Recent legislation in Denver has outlawed the materials necessary to obstruct passage and access, such as chains, handcuffs, etc, and ‘noxious materials’, such as fecal matter. One would have thought the latter was already covered by statute, but perhaps not. The Denver City Council stated that having learned the lessons of Seattle, they are determined to equip the police with the ability to ensure good public order.
You may recall that I commented on the Denver PD’s purchase of pepper ball guns. You may also be aware that the council passed up on the opportunity to outlaw items such as gas masks and bullet proof vests, deeming these items defensive in nature. If there was a Darwinism award for self-defeating policy, this must be it. The council, in one fell swoop, has just failed to make illegal the very equipments that best defeat the items bought by the Denver PD – I was never a fan of pepper ball guns to start with as I believe they are easily defeated anyway, but this is ridiculous.
I have mentioned before the need for a capability development approach to problems. Such an approach melds together policy, doctrine, training, personnel, equipment, equipment support (maintenance and the like), logistics, media relations, etc. Clearly this process was not only weak, but failed, in this instance.
Let us look briefly at the implications of allowing gas masks and bullet proof vests. You may have seen footage of rioters in goggles and bandannas protecting their eyes and mouth. This is to defeat or inhibit the effects of tear or CS gas use on a crowd. Clearly, a gas mask is a far better item to defeat these threats, be it used at the crowd (gas) or individual (pepper ball) level. Bullet proof vests inhibit the effect of trajectory based weapons, such as baton rounds. They also inhibit the effect of energy displacement weapons such as Taser, and the side effect of the pepper ball rounds. Effectively, the council has incentivised the crowd to move away from obstructive tactics and move quickly to full-on adversarial, riot-like tactics. Talk about creating the conditions for the failure of pro-active policing of in lieu of forcing the reactive policing of disorder. Thos seeking to protest will now come equipped with defensive capabilities that are not illegal, and seek to make their point with full-on violence.
As the days tick by I think it is increasingly likely that The Densus Group will be incorporating the run up to the DNC as a case study of how not to do it in its lecture on effective public order operations. As I’ve said before, I don’t want to say I told you so after the DNC is finished, but I am very worried that I am going to be in a position to do so.
I worry that the Denver PD are doing the best they can under the circumstances, but are being forced into an untenable situation by the forces around them. Time will tell.