Is a massacre required?

All does not appear well with police and military crowd control.
The Confederations Cup is now just over three months away and the World Cup 15 months. Experience with previous major events, notably the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, is that we can expect all kinds of protesters to protest all kinds of issues in the run-up to both events.
We can no doubt also expect some street theatre – and some violence – during several upcoming wage negotiations such as that for the security (guard) industry. Tensions will likely run high as tight company margins clash with empty worker wallets.            
The police have spent R660 million on equipment, including six Robinson R44 Raven II light helicopters (two delivered), 10 Israeli water cannon, mobile command vehicles, 300 mobile cameras, 54 BMW patrol vehicles and French body armour.
The French Gendarmerie National and Police National, that country`s two law enforcement agencies, last October also presented a four-week train-the-trainer programme to school their South African counterparts in the use of the newly acquired “Robocop”-style crowd control equipment and the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) associated with their use.
These will allow police to deal with potentially, or actually violent, crowds at arms length or, anyways, at greater distances than is now the case.
The police afterwards gave the media a demonstration of these techniques as well as the equipment.
The problem is this is not translating into reality.
Police early last month reportedly threw every rule out of the window in dealing with student protest at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in Pretoria.
Tut, tut
Television footage showed police firing at a disabled student and at a journalist in what Gauteng community safety MEC Firoz Cachalia has labelled “clear evidence of police officers involved in unlawful assault of protesters.”
Cachalia says he appreciated the difficult situation that police officers often found themselves in during tense and volatile protests. But it was the responsibility of the police to uphold the rule of law and ensure public safety.
“Most importantly the police need to ensure that the rights of peaceful protesters are respected,” said Cachalia. “In a democratic society we cannot allow and will not tolerate gratuitous violence by the police who have the responsibility to enforce law and observe Constitution-protected freedoms.”
Cachalia has ordered a probe. The Congress of South African Trade Union adds it has for some time been calling on police “to refrain from using maximum and aggressive force in dealing with peaceful demonstration whether in our communities during service delivery protest or at the student campuses.
“We can`t accept the situation where our police officers behave and handle public order policing in ways that are reminiscent of the apartheid era of the 1980s,” the labour federation said in a statement. 
If this is French state of the art, we are in trouble. I`m pretty sure it is not. Crowd violence can be brutal in France and the paramilitary Gendarmerie is well versed in the tactics, techniques and procedures of combating this – and staying alive, as was explained to me some years ago by a senior Gendarme, Colonel Claude Vicaire.
Key is firm leadership, absolute discipline in the face of provocation or under stoning as well as working in cohesive formations. Crowd control is a team sport. Individual policemen running around shooting at passers by is none of this. Yet it seems to be standard tactics now.
Dysfunctional doctrine
I have it on impeccable authority that police crowd control is a disaster in terms of doctrine and standard of instruction. Well, one could see that at the TUT. The authority adds that the police`s doctrine is dysfunctional in that it expects the local bobby-on-the-beat to deal with so-called “level 1” incidents where violence is not expected. “Robocop” (the Crime Combating Unit) is on standby with stun grenades, bean-bag baton rounds and gas for “level 3” incidents where violence is anticipated.     
Problem is what happens when a crowd turns violent and the CCU with their “Robocop” kit is not available? Worse, who can tell when a crowd will turn nasty? In SA that can happen in seconds, even at a Sunday school picnic.
So, when all goes pear-shaped it is likely the CCU will not be around. On the scene will be which-ever police officers your local station commissioner could scrape together. Their training, equipment, armament and ammunition will be left to pot luck.
It is almost certain they will lack numbers, the cohesion that repeated group training brings and equipment compatible with minimum force – and they will therefore resort to violence early. A lack of discipline and shoddy leadership will not help.
An ill-assorted, ill-dressed force with low cohesion, poor discipline, soaring adrenaline and shotguns, side arms and assault rifles will face a hostile crowd, one in which elements are doing their best to provoke police. There may be petrol bombs. There will certainly be stones, glass and bricks. They will attempt to close with the police.
Police doctrine used to require a 50 metre distance between cop and crowd. This allowed an adequate distance to fire baton rounds. At closer than 20 metres these plastic projectiles can be quite deadly.
Indications are that police doctrine now allows for close contact between cop and crowd. But there is no indication they have the equipment to safely handle angry mobs at that range.
Shades of Sharpeville    
Adrenaline charged police, battling emotions of fight and flight, elation and fear have previously faced off crowds with inappropriate weapons. We are days away from the commemoration of one such memorable moment: 21 March 1960.  
The police are the primary authority for dealing with unruly crowds. But as was seen during the June 2007 public sector strike the military can quickly be mobilised to maintain public services and provide protection for the same.
But the services have long ago discarded the appropriate equipment and training and the soldiers deployed to guard hospitals and the like had no equipment compatible with minimum force. In at least one incident the only force available to a soldier was deadly force, just as it was to the police to Sharpeville in 1960.  
The clock is ticking towards a massacre. Crowd control is a serious business. Let`s hope it does not take a judicial commission of inquiry for us to treat it so.