Rethinking Police Response to Mass Demonstrations

In Rethinking the Police Response to Mass Demonstrations: 9 Recommendations, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) underscores the critical  importance of police engaging with the community to achieve the twin goals of safeguarding First Amendment rights and protecting public safety.

PERF, an organization dedicated to improving policing, has produced guidance regarding mass demonstrations since 2006. However, the demonstrations of 2020 presented an unprecedented culmination of crises due to the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd, and overall spikes in homicides and shootings.

According to the report, the 2020 mass demonstrations “were especially difficult to manage because the protests were about policing. And in many jurisdictions, the police response to the demonstrations added to the anger and distrust toward the police that many demonstrators felt. How can police meet with protest leaders and discuss how to facilitate peaceful demonstrations when some protest leaders view the police as the enemy?”

This assessment, based on the review of hundreds of interviews with police chiefs, after-actions reports gathered from across 20 cities, and the proceedings of a PERF webinar with leading experts in the field, offers several recommendations for actions that law enforcement agencies can take to improve their planning for and response to future mass demonstrations in their communities.

PERF’s 9 major recommendations are as follows:

1: Rethink the role of community representatives before and during protests

2: Ensure that internal communications can flow promptly and clearly, up and down the policing chain of command

3: Train officers and supervisors adequately

4: Re-engineering the guidelines for use of less-lethal weapons

5: Warn demonstrators before deploying any less-lethal force, and provide clear instructions for the demonstrators’ response

6: Minimize the use of mass arrests

7: Prepare and activate mutual aid agreements

8: Prioritize officer safety, health, and wellness

9: Ensure ongoing, robust review of policing practices

For additional information, check out HSDL’s In Focus collection on Mass Gatherings or other reports from the Police Executive Research Forum

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