. For some agencies, the riot gear hasn't gathered much dust in the past few years, but a readiness check is a vital initial step in any emergency response.

Make sure that masks fit to the faces of the people who will don them when smoke and gas are deployed—by either the good guys or the bad guys. Ensure that all your less-lethal tools are in proper working order and that everyone has taken the most up to date training for their use. Make sure vehicles are topped off with all necessary viscous and semi-viscous liquids.

Check batteries. Check bulbs. Check anything that could potentially be useful but potentially break. Check backups.

Activate Mutual Aid

A riot knows no borders. A peaceful assembly in one place may suddenly go mobile, becoming a march to someplace else, and morph from peaceful protest to calamitous unrest between points A and B. If you know you have an approved assembly permit in your town, make sure you know your neighbors know, too.

For starters, they'll appreciate the heads up for the possible spillover. For your sake, you might be ringing the bell again if things go sideways in your jurisdiction and you need their help to quell the violence. While you're making these calls, don't hesitate to include your National Guard in the planning phase. You may need them, too.

Inventory Jail Capacity

The objective of some protesters is simply to get themselves arrested. By all means, police should grant them their wishes by legally taking them into custody, but be prepared to have the infrastructure in place to allow for large numbers of arrestees. Ensure that your enforcement teams—those assigned to crowd control as well as those working regular patrol—know where arrestees will be taken once the Dew Drop Inn is full.

Monitor Social Media

The Court is not expected to actually issue the Dobbs decision until at least sometime in June—and the draft of it could substantively change before that time—so it's imperative for some element of your agency begin to closely monitor "chatter" on social media.

The group that allegedly "doxed" the home addresses of Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts have a scant few members on Facebook—334 at the time of this writing—but their reach on TikTok and Twitter is in the many thousands on each platform.

Importantly, their impact is disproportionate to their size—nearly every major media outlet almost instantaneously went from not knowing who they are to making them a significant element to their recent reporting.

Massive movements can mushroom out of virtually nowhere in no time on social media, so be watchful.

Peaceable political descent in the United States is an immutable—even indispensable—element to a healthy democracy. People must be permitted to make their opinions known, but it's important to note that any protest outside a Supreme Court Justice's home can potentially be a criminal act.

Under 18 US Code § 1507, someone with "the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty, pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the United States, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer" can be fined or imprisoned for up to a year.

Will local police be asked to enforce this law? Almost certainly not, but the law most certainly does exist.

Regardless of what may come to pass with the SCOTUS decision on Dobbs—and in your community—in weeks and/or months, the police will be the people holding the line between the lawlessness and the law abiding.

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