Police Train for RNC Protestors
"Move!" comes the order from the line of 30 police officers holding their
clubs in front of them and nearly touching elbows.
"Get out of the way," yells another as he steps over a yellow construction
cone that represents an overturned newspaper box.
A trio of yellow-shirted police trainers pretend to be demonstrators
blocking a street. They bump shoulders using a 2-foot-long foam pad. One
trainer calls the young officers names, insults them as "pigs" and tries to
twist through the line of blue.
A few of the officers shuffle and step backward, unable to hold the line.
Some swear and push back with their elbows or batons _ an offense that gets
pointed out as what not to do.
"Even if you do not hit them, they have the picture they wanted. They want
the big bad cop to be the aggressor," said Philadelphia police trainer
Stephen Smyth. "They are going to try to get us to do something stupid.
Nearly 7,000 Philadelphia police officers are being trained or retrained on
how to control the thousands of activists and demonstrators expected to
flood the city during the Republican National Convention that begins July
Each officer knows the point: not to end up like Seattle, where 40,000
demonstrators overwhelmed city police and caused millions of dollars in
damage during the World Trade Organization talks last November.
"Any police department that was not concerned after Seattle, I'd worry
about," Smyth said. "We learned from the good things and the bad things."
Most of the Philadelphia training focuses on posture _ ways to look strong
and intimidating and ways to stay composed and not give protesters a reason
The central tenet is forming a stomp-and-drag line _ thumping the right foot
forward in unison, then dragging the left foot to keep the line straight.
The tallest officers in the front; batons held across the chest.
"When the crowds get thick, these officers step up and show their presence.
Not to do any violence, just to let them know you're there," Smyth said.
Officers also are warned to keep both hands on their batons and keep them
low: raising their hands over their heads could be misinterpreted in a
photograph as hitting someone.
"We try to protect them physically and financially. What we mean by that is
protection from lawsuits," Smyth said.
Smyth, who has been training new recruits at the Philadelphia Police Academy
for more than 10 years, said both veteran officers and new recruits are easy
learners because they have seen the results of being unprepared from tapes
of last fall's debacle in Seattle.
Philadelphia's veteran officers each must attend a four-hour training
session. New recruits, who will be used for backup support during the
convention, each attend 12 hours of training.
Smyth said the biggest difference between street patrol work and managing
demonstrations is so-called passive resistance _ when a demonstrator refuses
to move but doesn't provoke an officer with physical violence.
"If someone punches you or grabs your gun, you know what to do," Smyth said.
"They will defy us, but not resist us. This is passive resistance. There's a
different way of responding."
Other activists will respond with insults. Training Officer Burton Lee has
heard racial slurs and insults against his family and heritage.
Through it all, officers must remain calm and professional. "If they know
what's going to happen before hand, if they can be prepared, then they will
do better when they go out there," Smyth said.
(Copyright 2000 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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