October 8, 2022

A crowd control tragedy, body cameras on federal agents, a serial killer in California, and more


PERF members,

Today I want to cover a few events in the news this week, and also share some news from PERF.

Tragedy at an Indonesian soccer stadium

I’ll start with an international story: the death of 131 people after a stampede at an Indonesian soccer stadium. After a match, police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse a violent crowd. As the crowd panicked and fled, many were trampled. To add to the confusion, some of the exit gates reportedly had not been unlocked, trapping the crowd. It’s one of the deadliest accidents ever at a sporting event.

The facts of this incident are still coming out, and there will be major administrative investigations that look at how the police planned for the event and the tactics that undoubtedly played a role in this tragedy. The police use of gas is particularly concerning.

The use of tear gas was a major concern across the United States in the summer of 2020. PERF issued a report on responding to mass demonstrations that identified a number of issues with its use. It concluded that:

CS gas should be considered to disperse a crowd only when the following conditions have been met:

  • The crowd has become violent or is causing significant property damage.
  • Police have issued an order to disperse and have repeatedly communicated that order to the crowd. . . .
  • Police have given the crowd ample time to comply with the dispersal order and have provided specific instructions about how to comply.

When I heard about the incident in Indonesia, I recalled the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred during a soccer match in England in 1989.

During a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the police commander ordered that an exit gate be opened to relieve crowd pressure that was building up outside the turnstile area. This led to an influx of thousands of spectators rushing into an already overcrowded section of the stadium. Ninety-six people died, and hundreds were injured.

The Hillsborough tragedy led to changes in how athletic stadiums in the U.K. are designed and how crowds are managed at large events. Most stadiums were converted to only provide seating areas, without potentially dangerous standing spaces where crowds could converge. An inquiry report instructed that all officers should be properly trained to monitor crowd sizes and recognize signs of overcrowding and distress. It also called for improved coordination between police, team officials, and other local authorities to handle crowd management at sporting events. As is often the case, clear planning and communication are key to ensuring safety. For example, I have been to soccer games in Scotland where the police separate the various factions in attendance by literally positioning themselves between them.

My thoughts are with all the victims of the tragedy in Indonesia, and I hope police officials study this incident to learn from this tragedy to better prepare for future crowd-control situations.

Body cameras for Interior Department law enforcement

The Interior Department announced this week that its law enforcement officers would be required to wear body cameras to record interactions with the public. Under the policy, the Department will “strive to expedite the public release” of footage of critical incidents.

This is a welcome announcement and brings the Department in line with practices that have become common in local police agencies. As I wrote in this column last year, for years the federal government encouraged local law enforcement to use body-worn cameras but didn’t put cameras on its own agents. The public has come to expect this degree of transparency from both local and federal law enforcement. The Justice Department finally took this step last year, and I’m glad the Department of the Interior has changed its policies to conform with best practices.

Serial killer terrorizing California

News broke this week that police believe a serial killer in California has killed six men and injured one woman in Oakland and Stockton over the past 18 months. Police believe the shooter killed a man in Oakland and injured a woman in Stockton in April 2021, then killed five more men in Stockton from July through September of this year. Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden described the shooter, who has not been identified, as “on a mission.”

This is a terrifying situation and reminds me of the “D.C. sniper” attacks that the Washington, D.C. area experienced 20 years ago this very month. Those attacks were particularly complicated to investigate because they were spread out across different jurisdictions, and agencies throughout the region needed to work together to connect the cases.

PERF was asked by the Justice Department to review the case, and our report identified lessons learned from the investigation. On the 20th anniversary of this case, we know that even today a serial murderer or rapist can move across the country. Without the sharing of time-sensitive information and close cooperation between agencies, these crimes will hide under the radar.

Kudos to police in Stockton and Oakland for connecting these crimes, which should help them apprehend the shooter.

Did the killing of George Floyd end the police show?

This week I read a fascinating article by Marc Tracy in the New York Times on how TV police shows have changed in response to recent public debates about policing. “In 2020 the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people spurred many Americans to take a hard look at the police. Including the police of TV,” Tracy writes. “Two years later, it is clear that rumors of the cop show’s demise were greatly exaggerated.… But beneath the surface, there are signs that the genre has been evolving in response to the current climate, which saw public trust in law enforcement reach a record low two years ago, even as a political backlash to some of the sharpest slogans, like ‘Defund the Police,’ began to form.”

Tracy goes on to describe a new CBS police drama, East New York: “It aims to explore the world of law enforcement in a more nuanced way, even featuring plotlines about, yes, community policing.”

Anyone in policing will tell you that cop shows often don’t portray the profession accurately and in some cases don’t even try to. Sometimes it feels like the public is a bit conflicted — paying to see action-packed police stories with car chases and shootouts, while also asking why the police engage in unnecessary force and high-speed pursuits.

I haven’t watched East New York, but I hope shows that give a more nuanced and accurate view of policing find an audience. We want the public to understand the day-to-day work that police actually do, and TV can play a major role in that.

SCOTUS declines challenge to bump stock ban

The Supreme Court announced this week that it wouldn’t hear a challenge to the ban on bump stocks put in place by the Trump Administration. The announcement came just after the fifth anniversary of the Las Vegas mass shooting, when a bump stock was used in a massacre that killed 60 and injured hundreds.

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach will join us at our Town Hall Meeting in Dallas next Sunday, and I’ll ask him about bump stocks and the anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting. What does the ban on bump stocks mean for local law enforcement? And what progress have we made since the Las Vegas shooting in preventing other massacres from happening today? I look forward to discussing this and other important questions.

Upcoming PERF events

Speaking of our Town Hall Meeting, I hope you will all join us in Dallas one week from tomorrow. We have many provocative issues to discuss, including:

  • Why is there so little discussion of community policing today — or more specifically, what does community policing look like in 2022?
  • Earlier this year, a federal law was passed recognizing for the first time that officers who die by suicide may be afforded the status of a line-of-duty death. What are the implications of this new law? Also on the issue of mental health, should agencies implement mandatory mental health checkups?
  • How are agencies addressing increases in gun violence?
  • What can we learn from agencies that are trying out alternative response strategies?

We’ll also hear from some chiefs who recently faced challenges in their cities, as well as federal officials from ATF, CBP, BJA, and COPS. The meeting will take place from 1:00-5:00 on Sunday in Exhibit Hall F of the convention center and will be immediately followed by a reception from 5:00-7:00. Also please take some time to stop by our booth (#7007) in the exposition hall on Monday and Tuesday. We look forward to seeing you there.

And on November 3, we’re hosting a conference in Washington, D.C. on Best Practices and Innovations in Police Recruitment and Retention.  We’ll be bringing together hundreds of police officials and other experts to discuss innovative ways to attract the next generation of police officers and retain those already on the job. Click here for more information and to register.

Two new additions to PERF’s Board of Directors

Finally, I want to welcome two police chiefs to PERF’s Board of Directors and congratulate two chiefs who were selected to serve another term by PERF’s general members. Chief John Drake of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has joined the board as Secretary. Seattle Chief Adrian Diaz is now Treasurer. Clearwater, Fla. Chief Daniel Slaughter was selected for a second term as Vice President, and Charleston, S.C. Chief Luther Reynolds is continuing as a Member At-Large.

Welcome to our two new board members, and thanks to Volusia County, Fla. Sheriff Mike Chitwood for his four years of service on the PERF Board.

Have a great weekend!