The recent shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri sparked protesting, rioting and looting in the streets. The incidents led to a massive police presence to help keep the peace.
Police Chief Mark Mew joined Daybreak Wednesday morning for the August edition of “Cup with the Chief” to talk about how the Anchorage Police Department would handle this type of situation.
Mew wants everyone to understand that there is a significant difference between a protest and a riot.
“A protest is an organized event,” he said. “It’s a group of people that have a grievance of some kind. They’re trying to make a point. They have a leader. They have an objective. Most of the time they have a permit or some notion of what the law requires them to do and where the boundaries are between legal and illegal behavior.”
According to the chief, APD has worked with protest organizers in the past, sometimes well in advance of a protest.
“We engage with their leadership,” Mew said. “We know what they’re about, we talk about how the rules of engagement will go. We figure out how to work with them.”
But protests can transform into riots when infiltrated by external forces, the chief says. Mew says he believes this can happen when people arrive from outside the city. Those people may try to “steal the protest” and turn it into a riot.
“We try to work together with protest organizers to figure out how to prevent that from happening,” Mew said. “Then we try to identify those infiltrators and remove them from the equation. We’re really there to keep the peace and help the protestors get what they want accomplished and not have crimes committed.”
The chief described a riot as “anarchy,” characterized by no leader and no objective. If a protest were to escalate, he says, APD would handle a riot with a tactical response. The degree of the response would depend on the degree of the threat. How much property is being destroyed and how many lives are being threatened are taken into consideration, he says.
“We would try to handle it with as little force as possible,” Mew said. “We do have SWAT teams, we do have equipment and larger ways of delivering force, but we don’t take that stuff lightly. We’re not the type of department that’s going to bring all that stuff out and show it off to send some sort of message.”
Mew outlined police protocol in riot situations. First, the department would assign smaller details to individual hot spots. If the situation goes on for days or gets too big to handle, APD would then set up an emergency operation center. Then, there may be declarations the mayor or governor would make. Afterward, the police department might request assistance from resources such as the National Guard.