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Notes From the Field: A Sensible Response to Civil Disturbance

NCJ Number
Kathleen O'Toole
Date Published
March 2018
3 pages

Kathleen O'Toole, former chief of the Seattle Police Department, presents her view of the components of a successful strategy for police management of civil demonstrations.


Her strategy has three components: 1) careful and deliberate communication with organizers; 2) tiered approach during the event (as non-adversarial as possible); and 3) post-event debriefing to improve future responses to civil disturbances. Pre-event communication between police representatives and event organizers establishes trust, an understanding of the parameters of one another's roles in the course of the demonstration, and cooperation with one another in facilitating a peaceful demonstration. In addition, although police should be equipped and prepared for violent incidents, the visible appearance and demeanor of officers should be non-adversarial and respectful of the civil rights of demonstrators. Further, after demonstrations are concluded, police managers should engage in debriefings with frontline officers for the purpose of analyzing events and interactions between officers and demonstrators, and among officers. Positive and negative outcomes should be identified and improvements proposed for the next civil demonstration.