The Role of Crowd Theory in Determining the Use of Force in Public Order Policing

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 23 August 2011



(2011), "The Role of Crowd Theory in Determining the Use of Force in Public Order Policing", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Role of Crowd Theory in Determining the Use of Force in Public Order Policing

The Role of Crowd Theory in Determining the Use of Force in Public Order Policing

Article Type: Perspectives on policing From: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 34, Issue 3

James Hoggett and Clifford Stott,Policing and Society,Vol. 20,2010,pp. 223-236

The European soccer scene is no stranger to crowd flare-ups. High-profile events such as the disasters at the Heysel and Hillsborough stadiums (amongst several others) have led to orchestrated policing interventions focusing on crowd management at such matches. It is posited that police in these situations rely on a “classical understanding” of crowd psychology; i.e. while crowds are predominantly composed of peaceable individuals, there tends to be a relatively small contingent of violent persons as well. This minority has the capacity to stir up peaceful attendees, leading the crowd to be perceived by police as potentially dangerous. Therefore, police tasked with crowd control at sporting events are wont to engage in mass containment and try to disperse the crowd. However, the extant literature fails to substantiate the parallels between the police’s understanding of crowd dynamics and actual practices in crowd management. Hoggett and Stott seek to contribute to the understanding of crowd dynamics by vetting the classical understanding of crowd dynamics and suggesting future research that may lead to improved policing practices at sporting events.

To conduct this study, the authors chose a fairly typical English sporting event: a Saturday championship (the second tier of English soccer) fixture anticipating roughly 20,000 fans, five percent of which were the traveling support of the visiting team. Further, the last match these teams were engaged in ended in several public disorder incidents. Two week prior to the game, the authors handed out questionnaires to the event officers designed to capture the respondent’s knowledge of crowd dynamics and subsequent police responses. During the match itself, Hoggett shadowed a commanding officer tasked with managing the visiting fans as they arrived and also spoke with additional officers when able. Finally, ten post-match interviews were conducted with officers deemed integral to the operation. The interviews highlighted key concepts similar to those addressed in the survey in addition to applying the above knowledge to the events of the match.

The findings of the study supported that the police tend to adopt the classic understanding of crowd dynamics in their practices. As such, officers reported crowd management was of ultimate importance to their job function. Force, then, was seen as a means to this end. However, Hoggett and Stott suggest such practices could have detrimental effects on the efficiency and legitimacy of the police. Officers simply lack the resources to effectively police all fans in attendance, and therefore focus on managing only the small number of traveling supporters leaving dangerous home fan to cause trouble unchecked. Further, disorderly away fans risked containment and potential incarceration, while home fans were simply dispersed.

This gap between knowledge and practice poses several problems to event policing. Officers in this study failed to realize the positive capital some of their containment practices created with the visiting fans. While the police served their central purpose of keeping the two groups of supporters as separate as possible, they provided a perfunctory escort to the away fans. Supporters of the visiting side were able to move about and socialize without worry of being accosted by local fans. Although officers were unaware of this positive interaction, the authors suggest that it may be capitalized on in order to more efficiently police crowds at sporting events.

Derek M. CohenUniversity of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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