Crowd control without confrontation

August 2009

Controlling without confrontingResearch on crowd policing, showing the benefits of a less confrontational approach, has led to a change in policing strategies in the UK and abroad.

Until recently, hooliganism at football matches has been commonly understood as a working class expression of masculinity, and as an opportunity for hooligans to make trouble. It was thought that besides banning known hooligans from football or controlling them with 'heavy' policing, there was little that could be done.

However, Dr Clifford Stott's research on crowd psychology has shown that attempts to control crowd disorder can actually create it, and that particular types of police intervention – those seen by fans as unfair and indiscriminate - increase the likelihood of conflict with police being seen as acceptable.

Dr Stott's research project 'Crowd Dynamics, Policing and Hooliganism' built on earlier findings in analysing the impact of policing strategies and tactics upon levels of football hooliganism, with a view to develop best policing practice for international tournaments.

The findings show that avoiding the use of heavy-handed tactics, such as automatically sending out a riot squad for crowd control, can help maintain control in potentially hostile situations. A less confrontational atmosphere is created if the police are wearing normal uniforms, move in pairs and interact with the crowd. This approach makes people feel like the policing has been appropriate - even if arrests have to be made.


  • Findings from the research have informed policy development amongst the European Council Police Co-operation Working Party and the European Union Football Experts Group.
  • Findings have also been included in a European Union handbook on controlling violence at international football matches.
  • Dr Stott is now helping to set up a pan-European police training programme on match safety.
  • Dr Stott was commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers to examine the impact of public order policing strategies in the context of domestic football, with a view to using the findings in training and operational practice. This work is now being used to inform the Inspectorate of the Constabulary's (HMIC) inquiry into public order policing, following the G20 protest in London in 2009.

Further information