This module is a resource for lecturers
Case study one: The management of an assembly
Freedonia is a multiparty democracy though the past three elections have seen widespread violence, ballot rigging, and intimidation of ethnic minorities by the authorities. The national police have regularly been accused of dispersing protests against the regime in power while allowing pro-government demonstrations to proceed. Freedonia is a State party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
New presidential and parliamentary elections are being held in three weeks' time. A huge anti-government demonstration is planned for the main square in the capital, Freedomville, in two weeks' time. Social media is awash with reports that anarchists are intending to use the demonstration as cover for acts of violence against "capitalist property".
The Government has announced that a counter-demonstration is planned to take place the same day in front of the national parliament, which is only 250 metres away from the main square. It announces that if there is any violence in the anti-government demonstration, that assembly will be dispersed with tear gas and, if necessary, live fire.
- What actions should the police take in advance of the demonstrations?
- What weapons, related equipment, and training should the police be provided with?
- What actions should the police take on the day of the assemblies?
The task for law enforcement officials is to facilitate peaceful assembly. This means liaising with the organizers in advance about the place or route of the assembly/demonstration, identifying focal points within the law enforcement agency responsible and the organizing group. Safety arrangements and access/preparations for medical staff must be made. Safety barriers may be needed.
Frontline officers should have been specifically trained in management of assemblies. Police dogs and officers in full riot gear should be kept out of sight so as not to provoke violence. Officers should not be equipped with firearms, or if they are, should be instructed never to fire into a crowd.
Counter demonstrations should be allowed wherever possible, though it may be necessary to channel and separate them. Dispersal of an assembly should be a last resort in the event of widespread violence and should not occur when the assembly is peaceful.
Case study two: Combating the sale of illegal drugs
Ruritania is a democracy that has recently voted in a populist president who has pledged to tackle fast-rising violence in the country, especially as a result of the drug trade. The national police are to be given fully automatic weapons which were previously only held by the military, with orders to shoot drug traffickers on sight. Freedonia is a State party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
- Given the democratic mandate of the new president should the police be allowed to use extreme measures to get a handle on rising violence?
- What are the dangers of such an approach?
The same legal framework applies to law enforcement officials anywhere in the world, even in societies with high levels of violence. Where the police are seen to be unable to stem rising violence, however, public clamour for more draconian action may be irresistible. This may manifest itself in greater weaponry being provided to the police or by using the army with a view to "restoring order". Examples of where such an approach has succeeded in reducing violence, though, are hard to find. In addition, the actions of the police are often hampered by their infiltration by criminal elements or corruption.
Zero tolerance policing and "stop and frisk" in New York in the 1980s and 1990s (where even minor crime in "failing" neighbourhoods is prosecuted) is ascribed by some as the reason for the significant drop in violent crime in that city, though there is longstanding contention, among criminologists, about the influence of other factors (see, for example, Grabosky, 1998).
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