Tehran is currently running a master class in how not to manage a disaffected crowd; Pittsburgh would do well to learn from Tehran’s mistakes. Many will reject this, on the grounds that law enforcement in the West would never treat a crowd as the Iranian security forces, and particularly the baseej, have done. However, the indiscriminate use of force by police officers at incidents like the most recent RNC, the Poll Tax Riots in London or during the incident in Boston that cost Victoria Snedgrove her life, would suggest otherwise.
The crowds in Tehran turned out to protest the election result. As a group they were discontent and angry, but generally not inclined to violence. Aggressive policing, including the indiscriminate use of batons, riding motorcycles into the crowds and firing CS gas into the crowds; CS is commonly used among US law enforcement in crowd control situations, particularly those that they expect to turn violent. Tehran reinforces the fact that such action is more likely to make the crowd violent. In some instances this use of CS gas turned the crowd against the police; the Iranian police only have themselves to blame for the violence that ensued. The argument that the crowd was completely predisposed towards violence is always a specious one; normally the violent element will only make up 2-5%, and they will try to get the police to over-react against everyone. That a number of policemen in Tehran were captured by the crowd, but then protected by members of the crowd from harm, demonstrate the fallacy of the argument that the crowd simply wanted to cause violence and destruction.
In Pittsburgh there will be anarchist/extreme left wing groups (A/ELWs) determined on violence as a form of getting their message across. Those who are intent on violence and vandalism deserve to be arrested and punished to the full extent of the law. The lesson that the Pittsburgh police and associated law enforcement agencies must learn from Tehran is that only controlled force can be used, and it must only be used against individuals who are a proven ongoing threat. These capabilities at the tactical level must be supported by integrated command and control functions that understand their tactical capabilities and are practiced in deploying them.
There aren’t a lot of police officers in Pittsburgh, nor in the surrounding areas. The National Guard are likely to be on stand-by at least. The baseej, as a militia, have proven how not to provide elements of the military into supporting the police. There are very effective models for this integration, such as that applied in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’. Because of the size of the potential challenge facing the Pittsburgh PD, the National Guard should not only be prepared to deploy in support of the G20 effort, but should be fully trained and equipped to support the police if required. This may not be desireable, but having reserves in depth is the only sensible course of action in this kind of instance.
Tehran has proven how not to police crowd activity; Pittsburgh now has 3 months to analyse and learn a range of lessons, and integrate them into their plan.
Sam Rosenfeld is the Chairman of the Densus Group, a firm that provides specialist advice, consulting and training on use of force and intelligence matters that include Public Order and Crowd Control. The Densus Threat Centre focuses on protestor related threats, and publishes the Demonstration Report and Threat Analysis on a bi-weekly basis to law enforcement and concerned organizations. The DTC can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.