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Training for Civil Disturbances

Civil disturbance training must enable personnel to function effectively, as individuals and as members of a control force. To be effective, the training must be intensive, realistic, and continuous. Individual, team, and unit training are vital to develop personnel who are able to perform distasteful and dangerous duties with discipline and objectivity. A lack of training on the part of even one person can adversely affect the unit's performance. That person may not be able to fulfill his responsibilities as a team member. For this reason, the unit must conduct makeup training. The unit also must make provisions for training replacement personnel. Garden Plot's Annex A and AR 500-50 provide guidance on civil disturbance training requirements.

Each commander structures his unit's training program based on expected contingencies, prior training, the unit's degree of experience, and the degree of proficiency that the unit has attained. The unit must be trained, equipped, and maintained in readiness for rapid deployment. The training must cover all aspects of civil disturbance operations. And the training must entail more than just mechanical proficiency in crowd control formations. Training must also address the sensitivity and high visibility of civil disturbance operations. It must emphasize protection of firefighters and their equipment, area inhabitants, and other people trying to control the disturbance.

Training must include operational techniques for use in urban, suburban, and campus areas, as well as procedures for neutralizing special threats. Training must also include use of and functioning with personal equipment. For example, unit members may expect to be equipped with body armor, protective masks, or face-shields. Thus they should train wearing this equipment to help them become accustomed to wearing it for long periods of time. And rehearsing alert plans, load plans, and operational plans must be done as often as necessary to reach and maintain the required degree of proficiency. Commanders should also consider training in courtroom procedures. After the event, soldiers may be called as witnesses in civilian trials.

Civil disturbance trainers can keep abreast of current developments from reports in the news media, after-action reports, and a number of other sources. Lessons learned from such reports and sources are useful for enhancing training and keeping it current. The following subjects are a guide for refresher training:

  • Policies and legal considerations.
  • Standards of conduct.
  • Use of minimum force.
  • Use of riot control agents and munitions.
  • Use of riot batons.
  • Search and seizure techniques.
  • Apprehension and detention.
  • Neutralization of special threats.
  • Media relations.


Unit training must be realistic. Field training exercises can be conducted in built-up areas on the installation or at mock-ups. The unit commander should try to include local government officials in FTXs. The officials can be either witnesses or participants. But care must be taken to prevent adverse psychological effects on the local populace, especially if tension is high. Exercises with local officials work best if based on a detailed scenario. Then participants have a chance to test command and staff relationships, communications, coordination, logistics, and joint development of intelligence. Experience has shown joint exercises can identify and help solve problems before a civil disturbance occurs. The task force headquarters staff must periodically test their organization and procedures with command post exercises. They also must establish a civil disturbance SOP. Proper training can reveal problems to be corrected before actual operations. This reduces confusion during civil disturbance operations.


Training can make it possible to function in a highly disciplined and organized manner under stressful conditions. Stress training has two goals: to improve understanding of crowd and mob behavior and to prepare troops to control their own actions and emotions. The troops study the typical causes of civil disturbances to gain a better understanding of their role in helping to control civil disturbances. Group behavior must be discussed in enough detail to show the troops what to expect. Also, the troops must learn how psychological factors influence their own behavior.

Troops must control their emotions and carry out their orders with determination and discipline when in formation, on patrol, or posted as guards. They must be physically and emotionally prepared for crowd members shouting at them, insulting them, calling them abusive names, throwing objects at them, screaming and rushing at them, tearing off their own clothes, or deliberately injuring or maiming themselves. They cannot allow personal feelings to interfere with executing their mission. They must ignore these actions and use evasive movements to avoid thrown objects. They must never throw the objects back. Troops must understand that the well-disciplined execution of orders is the most effective measure against rioters.

A way to familiarize soldiers with confronting a mob is to conduct an exercise using part of the unit as violent demonstrators and part as the control force. This exercise must be realistic, but safe. This training, however, must not be conducted unless the soldier is also trained to deal with his internal stress. Installation mental health personnel may be available to help with stress training. They can teach methods to help reduce the soldiers' stress and fatigue. They may also be able to advise the commander on other factors that increase the soldiers' stress levels.


Every member of the control force must be trained to use his weapon and special equipment. Weapons and special equipment include riot batons, riot control agent dispersers and CS grenades, grenade launchers, shotguns, sniper rifles, cameras, portable videotape recorders, portable public address systems, night illumination devices, firefighting apparatus, grappling hooks, ladders, ropes, bulldozers, Army aircraft, armored personnel carriers, and roadblock and barricade materials. Training time can be used to construct some special equipment, such as wire barricades and wire coverings for vehicles.

Troops equipped with riot batons must be well trained in their use. Riot baton training covers employment, the human body's vulnerable and fatal points of impact, the basic positions, and defensive procedures and use of the baton in riot control formations. The procurement of riot batons depends on their availability in the Army's inventory. If they are unavailable through Army supply channels, they can be procured by local purchase at the installation level.

Each service is responsible for providing, organizing, equipping, and training its forces to use riot control agents in civil disturbances. The training includes individual and unit training. Individual training covers--

  • Policy on the employment of riot control agents.
  • Characteristics of riot control agents.
  • Individual protection, first aid, and decontamination.
  • Maintenance of riot control agent munitions and equipment.

Unit training covers--

  • Riot control agent squad organization.
  • Tactical employment of riot control agents in crowd control.

These are the minimum training needs. Other training may be added as needed.

Designated personnel also receive training in the operation, employment, and maintenance of riot control agent dispersers. They must know and be proficient with the following:

  • The nomenclature and characteristics of the respective dispersers and the riot control agents.
  • The effects of weather, terrain, and distance on the dispersal of riot control agents.
  • Methods of operating the dispersers.
  • Techniques that give the greatest assurance of placing an effective concentration on the target area with a minimum spillover outside the target area.
  • Maintenance of dispersers.
  • Use, care, and inspection of protective clothing.
  • Decontamination of equipment.
  • Safety precautions.

Practical exercises are conducted under varying weather conditions and differing crowd control situations. Whenever possible, training should be integrated with unit disturbance control exercises. Drills are conducted periodically to test the readiness and proficiency of the operators and the equipment. For training purposes, technical talc, T1, is used in place of CS.

Each unit must have an SOP that provides guidance to all soldiers, including drivers and helicopter pilots, who operate dispersers. The SOP must cover specific individual duties and actions to be performed before, during, and after operation of the disperser.

When special equipment training cannot be accomplished before a unit is committed to a civil disturbance, the unit commander must get qualified personnel to operate the equipment. If that cannot be done, the equipment should not be used.

During training with bayonets, the bayonets must be encased in their scabbards for safety. Trainers must emphasize that the only time the rifle is used with fixed bayonets is when the control force is confronted by a violent crowd, and the commander authorizes their use. Also, troops who will be armed with shotguns during civil disturbance operations must be well-trained in their use.


Personnel must be trained in the use of communications systems. Communications operating procedures must be included in special instructions. The telephone system, for instance, is usually simple. But it can be confusing because of various systems that exist in different areas. Troops must receive training on the telephone systems used in a projected disturbance area. They also must be provided a list of emergency numbers.


Civil disturbance operations place unusual demands on the leadership skills of members of a control force. The complex nature of a civil disturbance requires a combination of determined execution of duty and individual restraint. Soldiers and small-unit leaders must be aware of these demands and be prepared to deal with them. Training must include a careful review of military leadership.

Because effective employment of the unit is a goal of leadership, a good leader must thoroughly understand span of control. Task organizing for civil disturbance operations is more than usually dependent on span of control. Span of control is the number of people or groups that one leader can control effectively. A leader's span of control in civil disturbances is limited by his span of attention, the personal attitudes of unit members, and the interaction of human relationships.

A leader's span of attention--his ability to give equal attention to a number of tasks simultaneously--will be severely tested. Unit members often must learn new tasks for civil disturbance operations. Because these tasks are not part of the unit's usual mission, leaders must closely supervise these tasks to ensure they are properly performed.

How a soldier works within his unit or reacts to a civil disturbance is determined by his attitude. Emotions and preconceived views and attitudes can impair a soldier's ability to reason logically. Again, close supervision is the key to preventing improper behavior.

A leader with two subordinates has two relationships, one with each subordinate. As the span of control becomes greater, the interaction of relationships becomes more complex. Emotions and stress further compound the complexities of these relationships.

As the need for close supervision increases and relationships become more complex, the span of control a leader can effectively handle decreases. If a leader's span of control is overextended, bad decisions and improper behavior are likely to result. This, in turn, has an adverse effect on the unit's ability to perform its civil disturbance mission.

Other factors that must be understood concerning span of control include:

  • Experience and training of the leader.
  • Experience and training of subordinates.
  • Amount of clearly understood communication between a leader and his subordinates.
  • Degree of similarity among subordinates' jobs.
  • Time available for the organization to translate the leader's decisions into actions.
  • Distance by which the leader and his subordinates are separated.
  • Leader's personality and the personality of each of his subordinates.
  • Mental and physical conditions of the leader and his subordinates.
  • Complexity of the organization.


Past civil disturbance operations show that there is a need for personnel to be trained to deal with special threats, such as arson, sniping, and sabotage. Commanders, in planning their organization and training, must consider the need for special reaction teams to counteract special threats. SRT leaders and members must get intensive, specialized training in all areas of civil disturbance operations, with emphasis on counteracting and controlling special threats. This training also includes extensive training in combat in urban terrain, marksmanship, rappelling, physical fitness, first aid, and the use of specialized equipment.

The team must know their equipment's potential. They must know how to use their equipment properly. And they must develop confidence in their equipment. In most cases TOE or TDA military equipment and weapons are more than adequate to deal with special threats if the team's training is sufficient. The equipment available through supply channels or authorized by TOE or TDA must be used to the maximum extent possible to equip SRTs. However, local procurement may be needed to obtain special equipment that is deemed absolutely necessary for the safety of the SRT and for successfully resolving special threat situations. And SRT training must include the use of such equipment. An example of special equipment is soft body armor with ceramic-fiberglass inserts that is used at static positions.

The goal of civil disturbance planners is to have one SRT available at all times. They should consider training three or four 5-man SRTs so that one is available for standby. It may be necessary to alert or employ more than one team and to combine or augment teams to deal with threats that are beyond the capabilities of one team.

SRT training should be conducted in two phases. The first phase is the development stage. The team identifies team and individual weaknesses that require additional training. This stage requires frequent training sessions to achieve the desired response capability, to familiarize the members with individual and team responsibilities, to sharpen individual skills, to improve team cohesiveness, and to establish esprit de corps. The second phase is the maintenance stage. This stage requires fewer training sessions, but it is no less important. In this stage, members learn advanced skills, develop new techniques, and reinforce and hone the skills learned in the first phase.

SRTs must be thoroughly trained not only in basic soldiering skills but in specialized and unique skills that enhance team flexibility. This is vital because each special threat situation is different and must be dealt with individually.

The SRT is designed to neutralize or apprehend a barricaded offender with a minimum of danger to hostages, team members, control force members, and others. All team members must cross-train in the specialized duties of the other team members. SRTs must be tested in many varied scenarios so team and individual strengths and weaknesses can be identified and corrected. It is important that SRT members train in a manner that builds teamwork and develops confidence in themselves and their teammates. The capabilities of an SRT influence the commander's decision on how and when to employ the team. Therefore, commanders should be briefed on their teams' status after each training session.

Stress training is invaluable in preparing SRT members for situations in which they must use their weapons. Stress courses provide team members with training in firing their weapons while they are running, firing rapidly, firing from difficult firing positions, reloading rapidly, firing with accelerated heart and respiration rates, and in other perceived circumstances that might confront team members. How well the teams are trained in these areas can make the difference between life and death for team members, hostages, and offenders.

Training the marksman requires additional emphasis and consideration and must be oriented more to the individual. But it also must integrate the marksman's actions with those of the team. The marksman must have self-discipline. He must be tested under many different and extreme conditions. He must always train with the same weapon and with the same grade of ammunition to ensure consistent round strikes. He must fully understand the capabilities of his weapon, how to identify targets, and how to engage targets rapidly. This training can only be accomplished by continuous practice under varying weather and visibility conditions. For a detailed discussion of individual and team training, see FM 21-75, FM 23-9, FM 90-10, TC 19-16, TC 23-14, and TC 90-6-1.

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