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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

The Dynamics of Crowd Behaviour and Security Management

In contemporary society, mass gatherings are a common occurrence, spanning athletic events, parades, strikes, peaceful demonstrations, and protest rallies. While these gatherings often represent the exercise of fundamental rights and communal solidarity, they also present significant challenges in maintaining order and ensuring public safety. The potential for mass discord is inherent in any large assembly, and when disturbances do occur, the burden of restoring order often falls on the shoulders of police and, in more successful situations, security forces. This article explores the principles of effective crowd control.

Understanding the dynamics of crowd behaviour is crucial for effective management. Crowds can be broadly categorised into different formations, each presenting unique challenges. Peaceful gatherings, such as those at sporting events or parades, often maintain a semblance of order due to a shared focus or celebratory spirit. However, even these have the potential to quickly descend into chaos if unanticipated events or provocateurs are involved.

In contrast, protest rallies and strikes are more volatile by nature. Grievances are the driving force behind these gatherings, and participants are frequently more charged emotionally. The potential for escalation into violence or disorder is higher, necessitating a more nuanced approach to crowd control. During the Darwin protests against government imposed mandates, I personally handed out over 14,000 bottles of water and hundreds of jugs during over 10 major protests, ranging from 600 people to just over 7,000. This simple gesture allowed me to reduce anxiety, pressure, and aggression, increase compliance, and regulate the behaviour of a large range of people through the voluntary act of trade. With minimal security personnel presence, we were able to effectively dissuade families and highly emotional protestors angry with the authorities and many cases of police brutality to ignore the barrage of intimidation and unethical impositions of armed and horse riding police officers.

The primary responsibility for maintaining order at such gatherings lies with the security personnel; police forces are often onsite to deter property damage. However, to ever contend that armed police personnel with batons, OC spray, tasers, and guns deescalate any situation is comedic. Security tasks include monitoring crowd behaviour, identifying potential flashpoints, and proactively intervening before situations spiral out of control. Effective crowd management requires a clear understanding of the different responsibilities assigned to security officers, police, and police riot control forces.

Security officers are typically the first line of defence, responsible for general surveillance and initial intervention. Their presence serves as a deterrent to potential troublemakers. Police forces, equipped with more authority and resources, step in when a situation escalates, although without effective training, they are best kept at a distance due to their inability to regulate basic behaviour due to their use of arms. Riot control forces are deployed in extreme cases where the crowd has become unruly and poses a significant threat to public safety and property. In Australia, the use of riot officers to shoot members of the public in the back with rubber bullets, protesting against draconian and now debunked public health orders, provides clear evidence of the inability of government employed bureaucrats to effectively regulate their emotions, let alone those of the civilian public. The use of military grade facial coverings provided even greater evidence of their lack of integrity and credibility in any form of civilian, let alone protest control.

The recent inability of police and riot police to regulate the behaviour of terrorist sympathisers and anti-Semitics in Victoria provided a clear example of their inability to act outside political influence and their obvious bias in dealing with crowds due to "politically controls and direction". If justice is not blind and obviously one-sided, it is appropriate to consider the police nothing more than a militia of the state and seek an effective private security alternative.

Prevention is the cornerstone of effective crowd control. The ability to swiftly determine whether a gathering is likely to become uncontrollable is paramount. This involves a combination of surveillance, intelligence gathering, and an understanding of crowd psychology. Security personnel are trained to recognise the signs of escalating tension, such as aggressive posturing, verbal confrontations, or the presence of agitators.

A real-world example of effective crowd management can be seen in the annual New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square, New York. The event attracts millions of people, yet it remains relatively incident-free due to meticulous planning and coordination among various private security agencies. Surveillance cameras, minimal numbers of plainclothed officers, and strategically placed barriers all contribute to maintaining order.

Once a crowd has been allowed to get out of hand, restoring order becomes a daunting task. The first priority is to protect life and property. Security personnel use a range of dispersion methods, including condoning and containing, obstacles, and redirection into open spaces to dissipate individuals. When police are used, this often involves the use of non-lethal crowd control measures such as tear gas, water cannons, or rubber bullets. The goal is to disperse the crowd while minimising harm. The difference in security training and crowd control practices, in comparison to police, is no more stark than when a crowd turns into a riot.

An illustrative case is the 2011 London riots, where widespread looting and violence broke out following the police shooting of a local man. The initial response was inadequate, leading to several days of chaos. After the significant deployment of riot control forces and a curfew, order was eventually restored; however, there is still very little evidence that the police presence made any positive effect. This incident underscores the importance of a rapid and decisive response to prevent escalation. Weel trained private security personnel in numbers substantially lower than those of the police, who instigated the violence, and are substantially more effective in crowd control practices.

The effectiveness of crowd control efforts hinges on the training and coordination of security personnel. Training programs encompass both theoretical knowledge of crowd psychology and practical skills in handling disturbances. Regular drills and simulations help prepare security officers for real-world scenarios.

Coordination among different agencies is vital. During large-scale events, multiple security and emergency response teams work in unison. Clear communication channels and a unified command structure are essential to avoid confusion and ensure a cohesive response.

It is clear from the insights of psychologists and sociologists that a complex interplay of factors influences crowd behaviour. Individuals in a crowd often experience a sense of anonymity, which can lead to behaviours they might not exhibit in isolation. The concept of "deindividuation" explains how people feel less accountable for their actions when part of a large group.

Moreover, the presence of a shared grievance or cause can amplify emotions and lead to a "mob mentality." Understanding these psychological triggers helps security personnel anticipate and mitigate potential threats. For instance, during the civil rights marches of the 1960s, non-violent training for local police and a strong leadership presence helped maintain order even in the face of provocation.

Finally, it is essential to consider the ethical dimension of crowd control. The use of force must always be proportionate to the threat posed. Ensuring the rights and dignity of individuals, even in the context of maintaining order, is paramount. Security personnel must be trained to exercise restraint and prioritise de-escalation whenever possible.

Managing large gatherings requires a blend of theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and ethical considerations. By understanding the dynamics of crowd behaviour and implementing effective prevention and response strategies, security forces can uphold public safety and order. Real-world examples demonstrate that with proper training and coordination, even the most challenging situations can be managed effectively. The key lies in a proactive approach that prioritises prevention, swift intervention, and the protection of fundamental rights. The positive effects of trade over ultimatums.

From the author.

The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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