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Preventing Crowd Violence

Preventing Crowd Violence. Edited by Tamara D. Madensen and Johannes Knutsson. Lynne Rienner Publishers,; 243 pages; $59.95.

Dangerous crowds may seem primarily to be associated with political unrest. In reality, these situations can appear at beautiful beaches (think spring break), after national sporting events, or even at local malls during the holiday season, when bargain-obsessed shoppers line up in the early morning hours for so-called “Black Friday” sales. (In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death the day after Thanksgiving in Valley Stream, New York.)

In their book Preventing Crowd Violence, editors Tamara D. Madensen and Johannes Knutsson have collected a compendium of advice from international police and behavioral experts.

While the book is written from a law enforcement perspective and for a police readership, the information certainly applies to private security professionals who must manage large crowd events in stadiums, malls, concerts, and protests that may be aimed at their companies or on the streets surrounding their facilities. (The 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle caused millions of dollars in damages to local businesses.)

Among the issues covered are crowd psychology, crowd behaviors, and crowd leadership, which can consist of active leaders and passive followers or smaller subgroups within the larger masses. Since overreaction by police or security officers can be just as detrimental as underreaction, the book stresses both active management strategies and more subtle observational and communications tools.

The authors recognize that protest groups have a right to assemble, as long as it remains relatively orderly, nondestructive, and nonviolent. As such, the police or security role may be more passive as long as the crowd cooperates with each other and the officers.

One chapter describes “dialogue policing,” which includes using plainclothes officers inside the crowd and uniformed officers on the perimeters to both monitor and engage with certain crowd members. Goals include de-escalating pending problems and encouraging groups to “self-police” through peer pressure. This approach, where officers communicate, listen, and manage their own stress, can keep the collective emotional temperature down on all sides.

This book will be useful for security directors and managers who may be faced with crowd situations as part of their protective efforts.

Reviewer: Dr. Steve Albrecht, CPP, is a San Diego-based author and consultant on workplace violence prevention. His books include Ticking Bombs; Tough Training Topics; and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops. He is a member of ASIS International.