One of the most scary things you can be in as a Police Officer is a riot. So many times we talk about crowd sourcing, crowd thinking, it seems to be synonymous with cloud thinking and cloud sourcing now. But crowd behavior is the herd behavior of groups acting negatively, seen recently over here at the end of March Madness, where Arizona college basketball fans got out of control and rioted. I am sure a lot of those kids if they were asked about the actions that night, would say they were not personally part of the excesses, and do not condone them. The same processes which affect the rioters, also affects the Police Officers, who are forced to deal with the rioters. I have had the joy of being in a couple of riots, and it is not much fun.
The first one was little more than a medium size disturbance, but had potential to go very ‘pear shaped’ but some excellent leadership on behalf of the sergeant on scene, meant that the situation was de-escalated and the crowd dissolved. I think it was a Saturday night in ________, the town center was growing, large 2,000 seat ‘pubs’ and a 5,000 person entertainment complex in combination with the pedestrian town center had made nights quite exciting for all.
This one particular night, the Pubic Order Unit had made three arrests on _______ Hill, and were being confronted by a large crowd, so the call for assistance came out. I think it must have been around shift change it occurred, because I ran out of the nick with a large group of officers, it was quicker to get there by foot. We soon found ourselves making a protective half circle around the officers who had made arrests, and the crowd began to react to the escalation.
One thing that stands out to me from my time in Kent Constabulary, was the generally excellent sergeants and senior officers who always seemed in control of difficult situations like this and always seemed well-trained. This is in direct contrast to the supervisors here in the US who on the whole appear to me to be fairly incompetent and have achieved supervisory status by sucking up or merely having been in the department long enough, and certainly do not receive any national level selection or training. I cannot imagine being caught in a riot situation with a U.S. Police supervisor, because I cannot imagine trusting them with my personal safety. And that is what you do in these situations, you cannot affect the outcome on your own, as a single officer, however as a group of officers, you can change the outcome for good or bad, and for that to happen someone needs to be in control.
Now the little video above, while more whimsical in nature, may or may not feature someone I actually served with and I know from personal experience to be a good supervisor, although at the time of these stories, he was a mere Police Constable with me.
Well the Sargent took charge, had us break ranks, and move through the small crowd asking them politely to move along, and it actually worked and the situation was defused.
However, there was another incident we were not so lucky. My involvement in the story actually has a lot of background, but that part really should not be shared because it involves an informant. Anyway, one fine summers night, during the town River Festival, a patrol got sent to a noise complaint right in the center of town, at about 11 pm. When they arrived, they found an illegal rave in progress, which you think we would have known about before then, but hey, it was a big town, and very few people actually live in the town center, it is mostly shops, and the rave had only just got going. So the first patrol unit got showered with glass bottles for their trouble, and the crowd was 2-300 people by this point. So the call went out for assistance, first to all of the Police Support Units in the county, then when attempts to stop the rave were met again with resistance, to the Met for additional units. Of course it took time for them all to arrive, so it was pretty well-organized by then, they shut the music off, then kept everyone moving out of the pedestrian area by pushing them further and further out along side streets into smaller and smaller groups. Most people left when the music got shut down anyway.
The other event of note was the annual Motorcycle Club summer party, which one year got so out of hand, with things which cannot be repeated here, that rumor has it the Police Support Unit decided to withdraw to where they could not observe the events occurring on the stage for fear of having to stop them as illegal or highly immoral and likely outside the parameters of their public entertainment license, and having insufficient number to do so, would be prevented, and have to withdraw anyway, so they just withdrew.
So the next year, when the river festival and the Motorcycle Club party coincided again, there were so many Police Support Units that it was the absolutely quietest festival in years, and trouble was stamped on immediately. The prediction was that the Motorcycle Club could have had a lot of trouble, apparently there was a bit of a war going on between some of the gangs, and a Clubhouse in Sweden had been hit with a mortar, and other Clubs were not happy with the Kent chapter because they had run out of beer the year before. But everything went relatively quietly, which meant all those pretty Police Support Units had nothing to do but sit around, which is the best sort of riot control.