Protect and Serve

Delta Three Oscar explores how innovations in blunt trauma impact protection, coupled with new approaches to crowd management, are changing the way law enforcement officers interact with citizens.

‘An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will’ – this famous quotation from 19th century French psychologist Gustave Le Bon encapsulates an approach to crowd management that is very familiar to Rene Gaemers.

A former officer with the Royal Dutch Military Police and Amsterdam Police, and co-founder of Netherlands-based protection specialist XION®, Gaemers is also a crowd management and tactical training expert. “Crowd and public order management has changed remarkably little since the days of Le Bon,” he says.

“Much law enforcement training is still based on the idea that when people gather, they turn into one entity with each person shedding their identity and becoming potentially predisposed to violent collective action. The response is invariably a provocative show of force.”

Gaemers cites as an example the recent confrontations between the Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes protesters and French police: “The core principle of public order management is that the majority of crowds that gather are law-abiding citizens exercising their legal right to protest. In Paris, you had the police kitted up and what began as peaceful demonstrations became violent confrontations with a hostile counter-force.”

Social media and the ease with which grievances can now be shared places law enforcement agencies under ever greater scrutiny, says Gaemers, “from the top by government and from the bottom by the people.”

This, he believes, is causing agencies to retrench into traditional strategies for crowd control – including a ‘RoboCop’ approach to visual appearance: “If you turn up at a crowd gathering looking like you’ve come to fight rather than talk, you risk dehumanizing people who are then more likely to pick up a brick than have a conversation.

“If instead you keep the lines of communication open, it becomes easier to see that although a crowd may have gathered for one purpose, it still consists of individuals, each with their own norms and values.”

At the heart of Gaemers’ philosophy of ‘a crowd management system for our times’ is specialist officer training in de-escalating incidents, together with a new approach to protection: “Our research among serving officers shows that conventional personal protective equipment (PPE) is rigid, bulky and restrictive. Officers don’t like wearing it, so they are likely to become irritable when putting it on – creating a mindset that is then less disposed to negotiation and more prone to aggression. We found that 45 percent of officers in one force chose not to wear a full set of PPE because it was so uncomfortable – they chose comfort over protection.”

“The flexibility and low profile provided by D3O® protection contributes to a non-aggressive appearance”
Simon van Lammeren, Xion Protection

New Standards for PPE

XION’s blunt trauma impact protective base layers incorporating D3O® technology offer maximum protection for key areas of the body without compromising on freedom of movement. “The flexibility and low profile provided by D3O® protection contributes to a non-aggressive appearance that is central to this new approach,” says XION co-founder Simon van Lammeren.

“One of our biggest challenges has been to influence the tendering processes for PPE among law enforcement agencies,” he adds. “Most tend to copy and paste prior requirements for rigid foam protection, mounted on plastic with straps. Instead, the protective pads in XION® products are CE certified to the EN1621 motorcycle standard, which is
a commercial standard that’s regularly updated. In our view, this standard is more relevant to equipping officers in the future so they are protected but not visually threatening.”

Gaemers has partnered with Neil Pollock, a retired public order and tactical advisor with the Metropolitan Police in London, and the U.S. Government Training Institute (GTI), to address the needs of state and local law enforcement agencies through research-based training. The resulting five-day Public Order Commanders Course from the Public Order Management Academy (POMA) is a direct response to increasing demand from within the law enforcement community for a rethink of approaches to crowd management. “The first of many to come,” says Gaemers.

According to Brian Naillon, vice-president of the GTI, “there is always a need to assess the effectiveness of current tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). It is simply the nature of effective response management. There is a constant need for adaptation when it comes to rules of engagement as laws, platforms and people are constantly evolving and the industry must continue to morph to match this ever-changing environment.


“In the US, crowd control is only now becoming commonplace along with a recognition that public order requires a specialized team with specialized skills. Many of the tools and procedures still being deployed
are antiquated; the ‘one size fits all’ method is no longer an effective strategy.”

In addition, a number of law enforcement agencies have invested in XION®’s low-profile impact protective base layers, including the Swedish National Police, Royal Dutch Military Police and Madrid Motor Police, while agencies in the US including the Portland Oregon Police Bureau have begun trials.

“The Portland Bureau have found that their officers appreciated how the change to their appearance helped them communicate more effectively with members of the public,” says van Lammeren. “We are currently equipping 70 members of their team, after which the ambition is for them to begin training with GTI. We hope they will become advocates not only for this non-aggressive approach to PPE but also for a change to the standards specified in PPE tenders.”

“All law enforcement officers take an oath to ‘serve and protect’,” Gaemers concludes, “and that includes protecting protestors. Equipping and training officers so they are both physically and emotionally more agile and responsive is surely the key to building a stronger relationship with the communities they look after.”

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