An immigration protest against Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a timely reminder of an issue that while quiet at the moment, threatens to return. The protest also demonstrates the effect a few agitators can have in provoking police/crowd tension and violence. An effective crowd management and public order system would have prevented much of the confrontation.

There is no rocket science to the fundamentals of policing a protest – police proactively work towards order, rather than reactively policing disorder. They target individual offenders with evidence gathering, arrest and successful prosecution while protecting First Amendment rights. This is achievable, and yet, the widespread preference among U.S. law enforcement is to rely less on lethal weapons and confrontation, and simply pay out on the law suits afterwards. The sheer fiduciary neglect – for it can be regarded as nothing else – with which law enforcement treat crowd management continues to astound.

Significant points to note from this protest:

• Sheriff’s Deputies played music (Linda Rodstadt) in the jail to drown out the protest.
• A 2-year-old was pepper sprayed.
• A horse was “assaulted.”
• An apparent lack of video evidence to secure convictions.

Under a properly designed crowd management regime, none of these would have happened; playing music was inflammatory, although the intention behind playing it remains unclear; the horse and rider were exposed to agitators (if that is indeed what they were); pepper spray was used despite the possibility for it to affect people other than the intended target.

The lessons for the future are not only those above; there are people in the United States who are willing to become more confrontational with police, evidenced by protestors wearing goggles and wrapping bandanas around their mouths to defeat pepper spray. Police will be hard pressed to deal with those individuals under much of the common tactics. Rather, they will react to and arrest many in the crowd, creating conditions for ongoing lawsuits.

There is little to admire in the incident in Maricopa last Sunday, but there is a lot to learn. One can only hope that the fiduciary risks will cause an institutional rethink because little else has been successful thus far.