Do you enjoy massive festivals, concerts with thousands of fans,or even shopping in crowded stores? Or have you begun to avoid any large, crowded occasion?
I recently noticed quite a few of my fellow retirees mentioning how much they dislike crowds and now avoid them whenever possible. I remember as a young man enjoying the city festivals at Navy Pier and Grant Park. The Taste of Chicago and Milwaukee’s summer fest were always a pleasure. I even enjoyed the jam-packed beer tent at LaCrosse Wisconsin’s annual Oktoberfest.
You couldn’t pay me to go to any of those today.
The other day, I posted a question on Facebook. It was a simple, unscientific and probably flawed survey. I asked an easy question of all my Facebook friends, both civilian and police. I posted, “I’m doing research for an article. Do you hate crowds? Why?” People responded directly on Facebook, through the Facebook Messenger app, and several that have my phone number texted me with their answers. In the end, more than 110 people responded. Thank you.
About 90% of those that responded were police, either active duty or retired, the rest were civilian. Ages ran from mid-30’s to late-60’s. That made sense since that’s the demographic of my Facebook friends.
I wasn’t surprised by the fact that most hated crowds. Most who said they didn’t hate crowds answered by Messenger or text. I understand. Probably a wise choice to avoid a conflict. Most who didn’t hate crowds were civilians. It was not a clear-cut ‘civilians like crowds and police hate them.’ There was some crossover – and the difference seemed to be age. Younger people enjoyed the crowds more.
What I really found interesting were the answers to why. Many were similar to my reasoning and most shared a common thread. As police officers, we had to work many large crowds over the years. We find that the bad guys like to hang out in crowds. Here in Chicago, I’ve been assigned to work the Taste of Chicago, Venetian Night, concerts at the bandshell in Grant Park, Bull’s victory celebrations (riots), Puerto Rican Fest, many neighborhood festivals or parades, and of course the dreaded Bud Bilikan Day Parade. In your area, I’m sure you’ve found yourself detailed to similar events.
What each of those events shared was the potential for the event to turn from a peaceful fun event to a riot in a matter of seconds. The mob mentality could take over and would seek the lowest common denominator, resulting in panic and mayhem.
I saw that happen after the Independence Day fireworks during the Taste of Chicago. My post was the south end of the park. There were perhaps hundreds of thousands of people gathered to enjoy the firework show and they were centered around the Buckingham Fountain. After the fireworks, someone raised a gun and fired several shots into the air. Like a herd of cattle, the thousands turned away and stampeded as fast as they could push and shove to flee the man with the gun.
My partner and I were about a block away and heard the shots. Over the police radio, an officer reported seeing the shooting. A roar grew as the mass of people packed together and fled for their lives. The crowd was a great cross-section of Chicago’s population. There were all ages, sexes, races, and financial statuses in the crowd.
Realizing we could never make it through the rampaging flood of people to the shooting location, we found something to climb up on to watch how things developed and see if it would come our way. It served to keep us from getting trampled and ensured no one was able to snatch our weapons. It was a good fifteen minutes before we could begin our way through that crowd. It took almost as long for the officers who had seen the shooting to reach and apprehend the man with the gun.
This sort of stampede occurred just this most recent 4thof July. People were stabbed and then 14 were injured in the stampede at Navy Pier.
I know each officer has their own stories to tell as well. At the time we all found it exciting. We recited our tales later over cold drinks in taverns, or parking lots. Those same stories are still told in small groups of retirees over coffee or beers when the occasions arise.
There have been scientific studies of crowd behavior. Crowds take on a life of their own and can show a very ugly face. As police officers, we witness that face on a regular basis. One of the responses to my queries suggested that we all have PTSD due to events like these. There may be some merit to that. There were many responses stating they feel they are not in control when in a crowd and would rather be on the outside looking in. I have that same feeling myself. However I would prefer not to label it as PTSD. The name carries a stigma that I don’t think we need.
There were a few who because of their short height have always had trouble in crowds and as police officers that became even more of an issue.
Time on the job was the reason many proposed. In other words, their hatred of crowds was due to a learned response. If you are around events that turn bad often you will avoid them when possible. If you are unable to avoid them, it is a normal response to become apprehensive and tense.
Perhaps I should have asked better questions or even done some follow up questioning but I’m not a psychologist or sociologist. I’m making an observation and trying to come up with an understanding of my dislike of crowds. Tell me how you feel. Do you have a problem with crowds and if you do why do you think that is?
Stay safe, Run Low and zigzag.
Robert Weisskopf (ret. Lt. CPD)
P.S. You can find all my articles published in Law Enforcement Today by following the links at https://bobweisskopf.com/l-e-t-articles/