As events in Ferguson, Missouri, force the American media to confront the fact that it's problematic when police officers dress and arm themselves like combat soldiers, the few lonely voices who've touted this issue for years are earning vindication—and Radley Balko, who wrote the book on police militarization, is pressing forward with an important article about how police ought to respond to protests. It doesn't take an expert to see that Ferguson authorities reacted in exactly the wrong way. But experts understand exactly why their behavior was so counterproductive and how they could've easily brought about a much better outcome.
They are hardly the first police agency to bungle mass protests in this way, after all. Lessons have been learned elsewhere. They're just lost on the vast majority of Americans, including those in law enforcement. The whole article is worth your read.
Balko draws on the work of a pioneering police chief, Jerry Wilson, explaining his belief that "an intimidating police presence didn’t prevent confrontation, it invited it. That didn’t mean he didn’t prepare, but he put his riot-control teams in buses, then parked the buses close by, but out of sight of protesters. Appearances were important." He explains the errors police officers made during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. Another source, who works for the Dallas Police Department and is writing a post-graduate thesis on policing and protest, Major Max Geron, explained that police interacting with protestors should "come to an agreement about what’s expected, what’s allowed, and most important, you want to reach an agreement about what won’t be allowed,” but should avoid arbitrary prohibitions, like a demand that protestors disperse at a particular time—a tactic used in Ferguson—because it needlessly provokes rebellion and interferes with the right to protest even when no laws are being broken.