Riot control

From Academic Kids

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French mobile gendarmes doing riot control.

Riot control are the measures to control a riot or to break up an unwanted demonstration (usually of protestors).



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Riot policemen from a Sheriff department in the United States.

The initial choice of tactics determines the type of manpower and matriel used. The base choice is between lethal (e.g. 12 gauge shotgun) and non-lethal weaponry (e.g. tear gas). The decision is based on the perceived level of threat and the existing laws; in many countries it is illegal to use lethal force to control riots in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Threat-dependant force deployment is easily visible. The traditional mainstay of riot control are specially equipped police officers with fire-retardant clothing, kevlar armour, special helmets and gas masks, plastic shields, extended batons or special riot hand weapons (such as the sjambok and lathi), and possibly tasers or similar. These officers subdue rioters and subsequently allow the less heavily armoured, more mobile officers to arrest those that are unruly.

In face of a greater threat, the riot police will be backed up with other officers equipped with riot guns to fire tear gas, rubber bullets, plastic bullets or beanbag rounds.

One main weapon is vehicle-mounted water cannon. The most modern watercannon versions are capable of adding dye to mark rioters or adding tear gas to the water. There have been instances of riotsquad watercannons being loaded with sewage.

In any combative pursuit, heavy supporting firepower can only accomplish so much. Often in major unrest, police in armoured vehicles (such as Land Rovers) may be sent in following an initial subduing with firepower. Occasionally, police dogs are deployed.

As a less aggressive step, mounted police may first be sent into the crowd. The might and height offered by the horse are combined with its training, allowing an officer to more safely infiltrate a crowd. Often batons are the only weapons used. However, in a hunger riot in Vienna in 1919 the rioters resisted the police horses and killed many of them, and afterwards butchered them on the spot for their flesh.

The French CRS's tactics against a long demonstration march is to attack it at several points and chop it into segments, rather than to merely try to block it at its front end.


These are commonly made of transparent polycarbonate. They can be various shapes. They tend to have two large handles: the officer puts his left arm through the left handle and holds the right handle.

  • Round. A common size is 2 feet diameter.
  • Rectangular with rounded corners, curved in the horizontal cross-section to shed thrown objects. A common size is 20 or 24 inches by 3 feet.
  • The same, but also curved in the vertical cross-section at the top and bottom.
  • There is a type of shield which is curved horizontally the "wrong" way, i.e. concave forwards. These are for handling an uncooperative prisoner or suspect in a cell or small room.
  • Some shields are "ballistic", i.e. strong enough to resist firearms fire. These are opaque with a small sight window.

Tear Gas

This can be fired in various ways: tear gas grenade gun, tear gas grenade thrown by hand, tear gas sprays. There have been batons that contain a tear gas spray.


  • The traditional material for batons and similar for most purposes for a long time has been wood.
  • As a riotsquad and guard baton, the British Army tends to use the pickaxe handle. They have a rule that these must be exactly 3 feet long, as they are also used for measuring.
  • Rubber batons are common: for example, the French CRS's baton is about 1.5 inches diameter and a bit over 2 feet long. The Russian police also use rubber batons, but some of them have had to use wood in areas where the winter frost gets cold enough to make rubber brittle.
  • See Specialized clubs.


Designs include:-

  • A plain helmet and hinged visor (usually polycarbonate) which goes up outside the helmet. Usually a riotsquad visor is straight up and down and curved sideways, not curved both ways like a motorcycle helmet visor.
  • With the visor disappearing between two layers of the helmet as it is hinged up.
  • A sort of CRS helmet has two visors, one of each sort. The outer visor is transparent. The inner visor is a "one-way window" that was transparent to a man wearing the helmet, but looks like freshly polished opaque copper metal when seen from outside, so that the man's face cannot be seen by the public.
  • The chinstraps tend to be more complicated than on motorcycle helmets.
  • One accessory is a attached pad to protect the back of the neck.
  • Unlike motorcycle helmets, they tend to have small holes over the ears so the wearer can hear better.
  • Other accessories include microplones and receivers for two-way radio.


The police have been conducting research into their application in the fields of riot control. The most recent research into the field of less than lethal weaponry has produced such innovations as:-


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