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Principles of crowd management still used

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Principles of crowd management still used

A demonstration or football match between rivals. Sometimes the police are involved or even become targets. How can you manage such a confrontation? What should you do and what should you not do? Otto Adang of the Netherlands Police Academy and other researchers drew up the strategic principles of crowd management in 2004. These became important when the desire for a new way of the Riot Squad later arose. A look back at changes in police deployment at risk events.

The Portuguese police managed to ensure that the 2004 European Championship took place in an orderly manner. By making contact with supporters (in advance) and not immediately being there in large numbers with the Riot Squad). That not only provided a good example. It then provided a broader view of public order enforcement and risk events. "The traditional approach is all about upheaval and it is mainly the police's turn. This approach is wait-and-see.

But in modern public order management the approach is preventive-proactive and the police are one of the connections. It is not about upheaval, but about order. The natural order, which is the case in most situations. A demonstration and a football event are all part of order for me. And that's not just potential chaos. That is part of a democratic constitutional state", says Adang.

The strategic principles of crowd management

The researchers described four strategic principles for maintaining public order during risk events:

  1. Be informed. Knowing your audience and what moves people. What is (symbolically) important to them? If you understand this well, you can also take actions better and receive signals earlier about possible friction.
  2. Facilitating legitimation intentions. Most people want to go to an event safely, express their opinion or show their emotions. You can make that possible.
  3. Communicate. Make it clear what your intentions are, but also listen to your audience.
  4. Differentiate. Making people responsible for their behavior, not the group they belong to.

But a football match is a different risk event than a demonstration. Adang: "I am a biologist and behavioral scientist, so I mainly look at behavior. In football you often have two opposing sides and a police force that has to keep them apart. At demonstrations there is often one party, the demonstrators. They face the police as a representative of the government. The police become an easy target. But the strategic principles of crowd management apply in both situations.

You still notice that, that is still the basis. When I come to the country, in The Hague at a demonstration of Extinction Rebellion. The Netherlands Police then include the steps and principles in the preparation. That is now known to everyone."

New way of deploying Riot Squad

The investigation also had consequences for the deployment of the Riot Squad. The Ombudsman was critical of the police in 2009, after a number of events. Adang then assessed whether the way the Riot Squad was used was still appropriate. "The traditional situations for which the Riot Squad were devised turned out to be very rare. Things actually went wrong in the gray area between the deployment of the officer and the Riot Squad. Situations where you would like to perform in a group because things unexpectedly get out of hand. This can also be when going out or at other smaller events. Situations where it actually goes over the heads of the 'ordinary' officer. As a result, things sometimes went wrong and they acted more casually. Or was the Riot Squad deployed in a situation that is not actually a riot police situation at all. For example, a village festival, but they act as if they are dealing with hooligans", says Adang.

Adang concluded: "On the one hand, you want an ordinary officer to have more knowledge and experience in group action. On the other hand, you should not only use the Riot Squad in that high spectrum. The Riot Squad must be able to work more flexibly and in multiple situations. In practice, most of the work is not in the highest spectrum of violence. But precisely in preventing worse. There is a lot to be gained from that."

This led to the new way of Riot Squad performances in 2013. The Riot Squad can now act in all phases. Not just in a line and in large numbers. The Riot Squad now also work in pairs and enter into contact. If necessary, they can form into a line. The four strategic principles remain important in all phases.

Determine boundaries again

However, some high-risk events still turn into riots. How does Adang view this now? "It is still a big exception. And nothing compared to, for example, the 1980s. Or violent riots as you sometimes see in other countries. After the corona period, groups are again testing how far they can go. At football matches or other events. I often compare that with what happens in every school class after the holidays. That you decide together again: where are the boundaries? And on the other hand, those who have to ensure safety were less alert after the corona period. As do the clubs and stewards. With the feeling of 'we can go again after corona', less attention was paid to safety. And then you might think that things will go well again, but they didn't. Then you have to go back to the approach. That is certainly not the fault of the police alone", Adang concludes.

More information

The studies can be found in our media library:


Otto Adang, lecturer in Public Order and Hazard Management, will say goodbye in March 2024. He has been a lecturer at the Netherlands Police Academy since 2004, making him the longest-serving lecturer. His career has included controversial social questions and research. From the corona riots and football hooligans to the introduction of the electroshock weapon and deployment of the Riot Squad.

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