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Effective crowd policing: empirical insights on avoiding protest violence

Anne Nassauer (Department of Sociology, John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 16 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to connect sociology, criminology, and social psychology to identify specific factors that keep protests peaceful, discusses empirical examples of effective peacekeeping, and develops practical peacekeeping guidelines.


The analysis systematically compared 30 peaceful and violent protests in the USA and Germany to identify peaceful interaction routines and how they are disrupted. It employed a triangulation of visual and document data on each demonstration, analyzing over 1,000 documents in total. The paper relies on qualitative analysis based on the principles of process tracing.


Results show that specific interaction sequences and emotional dynamics can break peaceful interaction routines and trigger violence. Single interactions do not break these routines, but certain combinations do. Police forces and protesters need to avoid these interaction dynamics to keep protests peaceful. Communication between both sides and good police management are especially important.

Research limitations/implications

The paper highlights the need to examine the role of situational interactions and emotional dynamics for the emergence and avoidance of protest violence more closely.

Practical implications

Findings have implications for police practice and training and for officers’ and protesters’ safety.


Employing recent data and an interdisciplinary approach, the study systematically analyzes peacekeeping in protests, developing guidelines for protest organizers and police.



The author would like to thank the four anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The author is further thankful to Randall Collins and Nicolas Legewie for their invaluable advice on the paper.


Nassauer, A. (2015), "Effective crowd policing: empirical insights on avoiding protest violence", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 3-23.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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