Last Thursday PERF held a webinar about managing demonstrations, and in Saturday’s edition of Trending we wrote about the thinking behind one of the recommendations presented: “Give the community a significant role in planning and managing major events.”

Today’s Critical Issues report features the 10 recommendations and some highlights from the webinar discussion.

To view the entire webinar and read the findings and recommendations, click here. PERF also published a report on the subject in 2018, “The Police Response to Mass Demonstrations: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned.”



1.  Give the community a significant role in planning and managing major events.

2.  Train officers to de-escalate situations and manage their emotions under stressful circumstances.

3.  Train commanders and supervisors to use their authority to defuse critical incidents.

4.  Update operational plans and mutual aid agreements to ensure they meet the challenges of today’s protest environment.

5.  Equip officers with the gear they need to operate safely in dynamic and dangerous circumstances.

6.  When violence occurs, carefully consider options that are proportionate and don’t increase the risk of injury to demonstrators or police.

7.  Provide multiple warnings before deploying gas or munitions, giving people adequate time to disperse.

8.  Pay close attention to officer health and wellness, particularly during events that go on for long periods of time.

9.  To promote accountability, develop teams of police and community to jointly document and report on actions of both demonstrators and police.

10.  “Monday morning quarterback” after a major event, as a way to learn from experience and improve performance the next time.




Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr

“De-escalation doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by design and preparation with communities in advance, during, and definitely after these events. There are a lot of tactical ways you can try to create de-escalation options agreed [to] with community leaders, even if you can’t identify protest leaders.

“It’s not just training. It’s the mindset of the tactical commanders on the ground, where their default is de-escalation. They’re constantly trying to use or think about ways to use their visuals or use their equipment or how officers present themselves. Constantly they’re thinking about de-escalating tensions.

“I used to say to my public order commanders all the time, ‘success is boredom.’ Success is you’re not deployed at all. Success is everybody goes home: cops, citizens, nobody’s hurt, no damage to property.”


Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (speaking about the incident in this video from Kenosha, WI)

“Who’s going to win this event? Protesters or the police officers? You saw the police make some decisions when they thought the protesters were getting out of hand, and now they’re coming out to ‘restore order’ and making a bunch of tactical mistakes that are going to make the thing worse than better. Because ‘win’ to them was to win quickly, versus de-escalation. You know, ‘We might be here four more hours, but everybody’s going to go home safe and everybody’s going to go home bored at the end of this type of thing.’”



Baltimore Commissioner Michael Harrison

“I think the thing I would like to see … is when we have mutual aid agreements, whether you’re a medium-sized, small, or large department, and you have to bring other resources in that are outside of your jurisdiction, you have to establish clear command and control. Other people are coming into your jurisdiction off their policies and off their training. So I think there needs to be a mechanism for training with your contiguous counties and cities, so if you’re going to bring somebody else in, the training is similar. There are clear lines of communication and coordination about what the rules of engagement are, [including] the command and control, munitions that are to be used, [and] who will authorize them. Because one jurisdiction is training one way, according to their policies and rules. Likewise, our jurisdiction is doing the same thing. But when we come together because we’re helping them or they’re helping us, those things need to be clearly established in your mutual aid agreements. But we have to train together to make sure we get it right.”



Brian Castner, Senior Crisis Advisor – Weapons & Military Operations, Amnesty International

“I can tell you what international human rights law says, which is that gas should only be used when there is a large number of people involved in violent behavior and destructive behavior, and the police reasonably believe that the only way to disperse them is through a deployment that affects everybody, like CS gas. And basically other options would fail or require lethal force. That is a fairly high bar.

“CS is going to punish everybody in a crowd. Is everybody in that area actually being violent? When it comes time to pull out 37-millimeter projectiles, for instance, how far away are you firing? If you’re on the roof of the police station, how accurate are you with that weapon? And if you don’t hit the person that’s actually being violent, then are you contributing to the skirmish or are you actually bringing some law and order?

“As much as possible, be using not just minimum force, but targeted force. At a certain point, after a certain number of hours, the only people there are the ones that want to be engaged in that skirmish. But on the way there, when you start hitting people that aren’t actually engaged, all you’re doing is adding to the number that are eventually going to be involved in that fight.

“There are a number of these munitions where the important thing to remember is that they cause life-altering injuries. A sponge round to the head, as opposed to the chest, can crack skulls, can crack jaws, can blind. It’s a life-altering injury. Taking a tear gas grenade in the eye is a life-altering injury.”


Washington, DC Assistant Chief Jeff Carroll

“Before you take any action, you have to really think about what the consequences, intended or unintended, could be. Just because someone’s throwing two or three water bottles, does that mean we go out into the crowd to try to get those one or two people? Well maybe. But will that result in a riot? Or does that mean we deploy a 40-millimeter at that person? Well, if it was just a water bottle… . As the commander you’re really responsible for the actions of those officers, so you have to really be thoughtful. Many times the best response may be to do nothing. To get video of those areas, to go back, identify those individuals, apply for arrest warrants. There are other ways to hold these individuals accountable, besides immediately responding.

“When it comes to deployment of CS gas, that’s really the last resort. There is no force higher than that, in my mind, besides deadly force. CS gas is indiscriminate and is going to affect everybody. And not just the people in the group, peaceful or non, but also residents who live around there, businesses, office buildings if they have air intakes, [and] the officers if they’re not ready for the gas deployment and they take the gas in.”


Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr

“One of the things I’ve learned over 32 years in policing is the importance of strategic patience and actually not rushing what looks like obvious but could be quite disproportionate tactical interventions. Sometimes you just take a deep breath, you go back to clarity of intent – what are you trying to achieve, what’s important now and in the next half an hour. If it’s to protect the police station, protect the police station. But don’t be going any further. Regroup your commanders, then try to have a set of priorities you’re trying to achieve.”



Washington, DC Assistant Chief Jeff Carroll

“Training really is a key to a lot of these issues. These are very high-risk situations with very low frequency. And so anytime you put commanders and personnel in those situations, it’s going to be challenging for them. … So we really have to make sure we’re practicing these things. I know over the past 25 years a lot of agencies really did not experience demonstrations to this level until last year. So make sure we’re prepared and continue to train.”


UNLV Associate Professor Tamara Herold

“There’s not a lot of research to guide chiefs who are looking for answers as to what are best practices [and] what are empirical-based strategies. We’re lacking that. So even if you’re a mid-sized agency – you don’t have training, you don’t have a policy in place currently – and you’re looking for those answers, it’s so difficult to find those answers. We don’t have nationally accepted standards and training. I think it’s something we need to be working towards.

“Something I’ve thought about a lot more recently is that we need to be very clear about the outcomes we want, not just the outcomes we don’t want. I think this is what brings us closer to really improving police-community relations and really thinking through what the next iteration of protest management might be.”



Columbia, SC Chief Skip Holbrook

“I think probably what separates medium-sized, large cities, or even smaller jurisdictions is maybe duration. We had two days of riots. We also learned very quickly there is very much a distinction between a protest and a riot, or civil unrest. We found we did not define that appropriately internally or externally, and that led to some of the communication problems we all identified in after-action reports.

“I think what we have seen is that you typically have your community leadership that’s at your neighborhood meetings. We’ve seen a new population of leadership that we have found inside the social activist groups. I think we have to further those relationships.”



Tara Murray, Human and Civil Rights Attorney

“The one thing I wanted to add … is about the battle for hearts and minds. I think there’s an important need for empathy on both sides. And for understanding, both from the community perspective and from [the] law enforcement perspective. About why folks are out there, and an understanding that we’re really in this together. … I hope those conversations and those discussions surrounding empathy are part of that community-building and the work that’s being done within the community.”


Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer

“The main thing to remember is the demonstration is a symptom. There’s a much bigger issue at play here than the demonstration going on. … That is to have police-community legitimacy. So when bad things happen, the community understands that was a really unfortunate event, as opposed to the outcome of a badly designed system. So the co-production of public safety between our community and our police officers – is that something we’re constantly working on? Do we have methods, intent, and metrics that are in place? This is something we’re trying to do in our city right now. So when this happens, people will look at each other and say, ‘We’re working toward a more just future together. Let’s not waste time on protest, let’s put it to productivity.’

“We all learned an awful lot this last year. If we can translate those learnings to more just policing, police-community legitimacy, [and a] more equitable society, it will have been a very pivotal year in our country. I hope we’re smart enough to learn from it, and I believe we are."


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.