Editorial: Police tactics with college riot were intelligent

Published 10:21 am Thursday, April 24, 2014

We would like to commend the police officers and commanders who reacted to the two sports riots last week at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis following the two men’s hockey teams games in the Frozen Four.

Too often over the years, police handling large, rowdy crowds of young people gathering on or near university campuses would take an offensive stance, trying to break up the crowd but instead inciting it to further violence. After all, what member of a mob wants to be shoved around and beaten? Aggression leads to more aggression.

The smart play by police in Dinkytown was to provide a calm presence and contain the crowd. That means police seal off streets and people can leave but no one can join. And it means keeping a good eye on the crowd to watch for property damage. When things got out of hand and property was at risk after the first game, police had to use non-lethal force to break up the crowd. In fact, the only injury was a police officer who suffered a broken ankle, according to one report in the news media. The cops weren’t out to maim celebrating sports fans.

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The university, on the day in between the games, warned students to stay away. After the first-game riot, all nine of the arrested were students. And away they stayed. After the second, only five of the 19 arrested were students. The PR campaign worked.

Riots on campuses, particularly after sports events, have become all-too common. The University of Connecticut experienced riots after the men’s basketball team made the Final Four and again after it won the national championship. But it isn’t always related to sports. Iowa State University had one April 8 during a student-run celebration in what appears to be a right-of-passage riot, because they keep happening every eight to 10 years after large house parties in Ames are broken up.

In the 1990s and prior, police too often went into college-age crowds with a mentality of busting heads and breaking knees. Sometimes, bystanders were hurt. When students were injured and needed medical bills paid, it didn’t exactly sit well with the mothers and fathers footing the hefty cost of college tuition.

But more importantly, it’s good to know the law enforcement community evolves and grows as research reveals wiser tactics. Brains outdo brawn more often than not. Good work.