Civil Disorder Cj313 Crisis Intervention
Civil Disorders may be generally defined as any conduct of
more than one person which destroys of menaces the public
order and tranquillity. Civil disorders take many forms.
The better known type is a riot in which a mob burns,
destroys property or terrorizes individuals. However, other
types may be passive. A group that blocks roadways,
sidewalks or buildings also interferes with public order.
From the United States Code: Title 18 - Crimes and
Criminal Procedure; Part 1 - Crimes; Chapter 12 - Civil
Disorders §231 (Legal Information Institute, 1997), states:
+ (1) Whoever teaches or demonstrates to any other person
the use, application, or making of any firearm or explosive
or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing
injury of death to persons, knowing or having reason to
know or intending that the same will be unlawfully employed
for use in, or in furtherance of, a civil disorder which
may in any way or degree obstruct, delay, or aversely
affect commerce or the movement of any article or commodity
in commerce of the conduct or performance of any federally
protected function; or
+ (2) Whoever transports of manufactures for
transportation in commerce any firearm, or explosive or
incendiary device, knowingly or having reason to know or
intend that the same will be used unlawfully in furtherance
of a civil disorder; or
+ (3) Whoever commits or attempts to commit any act to
obstruct, impede, or interfere with any fireman or law
enforcement officer lawfully engaged in the lawful
performance of his official duties incident to and during
the commission of a civil disorder which in any way or
degree obstructs, delays, or adversely affects commerce or
the movement of any article or commodity in commerce or the
conduct of performance of any federally protected function
- Shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not
more that five years, or both.
It has been said that the first business of government is
maintaining public order (Los Angeles County Sheriff
Emergency Operations Bureau, 1997). The requirement to
"insure domestic tranquility" is listed in the Preamble of
the U.S. Constitution. Disturbing public order or public
peace usually involves fighting, attempting or threatening
to injure someone, unreasonable noise, damaging property,
trespassing or disturbing a lawful business or public
meeting. These violations may be spontaneous, as when a mob
erupts into violence, or they may be planned, as when a
demonstration or protest intentionally interferes with
another individual or lawful business. Laws which deal with
these types of behaviors are generally grouped into
"offences which disturb the public peace" and range from
misdemeanors to felonies such as looting and rioting (City
of New York; NY Police Department, 1995).
The 1960's and 70's were turbulent periods in American
history as controversy over civil rights and an unpopular
war in Vietnam periodically reached great heights.
Confrontations occurred throughout the United States, often
resulting in large-scale destruction and occasionally
death. Major riots occurred in Los Angeles, California in
1965; Detroit, Michigan in 1967; Chicago, Illinois in 1968;
Santa Barbara, California in 1970; and East Los Angeles,
California in 1970 and 71 (Los Angeles County Sheriff
Emergency Operations Bureau, 1997).
Violent rioting once again erupted across the country on
April 29, 1992, when four police officers were acquitted
after being accused of beating Rodney King, a black suspect
at the time. More recently, issues such as abortion, gay
rights, immigration and gun control have been highly
controversial and emotions are high on all sides of the
issues. Incidents of civil disorder have erupted from
gatherings at athletic competitions, demonstrations and
political rallies. The delicate balance between an
individuals legitimate expression of dissent and the right
of the general public to live in domestic tranquillity
requires the diligent efforts of law enforcement to avoid
such confrontations (Los Angeles County Sheriff Emergency
Operations Bureau, 1997).
The primary problem the law enforcement faces when dealing
with civil disorders is the identification of crowds and
mobs. A fundamental understanding between these two is
needed for effective enforcement. Crowds can be classified
into four general categories (Los Angeles County Sheriff
Emergency Operations Bureau, 1997):
1. A casual crowd is simply a group of people who happen
to be in the same place at the same time. These include
shoppers and sightseers; violent behavior is nonexistent.
2. A cohesive crowd includes members who are involved in
some form of unified conduct. These consist of worshipping,
dancing, singing or observing a sporting event. Though
there is intense emotions and discipline involved (ex.
Rooting for one's team), they need to be provoked to
produce violent behavior.
3. An expressive crowd is one held together by a common
purpose. Although they may not be formally organized, they
are gathered for the expression of a common idea, or
frustration. This type of crowd is best identified as a
4. An aggressive crowd is comprised of individuals who
have assembled for a specific purpose. It often has some
form of leadership designed to arouse members or motivate
them to act upon something. Members are noisy, threatening
and highly emotional, which will only require minimal
provocation to arouse violence. This type of crowd is
commonly seen in demonstrations and strikes.
The single most important thing law enforcement must
remember is that crowds are constitutionally protected.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution states that, "Congress
shall make no law respecting the right of the people to
peaceable assembly." Assemblies that are not peaceable are
not protected; this is the dividing point between a crowd
and a mob.
Riverside Webster's II Dictionary defines a mob as, " A
large, unruly crowd; the mass of common people: rabble."
Mobs are usually emotional, loud, lawless, and violent.
Like crowds, members have different levels of commitment
and there are four different types of mobs (Los Angeles
County Sheriff Emergency Operations Bureau, 1997):
1. An aggressive mob is one that attacks, riots, and
terrorizes. The mob has a primary object: a person,
property, or both. The lawless activity is what
distinguishes an aggressive mob from an aggressive crowd.
Examples of these are mobs at political protests or
rallies, or inmate mobs in jails and prisons when people
act out frustration.
2. An escape mob is attempting to flee from something
such as a fire, bomb, flood or other catastrophe. Members
have lost their ability to reason and are impossible to
control. Terror is the key factor involved with an escape
3. An acquisitive mob is one that is motivated by a
desire to acquire something or someone. Riots that have
lost sight of their overall goal turn into looting sprees.
This mob takes advantage of the lack of authoritative
control. These mobs include the looting in South Central
Los Angeles in 1992, or food riots in other countries.
4. An expressive mob is one that is expressing emotion or
revelry following some sporting event, religious activity
or celebration. Members display a release of held energy in
highly charged situations. These mobs include those that
continuously occur after World Cup Soccer matches
Throughout history civil disorder has been a problem for
law enforcement and government. With recent decisions and
controversial issue awareness and the emotions involved
with these will continuously drive people to commit civil
disorder. Law enforcement's role in dealing with civil
disorders is to be able to distinguish between the types of
crowds and mobs involved with these disorders and to
effectively diffuse them.
City of New York, NY Police Department. (1995). The Civil
Enforcement Initiative. AltaVista,
Legal Information Institute. (1997). U.S. Code. 18 USC Sec.
231 (01/24/94). AltaVista,
Los Angeles County Sheriff Emergency Operations Bureau.
(1997). EOB: Civil Disorder. Civil Disorder. AltaVista,
Snow, T. (1997). The Detroit News. When Civil Rights Turns