• U.S.

Police: How to Handle Demonstrations

4 minute read

From Harlem to Harvard to Sunset Strip, the U.S. is on a demonstration kick. While collegians march against monogamy or multiversities, their once sedate mothers are mounting the barricades to battle school bussing or stop encroaching highway bulldozers. In one month, Philadelphia alone produced 15 demonstrations against such diverse targets as hard divorce laws, soft rape laws, slum landlords, black power, white power, and the Viet Nam war. Even the Janus Society hit the bricks, indignant because the Navy excludes homosexuals.

In drawing a line between lawful and unlawful demonstrations, U.S. police face a tougher task: they must keep order while protecting peaceful demonstrators’ constitutional rights. And many police efforts are embarrassing failures. Although good intelligence work prevents and solves crime, few police can afford the time to study the widely varying plans and personalities of protest groups. As a result, they often send too few men to shield pickets from counter-pickets, or they goto the other extreme and send so many that they cripple law enforcement elsewhere. Worse, too many police respond too readily to demonstrators’ taunts. And when choleric cops blow their tops, the skilled rabble-rouser is delighted, for it is “police brutality” that attracts TV news cameras and dramatizes “the cause.”

Early Warning. To prevent such errors, Philadelphia police are developing a new specialist: the “civil-disobedience man.” Founded in 1964 by former Commissioner Howard Leary, who now heads New York City’s police, the Philadelphia civil-disobedience squad consists of only 24 members: a lieutenant, a sergeant, four policewomen and 18 elite policemen, half of them white and half Negro. Picked for warmth, patience and maturity (average age: 38), C.D. men are schooled in sociology and human relations; they study civil rights under University of Pennsylvania law professors. However small in numbers, the squad is worth a division of oldtime head bashers.

For one thing, C.D. men go out of their way to befriend all sorts of potential demonstrators long before they become uncivilly disobedient. “I can call up any one of them,” says C.D. Lieut. George Fencl, “and they tell me just what they are planning. More often than not, they call me.” As a result, the police department knows precisely what size force to deploy without wasting men. Sometimes an entire demonstration requires only two C.D. men (invariably a white-Negro team); alert to changing moods, the team can summon help quickly if things start to turn ugly.

Ethical Example. Unlike other police, C.D. men win points for making as few arrests as possible. To give errants every possible chance, a C.D. man first politely announces: “You are interfering with the free movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Please move.” (Pause.) “Will you move?” Step 2: the resister is told that his act violates Section 406 of the Pennsylvania penal code and “amounts to disorderly conduct.” Once more he is asked, “Will you move?” Step 3: “You are now under arrest. Will you walk to the emergency patrol wagon?” Step 4: “Do you want to be carried?” If the answer to the last question is yes, the C.D. man warns: “The additional charge of resisting arrest will be placed against you.” After the demonstration ends, the entire squad musters for selfcriticism.

For more than seven months, C.D. men controlled angry Negro pickets around Philadelphia’s Girard College, a lavish school for white orphans only. While the pickets incessantly yowled

Jingle bells,

Shotgun shells,

Freedom all the way;

Oh, what fun

It is to blow

A bluecoat man away,

the C.D. men incessantly grinned. At Independence Hall last July 4th, the C.D. squad kept hordes of war veterans from attacking peace marchers, mainly by diving into the mobs and telling all hands to keep their heads.

In the current Police Chief, the top U.S. police magazine, Philadelphia’s Chief Inspector Harry G. Fox proudly limns the C.D. man as an uncowed, unbiased “ethical example,” who “refuses to act as judge or jury no matter the provocation.” C.D. work may have little effect on the number of demonstrations taking place, says Fox. But it will have a “major effect” on overall police efficiency and “public reaction to the use of police powers.”

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