Pittsburgh will host the G20 Summit in September; only by realizing that policing, reporting and protesting itself is not a zero-sum game can the City of Pittsburgh realise the opportunities the G20 presents.  If the police understand the participants and media and work with them, then the protests and reporting can be effective, while those who have ill-intent can be targeted and punished.

The crowd based risks to the City of Pittsburgh will be financial, reputational, physical and operational in nature; the manner in which the protesting organizations and individuals are dealt with before, during and after the event are going to be critical in deciding whether Pittsburgh is known in the future as a textbook case of crowd management, or becomes more infamous than the WTO in Seattle.

The management of terrorism is not discussed here, other than to mention that crowds can be used as cover for terrorist activity, and so the management of both must be integrated.

Protestors. Those likely to protest include Anarchists and Extreme Left Wing Groups (A/ELWs) and local disaffected groups such as the POG, one of four anarchist groups in the city.  A/ELWs have a proven ability to distribute protest tactics globally quickly using the internet and workshops; a phenomenon most recently seen at the RNC. These groups see the G20 as a high profile media event, and so protest in order to distribute their message most effectively.  In order to do so, they must generate media attention, which violence against the police, lock-on tactics and the like are guaranteed to do.  They are experienced in manipulating the media, and endeavour to create situations where the police over-use force to drive additional media interest.  Serendipitously for the A/ELWs, the Crimethink Convergence is scheduled for July in Pittsburgh, enabling the A/ELWs to gather from around the country, network, walk the ground, hold workshops and conduct in location preparation.

These risks must be addressed by targeting those breaking the law or with ill intent in a very targeted and effective manner.  Working with protest groups and the media in advance to meet

The financial crisis has already prompted Tea Parties and other forms of protest; the G20 may very well act as a beacon for those who are frustrated but whom have never protested before; these inexperienced protestors can actually complicate a protest from the police’s perspective, given that they may panic or over-react when seasoned protestors would not.  An excessive or indiscriminate use of force by the police will be exacerbated if it affects this group, as happened during the Poll Tax Protests in London in the late 1980s, which drove the development of more targeted tactics by the British policing institutions.

The risks can be broadly characterized as:

Reputational Risks. The policing of a major event, particularly a ‘G’ Conference or WTO, comes with serious risks.  Seattle, Gleneagles, Rostock and Genoa (G8s), Melbourne and London (G20) all had significant amounts of demonstrators attend, of whom a significant number had ill intent.  Getting the policing of these events wrong, particularly with excessive force or allowing rioting to develop, leaves a stigma; in the current financial situation, Pittsburgh mustn’t allow a situation such as this to develop at a time when there is a need to attract inward investment.  The G20 must be a platform for showing off the city, not having the reporting become about minority groups seeking to hijack the media attention for their own ends.

Financial Risks. The compensation claims associated with the misuse of force and mass arrests can run into the tens of millions of dollars.  This is exacerbated by those who professionally protest with the intent of being arrested so that they may sue.  The LAPD recently settled the majority of claims associated with May 1, 2007 for $13million.  The temptation will be for those involved in policing the G20 to spend significantly on equipment and to use tactics that suppress the immediately problem but create long term compensation claims and ill-feeling, such as mass arrests.  However, appropriate doctrine and tactics that leverage the operational culture of the policing organizations and delivers effective crowd management provides more flexibility within which appropriate weapons systems, if not already held, can be integrated, managing both problems efficiently and effectively.

Physical Risks. Ineffective policing techniques can lead to unnecessary injuries to police officers, which have the added disadvantages of removing them from routine policing operations for a period of time, and possibly permanently; the primary method of mitigating this risk should be in keeping events and the crowd as de-escalated as possible. There is also the risk of damage to the city, its infrastructure and businesses.

The crowd control capability is essential to the management of these risks.  The crowd management capability must be designed around early engagement with interested parties, the facilitation of the right to free speech ensuring that those who wish to protest lawfully can do so, the active and ongoing de-escalation of events wherever possible and the  targeting and punishing of those who seek to break the law.  In designing a crowd management capability that is trained to deal with the potential types of active demonstration, whose commanders are able identify situations where the need to escalate and react decisively is appropriate, and where lawbreakers and only lawbreakers are targeted, detained in a non-escalatory manner and successfully prosecuted.

Pittsburgh G20 could very well be known as the event where crowd management in the US changed for ever; it is up to the Pittsburgh Police Department and related organizations to decide whether that is for good or for bad.

  • sevendeviations

    The most likely groups engaging in violence will be undercover police posing as anarchists or left wing radicals staging false flag attacks.

  • Timothy

    I’ve attended a few of these types of A/ELW protests in order to report for my school newspaper. My experience has been that it is the police, not the protesters who escalate the situation unnecessarily. A few hot-headed, testosterone-minded police can cause a lot of trouble for their city and for their own police departments. In DC, the city has paid alot of money to protesters after mass arrests and as a result of police using unnecessary force. Besides that, the police chief was ordered by a judge to send letters of apology to hundreds of protesters who were unlawfully arrested at an A/ELW protest in 2000. How embarrassing for the police department. Hopefully the Pittsburgh police learn from the mistakes of other cities and refrain from acting like bone-heads