Morris County Sheriff’s Officers on Tuesday, November 26, underwent in-depth training on how to lawfully maintain crowd control during emotional and politically-charged protests and public gatherings.
The field force training, which occurred on the grounds of the New Jersey National Guard Armory in Morris Township, combined discussion of civil disobedience and First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly with physical tactics on how Sheriff’s Officers and all law enforcement Officers can protect themselves and others from harm in volatile and riot conditions.
Retired Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz, an expert consultant in crowd and riot control, taught the session according to national standards. He stressed that police are obligated to protect proponents and opponents of an issue, and emphasized how Officers must strive to maintain calm and neutral attitudes in volatile settings while letting crowds know their boundaries through decisive words, stances and line formations.
“I’m training you for your safety as well as the people you are sworn to protect,” Instructor Demnitz said. He noted that Officers, in keeping potentially volatile events as peaceable as possible, also must display a cohesive and confident front to dissuade protesters from becoming unruly or violent.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon visited the session, and called Instructor Demnitz “the subject matter expert.” He said that Officers can expect to be called upon at any time to help preserve a safe environment – whether during a union dispute, a march or an organized protest.
“Regardless of who the parties are we have a duty to protect them,” Sheriff Gannon said, noting that the Sheriff’s role is peacekeeper of Morris County.
As long as ample alternative opportunities are provided for free speech expression, the time, place and manner of that expression – such as a public protest – can be restricted when public safety is at stake, Instructor Demnitz advised.
He split the group of Sheriff’s Officers from the Bureau of Law Enforcement into four squads and had them discuss multiple other high-profile protests from around the country and how they were handled by law enforcement Officers.
Then, outdoors in the Armory parking lot, the group practiced line formations and use of gear in establishing boundaries and controlling crowds. They practiced lawful measures of dealing with protesters who sit down or block ingress or egress from a scene and how to safely remove arrestees from a crowd.
Instructor Demnitz also had the Officers prepare for the worst by donning riot gear that includes gas masks and protective helmets with shields, in the event they are in a situation where weapons, rocks, bottles or chemical agents are used.
The training was overseen by Morris County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenants Walter Rawa and Aaron Tomasini, who both have attended Field Force Command Training for Executives at Fort Dix.