Mar 082005
 
Authors: Brian Park

How to disperse and contain a riot in an appropriate fashion is once again up discussion after recent events that took place in College Park, Md.

On the night of Feb. 12, the University of Maryland men's basketball team beat archrival Duke University for the second time this season. Afterward, Maryland students and fans gathered in downtown College Park to celebrate, but police broke up the celebration with pepper spray, pepper balls, clubs and horses.

Riots and out-of-control celebrations also have occurred locally at CSU and the University of Colorado-Boulder. The two most recent riots in Fort Collins occurred the weekend before fall semester. Different methods of containment are enforced throughout the country.

Capt. Bob Chaffee of the CSU Police Department said that while a riot or something similar has not occurred on campus since back in the 1980s, his department does assist Fort Collins Police Services upon request. The police force is trained to use pepper spray and balls when needed, but not horses.

"Pepper balls are meant to target specific people but we have to evaluate how dangerous the situation is, if property is being damaged or if people are being injured and take appropriate action," Chaffee said.

Police on horseback are used only at football games. The officers on horseback have a better vantage point to see the crowd and are not used for intimidation purposes, just to get a better sense of what is going on, Chaffee said.

Lt. Tim McGraw of the CU-Boulder Police Department believes each situation is unique and should be treated carefully. Commanders at the scene decide the appropriate steps to take, McGraw said.

The CU-Boulder Police Department uses pepper spray and balls and Taser stun guns, but no horses.

"Discretion to use those devices is made at the individual level," McGraw said.

As for using horses in these situations McGraw said he thinks the animals would not be in a suitable environment.

"You cannot put a gas mask on a horse," McGraw said.

Rita Davis, spokeswoman for the Fort Collins police, said officers are not concerned about parties that are happening but are concerned with some people's out-of-control behavior. The police's preference is to disperse a crowd peacefully and without incident.

Fort Collins Police Services does not have mounted patrol either but will use pepper spray or balls when the situation arises. Have a party but be responsible about it by knowing who is coming to the party and having a sober monitor, Davis said.

"Each of these incidents has to be assessed independently," Davis said. "We were all in college at one time and we realize parties occur but we do not want to see a riot situation come about."

The crowd at Maryland was estimated at a few thousand and there was minimal property damage and very few injuries, said George Cathcart, director of university communications at Maryland.

"The university was very pleased with the outcome and that order was restored quickly," Cathcart said. "The situation has been turned into a big deal for the campus newspaper but other than that the university is satisfied with how things were carried out."

Some students at the university have a different opinion on how the crowd was broken up, such as Bret Cohen, president of the campus chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a senior computer science and information systems major.

"I understand that things get out of control," Cohen said. "But the police treated it as a way more volatile situation than it was.

Cohen said the occurrence should not even be considered a riot since there was no looting or fighting, and the police should not knock people down or push them when they are just standing on the sidewalk or trying to get out the way.

"People were just standing in the middle of the street or on the sidewalks," Cohen said. "That is not an excuse to shoot pepper spray or balls into a crowd, especially after what occurred when the (Boston) Red Sox won last year."

Cohen is referring to a 21-year-old Emerson College student who died last year from a head injury after a police officer fired a pepper-filled pellet into the crowd. The student was celebrating the Boston Red Sox World Series victory over the New York Yankees.

A Maryland student was also seriously injured from a pepper ball. The student was hit in the face, right below the eye, by a pepper ball and needed 40 stitches to heal the wound. Cohen said these types of police tactics are unacceptable and police need to learn how to calm a crowd in a more acceptable manner so in the future no student should be shot in the face unless all other options have been assessed.

Maj. Cathy Atwell, University of Maryland police spokeswoman, supports what the police officers did in order to quell the crowd.

"My organization was responsible and used techniques that were needed to disperse the crowd," Atwell said.

The techniques Atwell described are the ones that some students have said were an unacceptable way to treat the situation. Using pepper spray and pepper balls as well as batons and shields are all different tactics the police are taught to use in riot or riot-like situations. It is up to the officer when he or she feels like certain tactics are deemed necessary and should be used. The police force also uses horses as a way to control the crowd.

"Horses are a wonderful crowd-control technique and tend to work very well," Atwell said. "People tend to move a lot easier for horses than they do for just standing officers."

Atwell said officers patrol on horseback and can see over the crowd much better than on foot. If people do not move for the horses, the officers have a right to arrest them. In Maryland, if a person interferes with a horse or will not comply with the officers on horseback then the police can arrest that person. A horse is an extension of a police officer and if a person is arrested for assaulting or hurting the horse they will be charged with assaulting an officer.

Cathcart agrees with the techniques used by the officers.

"I hope it sends a signal to people that this type of behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable and there is not a place for it at this university," Cathcart said.

While Cohen disagrees with the actions taken by police on that night, he said something should be done to ensure similar incidents do not occur.

"I think the police know what they did and overall steps are being taken so nothing like this will happen in the future," Cohen said. "There needs to be some way for students to gather to scream, chant and celebrate, like a university-sanctioned event or a concert, but for right now I do not think anything like what just happened will occur again. Students will be way more weary and careful next time."

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