Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Best Practices

By Audrey Fraizer

The violence of mob actions depicted in written word and video makes you nauseous. An overwhelming feeling of dread watching the tension build pushes the more sensitive or, at least, the more street naïve observers further down in their chairs.

In one scene, a mob of at least 50 angry female teenagers in New York City carry knives, blades, and guns, challenging a girl with a heart problem to come out of her house to face the consequences of a “he said, she said” quarrel, shouting, “We’re gonna punch you in the chest. We’re gonna fix your heart condition.” Two officers arriving at the scene are knocked down and “banged up” pretty badly before they’re able to call for back-up assistance. Firefighters from the nearby New York City Fire Department Engine Company 138 blast the violent mob with their high-powered water cannon. Nine are arrested.

A mob of 50 to 70 people from a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada, surround a police truck and ambulance, pelting cans, bottles, and debris at emergency responders and curse Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), blaming them for injuries to a partier who crashed his ATV into a ditch during a police drunk and disorderly pursuit. Mob members on ATVs and cars follow the ambulance to the hospital, banging on the doors to get to the people barricaded inside. A RCMP vehicle is set on fire and an ambulance is severely damaged.

An Edmonton (Canada) police officer responding to a fight at the Oil City Roadhouse is punched and kicked in a “terrifying” downtown swarming that leaves him bleeding and bruised; earlier that same year, a second Edmonton police officer is beaten unconscious by hoodlums near a high school.

A violent mob in Alice Springs, Australia, throws rocks and swings logs at police attempting to place a “very drunk” couple into protective custody. Tasers used against the crowd prove ineffective and police are forced to release the man and woman they had taken into custody.

The incidents, which occurred between 2009 and 2012, demonstrate an alarming trend in violence against police officers and medical crews responding to scenes of mob rule and reports of disorderly conduct fueled by the use of social media channels and text messages to attract larger numbers to the incendiary situations.

According to numbers provided at the Navigator 2012 session “Swarming: An Officer Safety Issue,” more than 60,000 police officers worldwide are attacked each year, either by lone assailants or the actions of escalating mob disturbances at sporting events, labor disputes, parties, and other gatherings triggering civil unrest. While swarming—the unexpected gathering of large numbers of people in particular public locales—doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, someone causing a disturbance within a crowd can trigger antisocial behavior. Violence can erupt spontaneously and grows out of crowd dynamics.

“Mobs make everyone vulnerable,” said Edmonton Police Service Sgt. Joan Ashmore. “People get caught up in the moment, emotions take over.”

Real and potential events like these— assaults on police and mob violence—in Edmonton’s burgeoning entertainment district several years ago led to the creation of the Edmonton Public Safety Compliance Team (PSCT), as part of the city’s Responsible Hospitality Edmonton (RHE) initiative. The multi-agency PSCT, consisting of the Edmonton Police Service, Edmonton Fire Safety, City of Edmonton Community Standards Branch, and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, oversees the safety of the hospitality industry—bars, nightclubs, events, and after-hours clubs—and monitors the impact these businesses have on their surrounding communities.

The PSCT plays multiple roles within Edmonton, Ashmore said.

The team selects premises for joint agency attendance and inspection based on a number of factors including past history and special events. They provide guidelines and standards for establishments involved in the sale and service of alcohol and support local strategies that help reduce crime (surveillance, reinforcement, and access control). They enforce municipal and provincial ordinances, such as the Edmonton Public Places Bylaw that regulates smoking, fighting, urinating, and defecating in a public place, dangerous actions, weapons (capable of firing projectiles), bullying, and handbills.

The team also protects those in the service of protecting others, according to copresenter Tracy Ward, a sergeant with more than 20 years experience with the Edmonton Police Service, with the last nine years as a calltaker and dispatcher.

“The mood has changed,” she said. “Uniforms no longer command respect. The mob mentality can be like something out of the book Lord of the Flies. Mob rule means imposing what the mob wants.”