Former chief: policing protest safety a ‘delicate balance’

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following a weekend protest where a demonstrator was shot and killed, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said protesters had been trying to create distance between themselves and officers.

Manley said one of the challenges for officers was that protesters would drive vehicles behind marchers “to keep officers further back or to interfere with officers that may be trying to reach the crowd.”

Manley added this didn’t create a major delay in APD’s response, but the details of what led up to the city’s first protest-related death are still murky.

Calls for reform amid a wave of unrest protesting racism and police tactics have affected the way some departments monitor and control protests.

In Austin, police can no longer use tear gas or less-than lethal rounds on protesters.

But keeping demonstrators safe while not escalating the situation is a ‘delicate balance’ for officers, said Bob Harrison, a researcher with the think tank RAND Corporation.

Harrison is a former police chief in California. He says policing a protest can be challenging, especially if protesters are on the move.

He said the most important factor for keeping everyone safe is the preparation that comes beforehand.

“I think the obligation of the police is to make every effort to reach out to protest organizers, to negotiate the space,” said Harrison.

He said police can prepare for where protesters may encounter drivers, yet give crowds adequate space.

“The better you can visually manage, the more effectively I think you can remain at a distance,” he said.

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