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Crowd control is the use of a variety of tactics to keep a crowd orderly in the interests of protecting health and safety. One of the goals is to prevent a riot, where people in the crowd may panic, break out in violence, and endanger themselves and each other. The next step up from crowd control is riot control, where people may use harsher tactics to bring order to a crowd. People involved in crowd control can include law enforcement, private security, and event organizers.
Some methods for crowd control involve asking people to abide by some basic rules to maintain good order, such as forming lines, making sure passersby have room to navigate, and not shoving or pushing. Signs often provide information about how to behave. People can also erect barriers to control the movement of the crowd. Crowd control barriers can range from concrete blocks to tapes suspended from stanchions, depending on the setting.
Security officers and law enforcement can also be present to help with crowd control. If members of the crowd become restless, people can step in to issue verbal orders to calm down, or attempt to resolve conflict. Sometimes, crowds grow larger than expected and it is necessary to funnel the overflow crowd to another area for safety. Law enforcement also want to keep an eye out for issues like pickpockets or people who appear to be in medical distress.
Crowd control may be necessary for large public events, big sales where large crowds are expected, and protests. In many regions, people expecting a crowd must request a permit from the government to gather. The permit provides warning to businesses and people in the area that a major event may obstruct traffic and cause other issues, and also allows law enforcement agencies to plan ahead with extra staffing and changes to schedules for assisting with crowd control or responding if the crowd starts to riot.
In riot control, law enforcement have more powers and can do things like controlling crowds with riot shields, making arrests, and using chemicals like pepper spray or nerve gas to force a crowd to disperse or comply with orders. Some riot control tactics are controversial. In some nations, civil rights activists may express concerns that law enforcement officers jump too quickly from providing basic assistance to treating members of a crowd like rioters.