EFFECTIVE CROWD CONTROL
Steven J. Schmidt
Assistant Chief of Police
Covington, Kentucky, Police Department
While small to midsized departments may be located in areas
there could be times when they have to police large groups of
the overflow of people attending an event in that municipality.
For example, Covington, Kentucky, currently has 91 sworn
officers to police a population of 50,000. But, because
Covington is separated from Cincinnati, Ohio, by only the Ohio
River, the Covington Police Department must prepare for overflow
crowds that are generated by special events held in Cincinnati.
And, because police managers must regard even peaceful crowds as
control. (1) This article discusses exactly what areas of
concern should be addressed when planning for crowd control and
A step-by-step plan is important to effective crowd
control. In order to ensure a well-policed event, police
managers should prepare ahead of time for any conceivable
To plan for effective crowd control, police managers should
consider what personnel resources are available. For example, a
traffic division with officers who are experienced in traffic
flow is invaluable. Also invaluable when planning for crowd
control is a police auxiliary, which could help in areas where
Guard can be used as additional resources.
Other personnel resources to draw from include officers
from neighboring police departments, the fire department, the
clubs. Private businesses, such as bus companies, are also
Buses make effective barricades to block intersections.
Another important task when planning for a special event is
to notify businesses and residents in the affected area of how
much disruption they can expect. Ground rules should be
be disrupted, alternate routes should be designated prior to the
event, and fire and ambulance personnel should be contacted to
Traffic control is important to policing any major event.
"No parking" areas should be designated and posted before the
event. Officials should advertise these restrictions through
the media and through flyers sent to residents and businesses in
the affected areas.
Officials should also contract with a wrecker service to
tow vehicles parked in restricted areas. Because special events
often place unusual demands on wrecker services, they should be
choose an impoundment location and agree on the release
Command posts are an integral part of any special events
operation. Department personnel should determine how much space
they need for the post, the amount of parking space available in
the areas being considered, and whether the locations have land
lines for communication purposes. Officials should also make
more than one channel on their radios, this could be as simple
as switching to a secondary channel for the event and using a
If an event lasts more than 8 hours, food, coffee, and soft
to clean the post after use, especially if the space was loaned
to the department by a local business.
All officers who work the event should receive clear,
of the event area should be prepared, showing its parameters,
s one of "no-access under any circumstance," the officer
assigned to that checkpoint should be aware of that stipulation
ahead of time.
Officials should also prepare a contingency personnel plan
n the event officers who are assigned to work the event call in
assignments in order to cover holes in the perimeters that even
the most careful planner may overlook.
Also a consideration when planning for personnel is whether
a meal break will be necessary for the officers. Although extra
teams are sometimes required to relieve officers, if enough
officers are assigned to the teams, half the team can be
Extra equipment should always be available during large
events. Police managers should ensure that extra radios,
flashlights, batteries, and handcuffs are stored at the command
also consider whether there will be special transportation
needs. All-terrain vehicles (ATV) and golf carts that local
businesses may loan to the department could prove invaluable.
Officers can use ATVs to check unpaved areas and police managers
can use golf carts to get to checkpoints if the size of the
crowd does not permit using an automobile.
Officials should make every effort to keep large events
free of alcohol. If this is impossible, either through legal
means or simple reasoning, managers should document problems
arising from the use of alcohol to argue for alcohol-free events
n the future.
If officials are successful in banning alcohol consumption
coolers taken into the event area should be checked for alcohol,
and dumpsters should be available at the perimeters to dispose
of any confiscated liquor.
Police managers should decide ahead of time what the
s too large, it will be difficult to control the crowd, and the
officers would have too large an area to police. The perimeter
lapses in security. Specific areas should be blocked, including
ntersections and checkpoints.
It may also be prudent to block off parking lots inside the
following the event, the mixture of automobiles and pedestrians
could prove dangerous. Controlling the parking lots allows the
bulk of the pedestrian traffic to leave the perimeter first.
Cars can then leave in stages, minimizing the likelihood of
either a pedestrian/automobile accident or total gridlock.
Except for the officers who need to start their shift
earlier in order to remove cars parked in restricted areas or to
block off critical areas, officers working the detail should
assemble about 1 hour before the event. During this time,
and discuss any necessary changes. They can also ensure that
all officers are using the correct radio channel and give
Just prior to the start of the event, officers should again
check the restricted area for possible problems. It is much
easier to resolve problems before the crowds begin to arrive
than to deal with both problems and crowds.
The majority of the officers should position themselves at
the perimeter of the event. By keeping the majority of the
officers where the spectators pass, the perceived numbers
advantage remains with the police. It also makes it easier for
although most of the officers involved in controlling the crowd
The number of officers working together in a group will
vary with the situation, but no officers should work alone.
Also, if possible, officers from a plainclothes unit should
mingle with the crowd. Not only can plainclothes officers spot
violations more easily than uniformed officers, but they also
can make quick arrests that minimize any disruptions to the
Any person arrested during the event should be quickly
officers who are specifically assigned this duty. This
minimizes the loss of personnel who are working the actual
When the event ends, stragglers sometimes remain. To
counter this problem, floodlights that can be borrowed from the
local fire department should be concentrated on the areas in
area for any remaining spectators as they leave their posts to
The hours following the end of an event are busy for patrol
officers. If possible, officials should schedule additional
major event can be kept completely alcohol and drug free, patrol
units may have to deal with fights, injuries, and accidents that
occur among the spectators. (2)
All officers should report to the command post before going
off duty. This allows officials to record overtime and check
the records for accuracy, as well as recover any equipment that
Police managers should keep detailed records of the
changes for policing the next event. They should also write
formal letters of appreciation to any person outside the
Policing an event that generates large crowds is a major
undertaking that requires extensive planning. Police managers
must follow a step-by-step plan that ensures that the crowd is
controlled with the fewest number of problems possible. A
(1) Richard A. Berk, "Collective Behavior" (Dubuque, Iowa:
William C. Brown Co., 1974).
(2) Adrian F. Aveni, "The Not-So-Lonely Crowd: Friendship
Groups in Collective Behavior," Sociometry, vol. 40, No. 1,
January 1977, pp. 96-99.