U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Notes From the Field: A Three-Part Approach to Civil Disturbance

NCJ Number
William B. Evans
Date Published
February 2018
3 pages

Commissioner William B. Evans of the Boston Police Department discusses his agency's approach to civil demonstrations as involving preparatory communication with event organizers, a respectful ("soft") approach with demonstrators, and a debriefing after the event to identify lessons learned.


Contact with event organizers prior to the demonstration facilitates ongoing communication between the police administrator and event organizers both before and during the event. Commissioner Evans notes that he and event organizers exchanged cell phone numbers for this purpose. During a demonstration event, organizers can contact the police when and where there is a need to contain crowd problem behaviors. In discussing his second component for managing a demonstration (a"soft approach"), commissioner Evans advises "rather than policing these events in a militaristic fashion, we opt for a softer approach, in which we maintain a soft but very visible presence." Over the course of his 5 years in overseeing civil disturbances in Boston, police do not monitor protests or rallies in full riot gear. Officers wear regular uniforms and interact with people in a friendly, non-threatening manner. Any use of force is progressively increased as a situation becomes unruly or violent. There is advance preparation for deploying appropriate equipment as needed. The third major component of an effective police management of demonstrations is to hold a debriefing among officers and perhaps event organizers to analyze the good and the bad from events, so as to determine what worked well in keeping peace and order and what could have been done better in detecting and responding appropriately to problem behaviors.