Police Studies and public order managament

© Otto Adang, 2002
Last century, the start of the eighties was notable for its sometimes fierce riots: the names Piersonstraat, Vondelstraat, Kroning and Dodewaard are still associated in the Netherlands with large-scale violence. That was the climate in which the movement against nuclear power announced in June 1981 that they wanted to organize a total and effective blockade of the Ultracentrifuge factories in Almelo in order to hinder the business there and if possible stop it entirely. As well as that, the idea was to use a light-hearted demonstrative action to raise the profile of the Anti-Nuclear Power Movement. The expectation was that approximately 2000 people would take part in the blockade and 5 to 10 thousand in the more light-hearted actions. Given the Zeitgeist, it seemed obvious that the riot police would be sent in in strength and that a new confrontation between riot police and activists would occur. That's not how it turned out.

The 1980 riots were the trigger for a rethinking of the effectiveness and accuracy of police actions at large-scale public order disturbances. In the Warnsveld report (1981) [1]  a study group, set up by the Ministry of the Interior, made recommendations for a clear task description and a consistent organization for riot police across the country, a consistent staff organization structure across the country, sufficient attention for judicial component of large-scale police action and standardization of equipment (including communications equipment) and vehicles. The study conference also stated that the police's actions should always be aimed at a de-escalation of the violence.
The policeman at the gate
But how to do that in practice? In a January 1982 article Peter IJzerman (member of the police staff deployed in Almelo) explained the vision and the basic ideas that were used to police the blockading actions at the Ultracentrifuge factories. [2] The basic policy that the higher authorities had formulated was clear: demonstrations are permitted, the business activities of the UC factories should not be affected and the police actions should be de-escalatory. In the translation of these basic ideas into the operational plan, it was determined that the police would attempt at some particular moment to free up one of the gates from blockading activists, so that the factory employees could enter the site collectively. An essential piece of the plan was the job of the so called "policemen at the gate", a group of police officers that was to be permanently present, non-anonymously, recognizable and approachable, who were to make as much contact as possible and hold discussions with the demonstrators in the expectation that they could then help fill in the regulatory role of the police. Fifty-five police officers (largely also trained as riot police) were selected and prepared for this job. Riot police in "peacetime uniform" (i.e. without helmet, shield and truncheon) were on hand for the carrying away of demonstrators to clear one of the gates Force would only be used against demonstrators who themselves were violent or who made it impossible to achieve what the police had to do.
The approach in Almelo admittedly followed on from previous practical experiences with police actions at large-scale public order disturbances, but it was certainly not uncontroversial. The traditional way of looking at it was unquestionably that: "The riot police aren't there to talk". Seen from the scientific angle, there was not much material to rely on. In 1979, Piet van Reenen had completed his thesis "Overheidsgeweld"  (Governmental Force) [3] and Gerard Dijkhuis was still busy with his literature research into non-violent methods of riot control [4]. There were books from the USA about public (dis)order policing, but they were full of large scale and repressive measures of riot control. From an international point of view, it is only recently that any systematic attention has been paid from the scientific angle to the role of the police in (impending) public order disturbances [5]. Scientists explained the onset and escalation of violence almost exclusively using the processes which were thought to occur within a crowd.

From the behavioural scientist's view on this, the emphasis had traditionally always been firmly placed on the irrational and apparently chaotic nature of group violence. According to various socio-psychological theories, people in a crowd lose their "awareness of self" and the usual moral inhibitions and limitations are dropped. Following on from LeBon (1895), it was  and still is  often assumed that there is no longer any kind of rational behaviour in a crowd or mass of people, but on the contrary that there is a (primitive) tendency to do what others are doing.  Suppressed desires surface in the behaviour. A transformation is supposed where people change and display other behaviour purely as a consequence of the fact that they are part of a crowd. Zimbardo's so-called "de-inividuation theory" is often dragged up in this context. According to the de-individuation theory, the excitement and the anonymity of being in a group lead to uninhibited behaviour and the normal limitations that people force upon themselves are lost. Due to the supposed psychological processes, the individual identity is lost and the individuals become exceptionally susceptible to suggestions and incitement by "leaders". Characteristic of this view is that every crowd (a collection of people) can become a "mob" as a result of the actions of leader figures, the appearance of a hated person or hated object, acts of violence, police action or the lack thereof. These ideas have in the course of time become (and often still are) the basis in many countries for the education and training of police units deployed in riot situations. An action that has just the one facet  containment of the riots, since the rioters are after all not open to reason.
Despite that, many police officers know from experience (and the events in Almelo provide the evidence for this) that in practice there are often other, more suitable options for controlling riots in a non-violent manner. To do so, it is necessary to realise that the confrontations between demonstrators and police are the consequence of a conflict between two parties. On a small scale, police officers have to deal with (potential) conflicts on a daily basis, and they often succeed in avoiding conflicts that would have been harder to prevent, to keep under control or to resolve. There are options for preventing, controlling and resolving conflicts at a rather larger scale too.
Social Identity
In the meantime, the fact has also sunk in in scientific circles that theories which state the people become more impulsive, more irrational and more violent as a result of the fact that they are part of a crowd are untenable. There are all kinds of collective situations in which people to not behave by any means in a uniform, irrational and primitive fashion. By far the majority of all mass gatherings pass completely without violence. The way in which people behave in incidents of collective violence can be perfectly well explained using normal social mechanisms such as those which play a part in other social situations. The concept of "social identity"  plays a large role in this [6].

Individuals who are part of the "in-group" resemble other members of the same group in some ways, but differ from members of other groups. By categorizing the individuals into particular groups, a complex world becomes more comprehensible. The placement of individuals as belonging to your own group (in-group) or not (out-group) is universal and paramount in social relations. The consequences are far-reaching: members of groups see themselves as more like each other than like members of the out-group, members of out-groups are seen as being extremely alike (resulting in stereotyping (and members of the in-group judge each other more positively than they do for members of the out-group. This tendency to categorize individuals into members of the in-group or the out-group, with all its consequences, has quite likely got a long evolutionary history behind it [7].

People are involved in a large number of social relationships (family, relatives, area, work, nationality, union membership and so forth) and are able to assume a large number of "social identities". The social identity is not only defined by those belonging to the group, but indeed also by those not belonging to it. A specific social identity becomes active (salient) when individuals find themselves in one of the groups of which they are a member. The social identity becomes increasingly important depending on the importance of the grouping concerned for the individual. When the social identity becomes salient, the individual accepts the norms of the group concerned and will have a greater tendency to act according to them. The resulting behaviour is not undirected, as is assumed in the classic theories of crowd behaviour: it is bound by the norms of the group.
In crowd situations it is often unclear what the "correct" behaviour is. By looking at the actions of others, who are seen as being part of the in-group, norms come into being. These norms thus reflect the norms of a social category. The resulting behaviour is bound by the norms of the group. If a confrontation arises between two groups (for example two groups of football fans, or a group of football fans and the police) then football fans who are not part of the hard core and are not looking for trouble can feel themselves to be part of the group under attack too.

The way things unfold at large-scale public order disturbances are much more easily explained from such a point of view. And furthermore, all kinds of points arise to help the police tackle it in their actions. To stay with the example of Almelo for a moment longer: escalation was prevented by not choosing a standardized police reaction in the form of lines and charges, but by looking to find common ground with the perspectives and motives of those involved and by using communication, mediation and negotiation.
One might be tempted to think that the lessons of Almelo 1981 (and other examples of successful low profile police action) would have become common property by now. That is only partly true. Scientists have only recently begun to busy themselves with the dynamics of group processes between police and civilians, and the experiences seem to be sinking further into the background within the police. After any incident there is often a knee-jerk reaction calling for hard tactics. De-escalation is in practice often seen as a synonym for doing nothing, since: "otherwise we'll provoke them". Recording, detailing, applying, distributing and further developing the knowledge of how to maintain public order and the interaction between police and public in conflict situations is therefore very important to a professional police force.
In that context, the experiences during the European football championships organized in 2000 in the Netherlands and in Belgium, are thought-provoking. Prior to "Euro 2000" all kinds of most sombre predictions were going round about the pitched battles between hooligans that could be expected. Even so, it was decided not to go for mass deployment of riot police. The Belgian and Dutch governments drew up a framework with basic policy positions and limits of tolerance. Based on this, recommendations were made by a bilateral police project concerning the tactical implementation. The recommended basic concept was characterized by a preventive approach primarily and a repressive one with quick and early interventions in the second place. In order to enhance the approachability, surveillance patrols were to be carried out in the usual uniform and preferably in small units of not more than four people. The knowledge and skills of other partners, such as foreign police forces and local contacts, were to be used as much as possible.

The execution of the tactical concept was naturally highly dependent on the attitude and the actual actions of police officials. For this purpose a bilateral behaviour profile was drawn up, partly based on results from earlier research  in the Netherlands [8] and the experiences during the world championships in France. The basis of this profile was the desire for uniformity of treatment of supporters and the vision that friendly but strict police actions were the most likely to be successful. The profile assumed that the majority of visitors would not cause any trouble. What also had to be prevented was that visitors might join in with the trouble-seekers if any incidents occurred. The latter would be spoken to or tackled at an early stage.
The treatment profile stated that it is important that the police officials know the basic policy assumptions, the limits of tolerance and the tactical framework, are up to speed on specific information and are aware of the informational role they are fulfilling for the police. Police officers do not decide entirely individually how they should act, but are bound by the given frameworks when doing so. Furthermore, their behaviour and appearance are the government's calling card and they should be:
* respectful of other cultures and nationalities
* unbiased, judging people on their actual behaviour and based on real information
* active in making contacts
* approachable
* flexible

The consequences are familiar by now: "Euro 2000" went very well and the "treatment profile" played an important role in this [9].
Professionalization of police action
In a society that is becoming more complex, less comprehensible and more diverse, the policing function (an essential function within society) is becoming more complicated and more vulnerable. Further professionalization, improvement and adjustment of professional capabilities are therefore required from these professional workers. Explicit formulation and recognition of their own professional field in the form of police studies is a good way of doing this. Police science as a recognized professional field of knowledge and expertise for fulfilling the policing function is not conceivable without scientific research. Scientific research that closely parallels the development of the police field.

Police actions involving large-scale maintenance of public order adopt a different position from other items of police work, because of its large impact, the specific knowledge and skills required and the situation of it often being a secondary task for the officials involved. Large and exceptional police actions a part of the management of conflicts and crises should be subject to quality control, just like all other aspects of police work. In his 1982 article about the police action in Almelo, Peter IJzerman also observed that "we have  unfortunately  not yet succeeded in meeting the urgent need for a national evaluation platform; there is no institution for giving recommendations or achieving a centralized approach, but a possibility to exchange experiences, evaluate the effects of particular tactics and techniques and so forth. Each large-scale action is as yet treated too much as a one-off incident, so that the fact is glossed over to a significant degree that the closedown phase of one incident is really also the preparatory phase of the next one". In the meantime, steps have been taken to fulfil this old requirement. In a recommendation to the Board of Chief Commissioners for the establishment of a centre of expertise for the management of conflicts and crises it is worded as follows [10]:
"Concerning learning to be prepared for large-scale and exceptional police actions, there is a requirement for the following (in addition to already existing training) within the police,:
-support during (self-) evaluation;
-testing and advice between institutions;
-widely accepted criteria with respect to professionalism;
-exchange of expertise across regional boundaries;
-        targeted strategic information with respect to the effects of social developments and policy decisions;
-        the development of instruments for evaluation, prevention, analysis and scaling up."
Since the end of 1999, the Centre of Expertise for the Management of Conflicts and Crises (for which the holder of the Conflict and Crisis Management portfolio in the Board of Chief Commissioners is responsible) has been placed in the organization under the Police Institute for Public Order and Safety. The aim of the Centre of Expertise is to support the quality control and the professionalism with respect to the management of conflicts and crises.
Making use of scientific knowledge will improve the professionalization of police work and a subject such as violence and maintenance of public order will have an essential place in this [11]. The centre of expertise will also cooperate with the research programme "Managing dangerous situations".
By the establishment of the Centre of Expertise for the Management of Conflicts and Crises and carrying out the research programme "Management of danger and violence in conflict situations", the LSOP is able to deliver a coherent contribution to the professionalization of the police in the public order maintenance field. This will, together with the transformation of the LSOP into a Police Education and Knowledge Centre, bring education, development of education and research into balance and provide the basis for the development of police studies in the area of the maintenance of public order.

© Otto Adang, 2002
Research programme Managing Dangerous Situations
Research programme Managing Dangerous Situations

1. Warnsveld report (1981) “Het grootschalig politieoptreden na 1980” (Large-scale police actions after 1980). Report from study conferences about the then state and local police’s riot squads and the military police’s support units held on 22 through 25 September and 18 December 1980.

2. IJzerman, P.D. (1982): UC-Almelo 1981, van relbestrijding naar relbeheersing (from riot control to riot management). Algemeen Politieblad, 1, pages 3-7

3. Reenen, P. van (1979) Overheidsgeweld: een sociologische studie van de dynamiek van het overheidsgeweld (Governmental Force: a sociological study of the dynamics of the use of force by the government). Samsom, Alphen aan den Rijn.

4. Dijkhuis, G. (1982) Niet alleen met stok en steen (Not only with sticks and stones). An analysis of the literature of non-violent methods of riot control. Instituut Foss, Oegstgeest.

5. D. Della Porta & H. Reiter, eds. (1998) Policing protest. The control of mass demonstrations in Western democracies, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; Stott, C.J. & Reicher, S.D. (1998). Crowd action as inter-group process: Introducing the police perspective. European Journal of Social Psychology, 28, 509-529

6. Reicher, S., Spears, R. & Postmes, T. (1995). A social identity model of deindividuation phenomena. (In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (Vol. 6, pp. 161—198). Chichester, England: Wiley); Stott, C.J. & Reicher, S.D. (1998). How conflict escalates: The inter-group dynamics of collective football crowd ‘violence’. Sociology, 32, 353-377

7. Thienpont, K. & R. Cliquet, eds. (1999). In-group/ Out-group behaviour in modern societies. An evolutionary perspective. Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Brussel

8. Adang, O.M.J. (1990) Geweld en politie-optreden in relsituaties. Het Tijdschrift voor de Politie (52) 2, 57-60; Adang, O.M.J. (1998) Hooligans, autonomen, agenten. Geweld en politieoptreden in relsituaties (Hooligans, rioters, officers: violence and use of force in riot situations). Samsom, Alphen aan den Rijn

9. The official evaluation of the 2000 European Cup by the Dutch Crisis Inquiry Team COT concluded that Euro 2000 was a success from the point of view of public order and safety. The COT concluded that the so-called "treatment profile" played an important part in the way in which police officers acted.

10. Adang, O.M.J., B. Visser & P.D. IJzerman (1999) Expertise centre for management of conflicts and crises. Advice to the Board of Chief Commissioners

11 IJzerman, P.D. (1998) Points needing attention in the theme “LSOP en wetenschappelijk onderzoek” (The LSOP and scientific research) Advice to the Police and Science Commission.