Will the oral panel ask me about pickets, protests, mobs and riots?
They might, and I want you to be prepared in the event you get grilled on this topic.
It’s the interview panel’s job to determine whether or not you have a reasonable sense of urgency sprinkled with a bit of courage, but that you also know when you’re about to get beaten to a pulp.
Courage is great. Unadulterated and complete dedication to blindly allowing yourself to get eaten by a pack of wolves, not so great.
As you read this article, you’ll find a great number of statements and observations that will allow you to provide an oral board panel ample articulation of your knowledge on the topic of crowds and riots.
I encourage you to begin forming your own opinion as to how you might approach this, and any other situation that may cause you to be grossly outnumbered, outgunned or in a situation that you believe may not be physically survivable.
Let’s move forward with this disclaimer. I am, in NO WAY, suggesting that you BAIL when the chips are down.
In most instances, law enforcement officers don’t run away from danger, we run to it.
There are some, few, but some exceptions to that rule and an officer that finds themselves alone, in the midst of a full blown riot, is just one.
So much of what we do is fun
Often our duties are satisfying, rewarding and at the very least, we can take away a sense of accomplishment in so many of the tasks that come our way.
There’s the other end of the spectrum as well. Those calls for service or the duties assigned to us sometimes cause officers to shudder at the thought.
There are numerous obligations that we don’t care to do, and I’ll be analyzing them soon in upcoming articles, but crowd control, depending upon the reason for which people have, or are amassing, can potentially turn from crowd control, to riot management in a matter of seconds.
We cops are excellent predictors of human behavior. Some of that talent comes naturally, most by way of on-the-job experience and from years of observing the public through a cop’s eyes.
However, predicting the behavior of a throng of people is an unnerving and often impossible task particularly when officers are notably outnumbered by crowd attendees.
Predictable Versus Non Predictable
The actions of one, two or a few individuals are generally situationally dictated. That is to say, an individual’s reaction or response to a given situation, whether right or wrong, legal or illegal, can ultimately be justified by the actor engaging in said action.
An officer responds to a family disturbance involving father, mother, son and daughter. The officer’s investigation leads him to conclude a crime has been committed and ultimately that officer arrests the 18 year old son for striking his father.
The already agitated father has made it quite clear that he’s not pressing charges. Yet, the officer has no discretion, state law requires a custodial arrest, and so, the son is handcuffed.
When the father sees his son taken into custody, he flips out, begins screaming at the officer and lunges at him in an attempt to impede the officer’s arrest actions.
In the end, father justifies his own actions by telling officers he didn’t want his son charged with battery and couldn’t bear to watch him taken away in handcuffs.
We all recognize this father’s dissatisfaction with how the scene played out, and we also know his justification was illegitimate, in the eyes of the law, but still the father’s reaction was in direct correlation to the situation and hence, quite predictable.
Conversely, that same officer appears on the scene of a protest involving 250 disconcerted protesters incensed with the perception that their community has become a “police state” and anyone in uniform is to blame.
Can that officer reasonably predict that protestor Jason, near the rear of the pack, is going to throw a rock at the officer just by virtue of the fact that said officer simply rolled up on the scene?
Absolutely not. That’s not to say that we officers aren’t, and shouldn’t remain vigilant to the potential for danger, but this is where dynamics in human psychology take on a very ugly flavor.
Protester Jason – throws a rock.
Protester Sean – observes this and becomes, in his mind, instantly justified to chuck a glass bottle.
Protester Marvin – seeing rocks and bottles launching through the air, derives from that scene, permission to hurl a garbage can through the plate glass window of a retail store and in a matter of seconds, all heck breaks loose.
I won’t begin to analyze the reasons that mob mentality sometimes produces such, drop-of-the-hat, nearly inexplicable violent behavior, but I will say this.
As an officer, having been on the receiving end of the Jasons, Seans and Marvins of the world, once those participants band together with the notion that they’re going to cause problems, they will succeed and the likelihood of someone getting injured or even killed becomes a stark reality.
My example of a group collecting in order to protest police action was a red hot example which pointed to near certain trouble of some sort, given that a uniform entered the picture.
Citizens are mad at the cops. Citizens form a large group. Cop enters the picture. Something is bound to happen, right?
Let’s calm the waters with a milder example.
What could possibly come of a group of protestors collecting at an airport to protest the soon coming arrival of a former military lieutenant colonel?
After all, the retired colonel was simply flying in to give a speech in support of a politician, and planned to leave shortly thereafter.
Prior to the event, the colonel’s security detail assured law enforcement there would be no problems. “We’ve had protesters at every stop this month, don’t worry about it” they said.
The law enforcement officials assigned to additional security took them at their word, and why wouldn’t they?
This was a highly trained security detail, assigned to one task. Keeping the colonel safe! They couldn’t have been more wrong.
About five minutes after the colonel deplaned, the crowd erupted, and in a matter of seconds, three security agents and six law enforcement officers were rushed by more than 100 people!
More than a dozen area police agencies were called in to assist the grossly outnumbered officers and agents. In the end, several officers were injured and multiple arrests were made.
These people had nothing against law enforcement officers, other than the fact that we stood between them and their intended target.
When someone suggests they feel like the proverbial “man on an island” I can now, after having intimate knowledge of this event, confidently state that I know the feeling.
There was no opportunity to disengage, and it seemed, little chance to even call for backup. Thank goodness someone did. In this situation, one’s mind tends to move into immediate crowd control mode. Unfortunately, crowd control, which I’d been trained in, has little to do with riot control.
In this scenario, did the security agents and police fail to staff adequately? Yes. Did they also fail to assume the worst could happen? Yes. Did they fail to predict what the crowd would do? No.
They absolutely DID predict what the crowd would do, and their prediction was that this group of protesters was going to behave like every other group they’d encountered in past weeks, peacefully.
Their prediction was dead wrong.
So, lesson learned. Predicting when, how, where, why, and if or if not a group of energized and unhappy citizens will give in to illegal mob mentality behavior, is akin to predicting what the temperature will be one year from today.
Not a prediction anyone should be willing to make.
Reduced to one oral board question
An entire article dedicated to mob mentality, reduced to an oral board question? YOU BET, and here’s why.
There will be times in your interview that you’ll be asked a law enforcement procedure related question that you have absolutely no idea how to answer.
This blog post was written specifically to ease your mind by way of a bit of psychology. Even law enforcement officers, with experience, sometimes don’t know how to “handle” a situation and the aforementioned riot example, is in fact, the perfect example.
I’ve served on oral boards for other agencies that asked these impossible to correctly answer, questions.
It wasn’t until a question like this, was asked and answered, at an oral board (not my own agency, as I don’t ask questions like these) by a candidate that had no law enforcement experience.
The question went something like this.
“You’re in the downtown area where a large group of people have gathered to protest a political issue. You’re the only officer on the scene. People begin throwing rocks at you and you’re getting hit. What will you do?”
His answer was, and I quote:
“I have no idea, (long pause) shoot at them I guess.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.
The fact of the matter is, most law enforcement applicants have no idea that there’s a term called “disengagement” and it’s used sparingly.
Officers can and sometimes must disengage until it’s safe to re-enter an area, little different than a firefighter running out of a burning building that’s about to collapse.
If you’re faced with an oral board question that you recognized as having been so stacked or so loaded with the “no win” element, and you feel it’s time to disengage, do it.
This type of overloaded question comes along once in a blue moon but you might get hit with it.
You might just run into an oral board that uses a question of this nature (and it could be a bank robbery or Armageddon for that matter) in an effort to determine if you’re going to try to save the world single handedly.
Reasonable oral board panels don’t expect you to be a super hero.
I must caution you, that the disengagement answer is a very, VERY rare option, but if you recognize the type of question that it MUST be applied to, you’ll likely be the ONLY applicant that nails the answer.
When a large crowd of people violently turns on a lone officer, it’s time for that officer to extricate himself from the scene, relocate, preferably to a safe area that still allows them to observe the crowd, and to begin calling in the troops for backup.
It’s also a great opportunity to start passing along critical observations to the dispatcher and to begin forming a re-entry plan, once you’ve amassed ample coverage.
It all boils down to this
If disengaging doesn’t clearly and definitively cost the life or hinder the inherent and immediate safety of one or more individuals, I submit the following.
If an oral board panel asks you a question that is clearly centered around your being the lone officer involved in an event that clearly spells near certain disaster for you, physically, it’s okay to tell them that, in the better interest of self-preservation, you would disengage.
Again, use “disengagement” very sparingly, but remember too, that there are no legitimate policing agencies that expect, nor want any of their officers to needlessly forfeit their lives in the interest of staying put, just for the sake of staying put.