Crowd management is almost as much art as it is science.
Having been involved in many major events, including serving as incident commander of the 2002 World Series and Stanley Cup playoffs, I have a deep appreciation for what the Huntington Beach Police Department command staff is faced with at the U.S. Open of Surfing, currently underway in Surf City USA.
After last year’s disturbances, the HBPD held several meetings with citizens and business owners. Additionally, there were probably hours and hours of after-action assessment by the department itself.
In every assessment there is the development of prevention strategies – simple, but it makes sense. The key question is, “How can we keep this from happening again so we don’t have to deal with another major disturbance?”
It’s a far better strategy to maintain control rather than try to regain it. Regaining control of a mob is never pretty and actually frightening when you’re the target.
The prevention strategies seem to be well in place this year in HB. A major strategy is controlling alcohol consumption with a zero-tolerance approach. Police and event organizers have communicated this message effectively through both the mainstream and social media.
In event-driven disturbances there is no social or political agenda. So keeping the crowd from becoming a mob becomes the goal. Research shows there is a correlation between young males, alcohol and mob behavior. I would throw in child rearing as well, but that is an anecdotal observation; I can’t find any research on it.
I was perusing social media and came across numerous Twitter posts from obviously disappointed attendees complaining about the police presence.
More cops must mean less fun, I suppose, for those posting complaints. On the other hand, social media is full of compliments from locals thanking the department for the excellent job they are doing. Something must be working.
In another stroke of genius, the HBPD is hosting a community meeting to discuss the real-time progress of the U.S. Open of Surfing and its impact on residents and business owners. This is both an innovative and engaging approach.
Encouraging the community to become active participants rather than just observers strikes at the very heart of community policing.
Thirty years of law enforcement has taught me human behavior is unpredictable. Despite all the planning and preparation, it only takes a few knuckleheads to start a chain reaction. I’m certain there is a well-developed contingency plan just in case.
But let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope we’re not discussing that next week.
Check out the Huntington Beach Police Department’s Facebook page keep up to date on the latest information from the Van’s U.S. Open of Surfing.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police captain.