Crowd Control: Policing in Politically Unstable Times

Command staff must make sure that officers are well equipped, well trained, and well supported for riot response.

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Earlier this month as the presidential election was pending and as people watched nervously on both sides as ballots were counted in key states, police were bracing for massive levels of unrest.

For the most part that violence did not manifest.

But it remains simmering in radical groups on both sides of the political divide. And as we've seen since George Floyd's death, riots can break out nationwide over unexpected events.

That's why command staff must ensure that officers are well equipped, well trained, and well supported in enforcing the law and ensuring safety to innocents if protests devolve into riots.

Here are two thoughts on how to accomplish this.

"Standing Down" is Not a Plan

Police agencies across America have "stood down" amid violent protests, allowing looting and mayhem. However, "standing down" is not a plan—it is the absence of a plan.

Police leaders need to come up with other ways of dealing with crowd control scenarios so that First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly are maintained, but enforcement of the law when things devolve into violence is fully supported.

This will require clear communication between command staff and the officers they lead as well as open dialog with local elected officials, the media, and directly with citizens via social media.

Having operational plans for active response—and an understanding of where and when an outburst might take place—is absolutely essential and the first step in stemming any potential violence.

Officers out there responding to the mayhem need to be assured by their leaders—not just in the department but in the courthouse and the statehouse—that their work to arrest people who commit crimes in the name of political outrage will be supported.

"Taking Sides" is Not an Option

It's no secret that the vast majority of American police officers support—and likely voted for—President Trump.

The 45th President of the United States is possibly the most pro-cop person to occupy the White House in our history—at least in the 50-plus years I've been alive.

On the campaign trail at almost every stop he made remarks about his support for and love of police officers. Earlier this year the president signed an executive order encouraging police departments to improve training.

Meanwhile, Democrat Joe Biden, who is now unofficially the president-elect, has hinted in veiled language shouted from a podium in a parking lot that he supports efforts to "defund the police," redirect law enforcement funding to mental health and substance abuse services, and release from incarceration thousands of violent offenders.

These words in countless stump speeches over the past several months come despite what his written campaign platform says about his commitment to reforming the justice system by investing a $300 million for departments to hire more officers.

The fact that the stump speech and the written document don't match is unsurprising—politicians pander to the people in front of them while creating policy in stark contrast to what they just yelled into a microphone.

Here's where the rubber meets the road for the street cops, and where command staff needs to pump the brakes in the squad room.

None of the above matters when it comes to policing the community—period. Chiefs and sheriffs need to ensure that the men and women they lead put their voting preferences aside and deal with whatever happens impartially.

When stuff goes loud, cops need to keep quiet.

Final Thoughts

Look, I'm not going to tell you in this space who I voted for—it's probably abundantly clear.

I will tell you however that no matter who takes office on Jan. 20, 2021, he will be my president.

That's how this whole thing works. I spent my entire college career (albeit back in the late 1980s when we had Ronald Reagan) studying political science and American history, so my knowledge of—and belief in—this system of government is etched in marble.

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Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot
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