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Police Briefing on Appropriate Demonstration Control

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Statement of Purpose The following briefing contains information on the ‘Protest Control Strategy’ for the London City Police. The strategy is developed in collaboration with the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Kings College London. Situation The situation is a gathering of protesters outside of the house of a controversial politician. The gathering of protesters may escalate into a riot (Potegal & Knutson, 2013). Understanding the mechanisms behind a potential escalation, as well as being informed about appropriate crowd control and negotiation techniques is recommended to prevent or de-escalate the situation. How groups form There are five stages of development of small groups (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977)

  1. Forming Individuals avoid controversy or conflict and are accepting of each other and priorities are developed. Protesters may agree on common issues regarding the politician. Little is done during this stage besides orientation, organisation and information gathering
  2. Storming The group begins to address the agreed issues, and group members starts to question the role of the work the group is doing, but also the roles as well as the responsibilities within the group. Suppression of the conflict may take place due to a common goal, but protesters may start to get vocal
  3. Norming Responsibilities and roles are established, and the conflict has been addressed. Protesters start to feel like they are a member of a cohesive and effective group, and a common sense of purpose and identity emerges. Group mind and de-individuation of protesters may take place
  4. Performing Everyone within the group knows and trusts each other, and the protesters have reached a state of interdependence and flexibility. Not all groups reach this stage
  5. Adjourning The protesters has reached completion of their common goal, and dismantles. Adjourning can also take place if a protester loses interest or motivation during earlier stages Factors Group mind may lead individuals within a group to develop riskier and/or more violent behaviours and is the mode of thinking that groups engage in when cohesion seems more important than making the right decision and considering the alternatives (Le Bon, 1926).

This may happen if the individual undergoes de-individuation, which means that the individual loses their ability to self-evaluate within a group, as well as their sense of self-awareness and responsibility within a group setting such as the demonstration taking place. De-individuation frequently happens in both lower and higher scales as a consequence of feeling anonymous and invincible due to the anonymity the group setting provides. Deindividuation does not cause bad behaviours on its own but rather paves the way for them to occur. This perceived anonymity can result in people acting in manners they otherwise would not (Festinger, Pepitone and Newcomb, 1952). Group norms are the norms that dictate the unspoken rules of a group setting (Hogg & Reid, 2006).

In other words, group norms establish new rules regarding social behaviour. Although group norms are not explicit rules, the general public abides by these norms either subconsciously or consciously. Group mind and de-individuation of individuals within a demonstration may lead to new, more aggressive and/or violent norms to emerge. This makes it easier for the individual to act and behave in a way that is otherwise not tolerated. Even peaceful protesters may be influenced by the emergent group norms as an effect of conformity and group pressure (Oberschall, 2010). A sense of conformity may be applied to an evolving riot setting. Even if demonstrators observe behaviours that are clearly wrong and/or against their perceived rules of the situation, the demonstrator may conform to this group norm and copy the behaviour of everyone else in the group. An outgroup is a group of people an individual does not identify with. This means there is an in-group, a group an individual identifies with, and outgroups that the individual for various reasons does not identify with (Brewer, 1999).

The group-categorisations of out-groups are so strong, that they are perceived as a singular entity. Furthermore, even groups formed with minimal contact as well as basic arbitrary categorisation can result in preferences towards the perceived ingroup. This is known as the minimal group paradigm (Tajfel, 1982). Individuals who have formed a group will display intergroup discrimination and preferences towards their own group. As group members start to categorize themselves as part of that group, they may start to behave according to that specific group prototype (Reicher, 1984). This form of group mentality can result in the dehumanization of an entire outgroup. In other words, it can cause people to lose e.g. empathy for any person in the perceived outgroup, outgroup situation will be the riot police or any form of police force against the protesters.

Options Although aggressive solutions and fear tactics can be an effective measure against violent protesters, excessive fear may lead to behaviours that are often volatile and extreme and may result in more opposition from the protesters (Kaufman, 1999). It is therefore advisable to not engage in aggressive behaviours and rather aim for de-escalation by negotiation. It is also important to be aware how your police uniform might affect your own group mentality, as a uniform can increase anonymity (Reicher, Spears & Postmes, 1995). It is therefore crucial to self-monitor their own behaviours during the protest. It is important to keep in mind that simple acts of deviances are not synonymous with the entire group, as a risk factor during a protest is to treat and regard every individual of the protest as if they are all the same. Thus, it is important to differentiate between individuals is to observe the action of every individual instead of grouping one individual’s acts of defiance together with the rest of the group. Treatment of protesters in an indiscriminate manner may result in an escalation of the situation, as a group of protesters are not a homogeneous entity, and therefore should not be treated as such (OSCE, 2018).

This should be a priority although the group as a whole may display signs of group mind and de-individuation. Reacting to one individuals acts of defiance should therefore not result in other protesters being drawn into the conflict (Spencer and Johnson, 2016) Establishing a sense of trust from the protesters is crucial and police must demonstrate integrity and professionalism by adhering to the code of professional conduct, as the preservation and protection of life, regardless of background, is of the highest priority. The “no surprise” policy should be applied to maintain trust throughout all stages of group forming, and is both a key preventative, as well as a de-escalation tactic (OSCE, 2018). De-escalation is a complex combination of non-verbal and verbal communication skills used as a prevention tactic against aggressive behaviours (Crag, 1996). De-escalation techniques involves verbal strategies, e.g. maintaining a calm demeanour and refraining from shouting and threatening language, as well as non-verbal techniques, e.g. awareness of eye contact or body stance and personal safety (Cowin, 2003; Johnson, 2011). These verbal and non-verbal communication techniques may redirect a protester to a “calmer personal space” (Cowin 2003).

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Police Briefing on Appropriate Demonstration Control. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
“Police Briefing on Appropriate Demonstration Control.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2019,
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