Early on Saturday morning, U. S. Park Police addressed the illegal conduct of the Occupy D.C. protestors located McPherson Square. The Occupy Movement has grown in various locations throughout the country. This movement rests on the fundamental rights of free speech and the right to protest in a peaceful manner. Various law enforcement agencies have been criticized during recent attempts to curtail illegal behavior associated with the Occupy Movements.
DC Park Police used a more dynamic approach Saturday. They avoided as much direct confrontation as possible. Leaders of the Occupy Movement were forewarned that police would not interfere with their civil rights as long as the Occupy D.C. movement did not interfere with the rights of society. The Occupy Movement is learning that it cannot advance its own agenda at the expense of others.
Saturday’s actions by police demonstrated the true value of police agencies communicating, forewarning, and interacting with leaders of various protests movements. Documenting these steps is key. Police departments which initiate a proactive approach to address problems associated with protest movements help themselves if further, more intense steps are needed to correct a growing problem. Police must document that illegal activity which they must address. This proactive new approach is a police lesson learned.
A previous incident, the media portrayed UC Davis Campus Police as aggressors using excessive force against students. This highly-publicized incident required police presence for the same reasons as the Occupy D.C. Movement.
The central issue was protestors who camped out overnight to protest, which is illegal. After numerous warnings to disperse went ignored, police moved in to correct the situation. The police attempted to leave. Protestors surrounded them and three individuals who had been taken into custody. The protestors actively interfered,with the arrest of three individuals. They refused to permit the police to leave until the individuals taken into custody were released. The pepper spraying incident which followed made national headlines.
The media portrayed the incident as a needless use of force. This was not the case. Those pepper sprayed were first forewarned by the police that if the path was not cleared to enable the police to leave, they would deploy pepper spray. The protestors ignored the warnings. Those protestors who continued to box in police officers were pepper sprayed. This action led to additional arrests. Law enforcement agencies should seek to avoid a direct confrontation in the future.
The wisest step is to play the Occupy Movement against itself. Police must provide reasonable notice to the leaders that requirement that they must manage themselves by correcting violations. If the situation cannot be self-corrected, then law enforcement will take action against those segments of the movement in violation.
Law enforcement initiates action not to interfere with the rights of the movement, as it is often suggested. Police must protect the interests of the community, as well as the rights of one group. The members of any Occupy Movement need to understand its protection under the law to maintain a peaceful assembly has its limitations. In the raid initiated at 6 a.m. Saturday, 11 protestors were arrested. The U.S. Park Police used a well-organized sweep of the area. Police addressed the situation in stages. The best tool used Saturday was knowledge.
The raid followed up a forewarned action to address violation of no-camping regulations. Once the police were on the scene, all present had been advised about why the police were on site. The police had no plans to interfere with the Occupy Movement’s right to peacefully protest The U.S. Park Police deployed a command presence with officers on horseback as well as on foot equipped to control the crowd. The sudden, quick, decisive action by the U.S. Park Police was accomplished peacefully, for the most part.
The police on this day followed up on its warning. The Occupy Movement was used against itself. There was no need to ask questions or challenge the authority of thepolice. The lone action available to the Occupy Movement activists was to chant in protest against police actions. Once the tent area was secured a clean-up crew dressed in Hazmat gear took action. Clothing, blankets, wooden pallets serving as beds, as well as dead rats and mice were disposed of as crowd control was maintained. David Schlosser, a U.S. Park Police spokesperson, advised that parts of the park were being closed for nuisance abatement. Schlosser went on to emphasize this action was not an eviction.
The U.S. Park Police acknowledged that protestors are permitted to conduct a 24-hour vigil in the federal park; however, camping out overnight is prohibited. That basic premise was the avenue taken to protect the rights of the protestors and the rights of others at the same time.
Crowd control is an old- time policing concern. As protest movements show themselves, police departments must take steps to overcome illegal conduct to avoid having an Occupy Movement turn from a public protest into a public nuisance.
Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying
capacities including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executiofficer. He is an ILEETA and ICAP member. Jim mentors the next generation of LEO’s by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.
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