That old challenge raises its head again … balancing the threat of terrorism with the needs to support free speech in a controlled manner.  

Denver PD, a 660 strong force that will be swelling with reinforcements under mutual aid arrangements to around 3,000, is coming under increasing scrutiny before the Democratic National Convention hits town late in the month.  There are discussions about how the budget has been spent, speculation about whether the police are using the security restrictions to stifle free speech, and wonderment about how the Convention will be policed.  The photograph published in the New York Times online today is suggestive, and leads to a discussion on the matter of tactics.  Interestingly, the comment is made that the Denver PD is not the NYPD, but potentially, the NYPD has significantly influenced how business will be run.  

Lacking information, it is easy to scare-monger and criticise, of which there is a growing trend, both from the media and organisations such as ACLU.  The police are responding in an appropriate manner – there are potential threats to public order, and to not be ready to deal with the worst case scenario would be negligent.  However, their activities are not being presented in this way.  

What is evident is that there has been no PR offensive by the Denver PD in demonstrating their willingness and ability to deal with crowd disorder, by demonstrating tactics and capability.  By failing to do so, they have encouraged increasingly wild speculation, and herein lies the rub.  Denver PD has not been forthcoming with the public, media or protestors about their intentions or abilities, which has allowed speculation to run rampant.

Yet none of these would compromise the ability to counter the terrorist threat. Be it by design or through the law of unintended consequences, speculation is rife, detail is sparse and the Convention cometh.  Little has been done by Denver PD to assuage worry or promote an air of steely and determined competence.  The real lesson – the development of any capability, including public order management, is not simply about buying kit or doing training.  It requires a systematic approach that considers the context and political and legal environments, which leads to the development of doctrine and policy, which drives the consideration of what tactics are appropriate and what equipment supports those tactics and from that how to logistically support the plan.  With these decisions made, a timeline is mapped out and effective briefing of the public, politicians and the media to create buy in at all levels is conducted.  

There seems to have been a lack of the briefing stage, probably influenced by ‘security concerns’.  The Denver PD did hold some briefings with the public/protestors, but chose not to address the issues,  The Denver PD was extensively briefed by police departments, such as NYPD, who have significant policing of public order experience – a popular response is flooding the streets, easy when you have the manpower.  Arguably, applying big city public order solutions (New York, London) to small city integrated terrorist threat and public order problems aren’t the best plan.  By the end of the month, all will be revealed….