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Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Jul 16

Seattle Police Reviewing Crowd Management Practices, But. . .

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole has announced an independent group to evaluate their crowd management practices, in light of concerns raised within the community and the police force itself. Oddly the independent group includes NO civilian crowd management experts.

NOTE - this post was originally to be published on 1/8/15. For some reason it wasn't. I found it tonight and am publishing it as of today's date - 10/7/16.

In announcing the formation of the review group, O'Toole said:

'The SPD has been at the forefront of knowledge in crowd management for over a decade, facilitating hundreds of peaceful demonstrations each year...This important and constructive review is timely...Hopefully, it will produce valuable knowledge in Seattle that can also be shared with communities throughout the country.'

The group (as announced to date) will consist of:

  • Representatives from the Centre for Policing Equity in UCLA
  • 2 police 'experts on crowd management and use of force'

While I think reviewing their crowd management practices is a good idea, I've a few concerns about this one. . . 


I'm not sure I'm fully comfortable with this being termed an 'independent review group'.

While, strictly speaking, the involvement of the team from UCLA constitutes an independent element, they're solely concerned with policing and how the police does it work. The other 2 members of the group are Steve Ijames and David Pearson, both of whom are long-serving members of the police force.

While I am questioning the experience and motivations of none of the parties here, I AM questioning how truly independent it is. 

'Desktop research'?

Chief O'Toole outlined how 'The group will commence its work immediately with desktop research.' and that 'It will review existing demonstration management policies and will have access to all available data related to recent Seattle demonstrations, post-Ferguson through May Day.'

That sounds to me like they'll all be sitting around desks in their nice offices for a few months reading reports and writing their own report. 

I hope they're intelligent enough to realise that, in order to review the 'practices' of the police force then they will actually need to SEE them in action. Now, while I'm not saying a demonstration should be organised simply so this group can observe, I AM saying I hope they'll take all such opportunities that arise. 

That brings me onto another point. . . 

Policy V Practice

In reading articles about this the words 'practice' and 'policies' seem almost interchabgeable and, for me, they're very much different, particularly in the context of this particular topic. 

Policies outline, on paper, how things SHOULD happen. 

Practice demonstrates how it DOES happen.

The point being that policies are all well and good but count for little unless they inform the practice. 

On the ground, what the police force are actually doing could be a long way from what they should be doing.

Policy versus practice.


I have to question the motivation behind this review group. 

Is it to tick a box and try get some positive PR?

Or is a genuine initiative to try to better understand crowds and how best to manage them?

Without the involvement of civilian / non-police-affiliated experts on crowd dynamics and movement, then I can't see how it CAN be a genuine initiative. If it is genuine, then it's very much lacking.

Crowd management

A lot of issues that develop around crowds and demonstrations etc. are as a direct result of people not understanding the difference between crowd management and crowd control. Good, independent, experienced crowd management people do. 

Crowds should not even realise they're being managed but if you need to control them, then they're going to know all about it.

The goal should ALWAYS be to manage and avoid control.

Unless you're starting from there, I don't see how you can be effective .

The bottom line

Hopefully some good comes from this 'independent' review group but I think they're making life very tough for themselves by not involving outside crowd management and movement experts. Working alongside the experienced police members of the group, the end results could only be more insightful and beneficial.

Am I wrong?

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