The financial crisis continues to spread, within the past two weeks, we have seen the fall of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG in the US alone. (In the United Kingdom HBOS has fallen, with others on rocky ground, and in Australia Macquarie Bank is likewise at risk.)
These are fiscal events, and many in the security and law enforcement arenas (for the two are different, despite the perceptions of many that expertise in one translates to expertise in the other) are thinking about their own personal finances, but not about the implications for their operations.
A series of events now have higher likelihoods, while others remain remote at this time. The two events I am most concerned about are a disgruntled, laid off worker “going postal”, and large protests turning violent. Both incidents have critical implications for the company and community where they take place. I visited a major software company recently and was appalled at the lack of understanding, and the lack of co-operation with their local law enforcement about the common processes and procedures necessary for dealing with such a threat.
Companies must be paying very close attention to their security in times of unrest. There is a duty to care for all, even those being laid off, and measures must be put in place to protect the employees. As horrible as it sounds, an enforced no weapons policy now may prevent a much more negative public event later.
There are precedents globally for financial turmoil leading to public order events; one of the most immediately relevant is the poll tax riots (31 Mar 1990) in the United Kingdom. It was not the disenfranchised, the ‘weird and marginalised’ who were on the streets in protest, but the working and middle classes who were financially threatened and feared that their voices were not being heard. What started as a demonstration became a riot largely because the violence was instigated by Class War (an Anarchist group) and some members of Militant (extreme left wingers, originally part of the Labour Party). The policing response was harsh, broad and indiscriminate, and managed to turn a peaceful protest with small violent groups into widespread violence. The policing response very much resembled what was seen in St. Paul and Denver during the conventions, and there are serious lessons that must be learned for the future.
Given the state of the markets today and concern about 401ks and future livelihoods, such events are no longer inconceivable. Although such events are probably some time off, and will be rare, a police department’s inability to deal with an event in a manner that respects the members of the population, while effectively policing them, will have terrible consequences. To be frank, the inappropriate uses of force and mass arrests that were common in St. Paul against “fringe elements,” will not be so easily dismissed when it is members of the middle class. Police departments would be well advised to revise their public order plans and capabilities now.