Police dealing with protesters aim to enforce laws with minimal force, said Ret. Col Andy Mazzara, director of the Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies at Penn State University, which studies how the military and local law enforcement can use non-lethal options. The level of force the public will find acceptable “is always a consideration,” Mazzara said.
That is factored into both techniques and technology, Mazzara said. Police have adjusted tactics over time: They now rarely use dogs or water cannons to control crowds after they stoked public outrage during the civil rights era, he said, while horses remain effective because of their size and the fact that people respect them.
Protesters gathered in McPherson Square in Washington to take part in Occupy DC, a growing movement against corporate greed that started in New York with Occupy Wall Street. The protesters said they do not have a specific goal in mind.
A bigger shift has come as Twitter and videos of police response, such as those created in California, have sparked debates over tactics, Mazzara said.
Cameras can also offer protection, said Nathan J. Lugo-Montanez, a senior consultant with New York City-based Deft Security Consultants, which has advised businesses in New York and New Jersey to capture Occupy protesters on video.
“When someone’s being recorded, they’re very much aware and they adjust their actions accordingly,” Lugo-Montanez said.
In the District, the Occupy D.C. group recently grew after marchers from New York arrived Tuesday. Police have worked with protesters at times, Metropolitan Police Department officers accompanying them on marches through the city, most notably last week when they took to the Key Bridge.
But Lanier also said her agency would “adjust tactics” after an incident earlier this month at the Washington Convention Center. Witnesses said some demonstrators trapped conservative activists inside the center and four protesters were hit by a vehicle.
“The Metropolitan Police Department supports an individual’s right to assemble and first seeks voluntary compliance with the law,” department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said. “However, if participants in a First Amendment assembly fail to comply with laws, MPD will take appropriate action.”
District Mayor Vincent C. Gray has supported Lanier. When 13 protesters were arrested downtown last week after they entered the abandoned Franklin School, Gray said law-breaking would not be tolerated.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.