Developments since this commentary above was posted (on Thursday 9th June 2016, the commentary in the link covers background on high and low profile policing and understanding risk and threat effectively), suggest that the police approach may have contributed to escalating processes involved in football disorder in Marseille during the early stages of European Football Championship Tournament (Euro) 2016. However, the police are just one variable which could have contributed to the extent of the violence witnessed in recent days; the fans are not innocent. As suggested, in contemporary society there are many threats to safety and order which police and security are responsible for managing at an international tournament. Social science research shows us a robust pattern surrounding mass disorder at crowd events, which explains psychologically how and why disorder of the degree seen can happen.
Undermine the Minority: Conditions Which Support Peace
The behaviours exhibited by fans in Marseille (primarily involving English, French and Russian supporters), which began on Thursday the 8th June 2016, has been some of the worst and longest running examples of football disorder to be seen at international tournaments since Euro 2000. Research for the past thirty years has illustrated a robust pattern surrounding the development and escalation of disorder from ‘minor’ to ‘major’ at crowd events (this is not limited to international football tournaments; the same pattern has been found at festivals, demonstrations, protests, inner city riots ect). Mass disorder cannot happen if a large number of people do not psychologically support the movement for one reason or another, so psychologists have developed a model to explain this.
The model is a staged evolution; 1) most people in Group A feel they are acting legitimately, and law abidingly (although, as with all crowds there are a minority who may seek violence), 2) Group B (this could be police or rival fan groups), see the behaviour of all members of Group A as illegitimate, and perhaps as a threat to law or order, 3) Group B impose their perspective risk on Group A, this is perceived to be disproportionate and threatening by all members of Group A; in turn, this has the effect of empowering the minority of individuals in Group A who sought to cause disorder. This unites the whole of Group A in psychological opposition to Group B. and 4) finally, the behaviours of Group A reinforce Group B’s perspectives of illegitimacy, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy which fuels more high profile responses. This is generally how mass disorder happens psychologically at international tournaments, thus police should avoid creating a context in which high profile approaches can support the development of a mass psychology in favour of violence, rather than keeping it limited to an isolated minority.
Understanding and managing foreign nationals at tournaments is about balancing police deployments to the actual risk on the ground. This psychological science has been translated into practical principles which are supported by the EU Council. These recommendations are based on understanding and effectively managing risk in responding to the various dangers posed at international football tournaments to different audiences. Police, security and the local population are recommended to: 1) ‘educate’, on the nature of the national groups they are policing and the specific risks they pose. Policing should reflect these differences rather than adopting a ‘high profile’ approach for all, 2) ‘facilitate’, the legitimate intentions of fans who are law abiding and want to have a good time; this is, of course, a celebration for many, 3) ‘communicate’, to facilitate actual intelligence from emerging developments, which can often prevent small situations becoming out of hand. However, if there are no police officers present to do so in a balanced and measured way, this can be difficult.
This is not to say that high profile police approaches are not appropriate and effective at managing risk during international tournaments, when the situation calls for this. At Euro 2008, for example, the Germany vs Poland match was perceived to be particularly high risk by locals and police in Klagenfurt, Austria. The picture of the police officers above was taken in the main square in the scenes which I will now describe. For the most part fans were celebratory and peaceful throughout the city on match day, however, at one point at approximately 1500 hrs before kick off Polish and German fans gathered en mass in a main square drinking. At first all was peaceful (see picture below of fans gathering). In that particular geographical area the normative behaviour of fans became increasingly supportive of violent norms and predominantly German nationals and spectators (chanting rather than singing, the song content changed, burning flags etc.). However, after several hours objects began to be thrown towards locals and police, and in response the police increased the profile of deployment. When intelligence arrived to the police of a group of approximately 60 rival Polish Fans behaving similarly aggressively and heading directly for the main square a decision as taken to in prevention apprehend those perceived to be high risk representing both nationalities.
Up until the point at which things were thrown, officers monitored the area in groups of 4 or 5 wearing berets and short sleeved t-shirts (as pictured above). The Austrian and German Police co-operated to implement a preventative mass arrest of 200 individuals (who were known by Football Intelligence Officers to be willing to engage in violence). Minor skirmishes broke out after the match but these were isolated and the thousands of fans at the event in Klagenfurt had a great time and the event was notable for the absence of disorder. The picture below shows demonstrates multiple nationalities celebrating well into the night in Klagenfurt. Incidentally, Poland lost the match, but that did not impact on the majority of the fans, who showed great spirit and party attitude. Thus, high profile approaches can be effective in some situations.
There are some points founded on best practice which can be drawn out from reviewing events in Marseille, which may be of use to the police and security moving forward in the tournament. First, the police profile must reflect the actual risk and differentiate between threats to safety versus order. For example, in public disorder dispersal is often the go-to police strategy in the EU. Recently, French authorities have been training for the event of a chemical or biological attack. Should a threat of this nature emerge, the police strategy is likely to rely (pending the exact nature of the attack), on containment (and fast!). If, in this hypothetical situation, the police were to perceive the safety risk (as would certainly become apparent to the police later), as a threat to public order the consequences could be significant. This analogy emphasises the significance of employing the most appropriate police tools to deal with emerging issues; rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Second, existing empirical knowledge which suggests high profile policing on first contact can produce situations in which supporters, who were at first non-supportive of violence, become so. Low profile policing and early intervention can offer many benefits in situations of emerging risk. Finally, low profile officers in the pubs, amongst the crowds in high risk locations etc., could have reduced the risk of what has developed in recent days, because of early intervention which was reflected and balanced to the actual risks (but, I guess we will never know). Communication is very important in emerging risk situations and can often disarm a volatile dynamic situation (thus, not requiring high profile policing), by having informed and verified intelligence of the emerging risks to respond appropriately to. It can also develop a mind set in the fans where they wish to support the police in responding to the emerging risk (rather than fight with them), and they may communicate what and where they believe the risks are (a useful tool for offers).
Empower the Majority: Respect the Thousands
Thus, attention should be drawn to the hundreds of thousands of non-violent supporters who are in attendance at the tournament, who will not contribute to disorder but instead to a fantastic atmosphere which demonstrates respect for the rival fans and the French. The solution is not easy and I do not seek to down play the significance of what Marseille has seen and police have been forced to manage in recent days, but instead to disempower the minority who have dominated the headlines until now. The rationale? It would be a shame should the behaviour of a small number of high risk fans continue to define the next weeks of the Euro 2016. For example, the Welsh supporters in Bordeaux have been hailed as ‘magnificent’ by police and videos pour onto the internet of fans peacefully celebrating with the locals, and with their rivals – only on the pitch – the Slovakian national supporters.
Support the French Authorities
There has been, and continues to be, a heavy air of security hanging over Euro 2016. Research conducted at previous international football tournaments indicates a relationship between police perceptions of risk and instances of mass disorder. On Thursday 16th of June is the Germany vs Poland game, and this fixture may present similar dynamics between rival fan groups as Marseilles has. There was evidence prior to this fixture at Euro 2008 that a minority of fans from both German and Polish risk groups did travel to the host city with the intent to cause violence. For example, a bus arriving in Austria from Poland was found to be carrying baseball bats and other dangerous weapons; early identification and targeted allowed effective management of risk this particular instance (and did not impact on all Polish nationals at the tournament).
It is fair to say that while social science research can highlight the risk surrounding high profile policing approaches prior to the tournament; little could have prepared for the extent of the disorder. This article presents a few evidence based considerations from a social scientific perspective, – not in the spirit of criticism, but; 1) to undermine the minority of supporters at Euro 2016 who believe violence is appropriate, 2) to show respect for the thousands of peaceful, non-violent fans who are at, or will travel to, the tournament, and 3) to support the French Authorities as they continue to manage the numerous threats to safety and order for the benefit of thousands of people at Euro 2016.