Effective communications cool crowd tensions

Friendly, calm, regular communications using the latest loud hailers are increasingly seen by police forces as a key element to de-escalate tense crowd situations.

‘Jaw-jaw is better than war-war’ said the eminently quotable Winston Churchill in 1954. Almost 70 years later the concept still holds true – that a constant source of factual information is the best method to prevent tense crowd situations spilling over into violence or serious civic disturbances.

“If you can keep talking to people it counters dis-information,” says Matt Henry, CEO of Superhailer, a company that makes the latest in long range acoustic communications devices. “With modern loud hailers you can tell the crowd repeatedly what they can and cannot do. To prevent it becoming a ‘them and us’ confrontation, police officers can use the devices to encourage crowds to exercise their constitutional rights, but at the same time highlight if they are lawbreaking. Two police officers with a Superhailer are a lot less antagonistic than a line of fully equipped riot police. Even if the riot police are around the corner to intervene if necessary.”

Community response team

One example of this was recently seen in Seattle in the US. Some 360 supporters of Black Lives Matter and of defunding police gathered at Cascade Park in Seattle’s South Lake Union area. The group marched to the intersection of Mercer and Terry roads. To avoid protestors occupying intersections the police intervened. As reported by local website Komonews.com, at one-point, Lt. John Brooks, one of the leaders of Seattle Police Department’s new Community Response Team was heard addressing the marchers over a loud hailer. He told them:

“We arrested an individual with a firearm and for acts of violence,” he said. “If you continue to move and not be static and block intersections or arterials, we will support the continuation of this demonstration, however any violence, property destruction or acts against officers will result in us taking action and making arrests…”

Lt. Brooks is part of a free-floating response team that can quickly move from precinct to precinct to support officers in situations like demonstrations. The marchers were eventually encouraged to proceed to Capitol Hill near Cal Anderson Park, where they peacefully dispersed just before 11 p.m.

“This is a good example of how a regular flow of information from the security forces allowed a demonstration to proceed largely peacefully and without the need for heavier handed techniques,” says Matt Henry. “It’s often misinformation and confusion that foments trouble in highly charged situations. But this can be easily overcome with a constant flow of instructions and non-adversarial communications. This was difficult to achieve with old fashioned loud hailers, whereas the latest acoustic devices can project spoken words over very long distances at incredible clarity. There is no need for any confusion now.”

Latest de-escalation devices

Superhailer is among a new generation of crowd management devices that employ the latest technology. Operators simply aim the device at the person or people they want to communicate with and press the button. At this point an in-built (eye-safe) laser range finder instantly measures the distance to the target recipient of the message or sound. This information is fed to the onboard safety limiter that, in only a quarter of a second, determines what the safe volume level should be – before sound is broadcast. In any event, the system prevents the maximum volume people hear exceeding 112 decibels – well within sound levels generally accepted as being legally permitted.

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