Setting the Record Straight on Crowd Management
Managing large crowds is challenging for a myriad of reasons. It involves a complexity that few people outside of policing really understand. While I wouldn’t suggest we share our playbook, we can help the public – and politicians - understand some of the factors that lead to police action or perceived inaction.
Given the rhetoric in the community over the recent Freedom Convoy protest, and the demands for faster, harsher action, it is important to explain why we do what we do. It is not influenced by opinions and false narratives found on social media – which is where many with a voice in our community look for answers and express their views.
Police have incredible power in society and with that power comes immense responsibility. This means police services must continually learn and improve their policies, training, and tactics to maintain public order and ensure public safety. We do this through post-deployment analysis, literature reviews, sharing of best practices, incorporating findings and recommendations from Inquiries, and following common standards.
Major police services are guided by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police National Framework for Police Preparedness for Demonstrations and Assemblies. It provides for a consistent police approach, promotes a strategy that aims to reduce the need to use force, and seeks to build relationships for a peaceful resolution.
Enforcement ranges from ticketing to full-scale deployment of officers in tactical gear. While enforcement is an option to bring an event to an end, it must be used after thoughtful consideration. Before we move to use force, we must consider whether it is justified, proportional, and necessary, along with several other factors when dealing with crowd dynamics. Some of these include:
· the urgency of this action – whose safety is at risk that warrants escalation
· public interest
· the number of protesters – and therefore the number of officers required
· the consequence of conflict on future, like-minded individuals and events
· the likelihood of prosecution
· whether force will resolve the matter or inflame it
· whether all other de-escalation methods have failed or are no longer relevant
When considering the most recent protest, and the negotiated gains made daily on noise abatement and traffic disruptions, it made little sense to abandon the tactics of de-escalation and negotiation. This was a decision based on experience and expertise in crowd management; not emotion.
Every event is unique. A major difference in this protest was the willingness of group leadership to identify themselves and negotiate. This is not often the case. When we don’t have an open line of communication with an organizer who can influence the participants, that has an impact on our tactical considerations and the outcomes. The narrative by some that police do not act consistently when dealing with other protesters is simply not true. Where influential leaders are identified, we act consistently to balance rights and expectations while working to de-escalate.
It is not lost on police leaders that the truckers’ cause was not a popular one amongst the public or politicians. This is irrelevant to police who must remain impartial, regardless of the cause. Our tactics are based on sound principles, not whether the cause is socially acceptable. Our goals are consistent; to build trust and mutual respect to allow for successful negotiations and a peaceful resolution.
Social activism has increased dramatically, becoming almost a daily occurrence in our society. Most major police agencies are spending significant resources to manage this trend. An aggressive approach focused on force and coercion comes at a massive cost – to the bottom line, resourcing, and reputation. No one in Winnipeg would find that palatable in a post-event review.
Tolerance and understanding of the disruptions from protest groups will need to be the new norm for citizens in a democratic society. Police will always balance the impact on the community with the desired approach to manage crowds in a way that prevents escalation and violence. Awareness of the factors that we consider as part of that balancing act is important to building trust. I hope it ultimately leads to confidence in our actions.
-Superintendent Uniform Operations Dave Dalal
Special Events Commander, Winnipeg Police Service
Member Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Canadian Association Chiefs of Police
Past Member Counter Terrorism and National Security Committee, Canadian Association Chiefs of Police