The last thing anyone wants is a riot and fierce looting on their hands. The police don’t want it, the residents don’t want it, and the businesses certainly don’t want it. But everyone needs to deal with it. Dealing with it the right way is what we need to look at here.
I want to tell you a story that will help illustrate what a well funded, highly trained police force looks like. Unfortunately, it is not here in the United States. You may recall the tsunami that wiped out Japan’s nuclear power station back in 2011. At the time, I was in Paris as part of a birthday celebration. Directly following the tsunami, radioactive materials started to leak from the power plant, and the radiation was beginning to affect the ocean and the air around Japan. In Paris and other parts of the world, protests began calling for the end of nuclear power. There in Paris, these protests grew large, and a few violent protestors decided to throw some bombs in the subway station. I was walking around the city at the time and ran smack dab into the full force of the Paris police. What amazed me was the number of officers and the level of coordination and equipment they mobilized in a matter of minutes. I continued to walk. For 25 blocks around the bombing and protesting, the police had set up waves of force. Every block in a 25 block radius had barricades, police, and large box vans to both transport arrestees and police. Every officer was outfitted in full swat and riot gear. They were standing at the ready.
Contrast that with police here in the United States, and the picture looks wildly different. Officers in standard patrol uniforms, with one or two officers in patrol cars. It seems weak, is weak, and does not control situations that need to be controlled.
Stop burning good patrol vehicles.
The first action PD can take to stop taking good patrol vehicles to the front lines. Time and time again, we see patrol vehicles the target of destruction by rioters. Some agencies are desperate for new patrol vehicles, so all they have are old beat up cruisers. If you need new patrol vehicles, there is no better way than to have them damaged in the riots and replaced by insurance. While I don’t recommend that an agency use its coverage in this way, it may not have a choice. If an alternative is available, then officers moving to the front lines should go in large groups transported in box vans or other tactical units. The tactical vehicles can be pulled back after drop off and maintain supplies and provide an escape for injured officers.
Weapons and equipment should not be left in the patrol vehicles. During the George Floyd riots, we saw numerous weapons being removed from patrol vehicles by rioters. This is akin to entrapment. Here’s a free gun, but don’t take it. And while people shouldn’t, they do. It is not responsible for anyone to leave weapons lying around for others to take possession and control of. All weapons should be carried on the officer and in their possession at all times during riots and looting.
What to do next
Risk Managers and Police Chiefs should review their policies and strategize on new protocols. Talk with your insurance agency about what is covered and what will happen when equipment and vehicles are lost in riots. Talk with your officers to determine what level of training they need and how best they can respond to these riots. And for the love of your city, realize that the theory that riots should be left to burn out and release their anger and it will dissipate is a failed theory and has proved time and time again that it does not work.