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How Officers Are Trained To Control A Crowd

Protesters are greeted by lines of state and county police during a demonstration march on the Ferguson police station on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Armored cars, rubber bullets, riot shields and K-9 units have had a regular presence at demonstrations in Ferguson over the past week since a Ferguson police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown.

Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge in Ferguson and called for a softer tone in the police presence.

Many are wondering if the police went overboard in using force against the crowds that have gathered in Ferguson every evening since Brown's death.

Former St. Louis City Police Chief Daniel Isom, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri St-Louis, said police tactics during demonstrations need to match the intensity of the protestors themselves.

“If there’s a peaceful protest, you should have mainly a peaceful posture. And that doesn’t mean you don’t have assets two or three blocks away in case you need to have that presence if things start to spiral out of control,” Isom said.

Isom said county police have not toned down their tactics in Ferguson since protestors looted and burned a QuikTrip gas station Sunday night.

“The response has shifted based on the first night. Whether or not that is a good idea remains to be seen. But what we do know is the unrest has not subsided based on that posture.”

Isom said he thinks dialogue between police and protestors would create a more peaceful environment for demonstrations.

Lieutenant Dave Pearson chairs the Less-Lethal division of the National Tactical Officers Association. He said cadets are taught a progression of response tactics to control a person or group of people posing a threat.

Level One: Officers display a presence, and may offer verbal warnings to those who may pose a safety risk. Level Two: Empty-hand control. Officers may restrain a person, move them, or bring them to the ground with physical force. Level Three: Officers use a tool, such as a baton or chemical agents, to stop a person or disperse a crowd. Pearson said when officers deploy tear gas, they must ensure there is ample room for demonstrators to leave the scene. Otherwise, they may rush towards officers in an attempt to escape. Level Four: If officers have legitimate concern for their safety, Pearson said they are taught to use deadly force. But he said it is the responsibility of officers to consider all other options.

“You need to be able to stand tall and say, ‘this is why we did that,’” Pearson said.

St Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said, except for four traffic cars, his force has not aided officers in Ferguson since Tuesday, because personal values conflicted with requests of support from fellow officers.

“Our attention is focused, as it should be, on protecting the citizens of St. Louis, ensuring everybody has the opportunity to exercise their first amendment right,” Dotson said.

On social media, Twitter commenters mistook the account for the city police force for that of the St. Louis County Police Department.  @SLMPD replied to comments with ‘You have the wrong police dept.,” and redirected angry commenters to the county police’s official account. 

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