Podcast featuring Leischen Kranick, Editor, AMU Edge and
Anthony Raganella, Deputy Inspector (ret.), NYPD, and president of NY Blue Line Consulting Group
On January 6, rioters breached police barricades and forced their way into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. In this episode, AMU’s Leischen Kranick talks to Anthony Raganella, who spent eight of his 25-year law enforcement career as the Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s Disorder Control Unit and now offers training to prepare agencies for riots and civil unrest. While this incident was shocking because of where it happened, it’s not an uncommon experience for agencies across the country. Learn about efforts to create national standards for training, equipment, and tactics to help agencies plan and prepare for riots and civil unrest.
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Leischen Kranick: Welcome to the podcast, I’m your host Leischen Kranick. Today we’re going to talk about the events of January 6th, 2021 when rioters breached security and forced their way into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
By now, most people have seen the disturbing video footage of this event. And while it’s still very much a developing story, I wanted to bring in a law enforcement expert to share insight about what he saw unraveling during those events and help put it into a larger context for our audience.
Today, I’m joined by Anthony Raganella. He spent 25 years with the New York City Police Department retiring as a Deputy Inspector. He spent eight years of his career as the commanding officer of the Disorder Control Unit, a city-wide department unit primarily responsible for planning, assessing and ensuring the department’s training and readiness in crowd management and disorder control operations for civil unrest. He is the founder and president of NY Blue Line Consulting Group, which provides training and consulting services for law enforcement around the country. Tony, thank you so much for joining me and welcome.
Anthony Raganella: Thank you, Leischen, for having me and thank you AMU for putting this together. I’m honored to be part of this today.
Leischen Kranick: We are recording this the day after this event, so I just want to be very clear to our listeners that things are still developing. We don’t know everything about what really happened yesterday, but Tony, I wanted to talk to you as someone who specializes in preparing police departments for managing civil unrest. What was your response, yesterday as you watched everything unfold? Were you surprised by what happened or what was your reaction?
Anthony Raganella: Yeah, Leischen I was,I was actually very surprised by what I was watching on television, but surprised to the fact that that was happening at the Capitol Building, not so surprised that it was happening to a law enforcement agency. And I say that only because as someone who speaks nationally around the country with multiple different law enforcement agencies in regard to preparation for civil unrest, I’m not so surprised that this happened yet again. And what I’m speaking of is the lack of planning, the lack of preparation and the response to the events that happened.
So, it’s disturbing because of the location of where it happened. Not completely surprised by it. And, me personally, I kind of saw this coming a mile away only because I understand the ramifications of not being prepared for it.
[Related: Police Tactics to Use During Protests and Riots]
And how many agencies across the nation just are not prepared for this type of an event. We do a very good job as law enforcement agencies in crowd management and to a certain extent crowd control, but when it comes to riotous situations we are significantly underprepared as an entire nation when it comes to that.
Leischen Kranick: As you were seeing really the riot develop, it going from a fairly controlled situation, just a lot of protesters in one place to actually breaching security and making their way into the Capitol, were there things that jumped out to you in terms of things that law enforcement wasn’t doing to be prepared in terms of protecting that perimeter?
Anthony Raganella: Yeah, Leischen actually I’m glad that you brought that up because initially my response was, as I was watching it and reason why I say I kinda saw this coming from a mile away, the Capitol Building is kinda like the people’s building, right? When you have structures and buildings like that, you don’t wanna 24/7 have obstacles and blockades up to a national site like that.
But given the circumstances of what’s been going on in the nation, the political polarization, the racial tensions, the increase in protest activity and the recent spat of riots and civil unrest that we’ve seen across the country, I would tend to think that one of the top buildings in the District of Columbia that needs to be protected, it appears that they did a very poor job of planning for this.
And in spite of whether they had intel or not as to events like this potentially happening there, I questioned where was the contingency planning for this in the event that, you know, we have a peaceful protest and the group marches down the street and gets in front of the Capitol Building. Well, then, you know, that’s their first amendment, right? We as law enforcement protect that, we have no issues.
But when law enforcement agencies plan for events like this, they always, always need to take into consideration contingency plans. If God forbid the event goes off the rails such as it did yesterday, what’s the plan are our officers, middle management and upper executives, apprised of the situation and trained for this? Have they practiced on this before? Those are all questions that have to come out and be answered in an after-action and investigations after the fact to see exactly what went wrong here.
But as I was watching it, to get back to your original question, we see that there was really very limited barrier protections up. The limited amount of French or bicycle barriers that they use there was certainly, in my mind, not enough to protect the thousands of people that were marching and protesting and the potential for the passions and the volatile situation of what’s been going on in the nation.
We knew that for all intents and purposes, this was a pre-planned event. We knew that what was going on inside the Capitol Building, and in my mind, it should have been very much more protected with a barrier configuration that would have facilitated not allowing the breach as it did.
Now, that being said, despite the fact that they didn’t have a proper, in my mind, a proper barrier configuration up to protect the building itself, once they breached the outer perimeter of that barrier, then we call into question all of those elements that I said again: What’s the plan now? Have you practiced this before? What’s our policy? What do we do if our outer perimeter is breached, and now they’re trying to get into the building?
If they had a plan, I didn’t see it put into place. I always speak to agencies across the nation to tell them, “Listen, all the plans are great. You need to have a plan. Any plan is better than no plan at all, but that plan has to be flexible and adaptable.”
So yesterday I didn’t really see a plan in place and if it was in place, it probably wasn’t the best of plans. And, you know, like I said, all of this will come out in further detail. I don’t wanna speculate on whether they had plans or not, but in my mind, from what I see, is just my opinion. It didn’t look like they planned for this particular contingency.
Leischen Kranick: It’s my understanding that the Capitol Police have standing MOUs with all kinds of different neighboring jurisdictions. And, I feel like as part of that contingency plan that you’re talking about would be that backup element. And that seemed to take a lot longer than I would think, especially for a planned protest that like you said, was anticipated to be pretty heated to begin with. Were you surprised that there weren’t more agencies sort of at the ready?
Anthony Raganella: Yes, very much so. I just want to touch on something, be very clear about something also, because I don’t want this to appear with my comments that I’m bashing the Capitol Police per se. This happens to a lot of agencies.
I just have recently seen it happen with the NYPD, the agency that I’m from over the course of the summer the spring and summer with the protest that we’ve had. But, Seattle, Portland, it’s a lot of agencies are in the same boat when it comes to this. And what I want to be clear about is, especially with the incident that happened yesterday. I say this a lot that the boots on the ground officers and frontline supervisors that were there, I do not place any blame on them whatsoever.
And I say that because they’re doing the best that they can with what they have and what they have wasn’t much. And that’s the same scenario that plays out in a lot of different agencies across America. They’re not properly equipped. And I could go into a whole host of things that’s going into proper personal protective equipment. But we, as a nation are significantly behind the eight ball when it comes to personal protective equipment that we use for public order work here in America.
I don’t know if the audience is aware of this or not, but we currently in America have no standards for personal protective equipment for civil disturbance units in America, as shocking as that sounds. And we really need to get to a place where we create standards, not just for equipment, but for our tactics and our training also all of our operations, when it comes to public order work. We need to standardize that across the board and have some type of national standard.
And that’s definitely a place that we need to get to. But the officers that were there on the ground, very brave, very courageous, doing the best that they could with the limited resources that they had.
I have to place the blame for what went wrong. And again, as we said, it’s very early, but my speculation, if I’m correct, and I’ve seen what’s happened in many agencies across the nation, I have to place the blame with the command staff and the executives of the agency for not being prepared for this as a whole.
And, unfortunately, when we don’t prepare for situations and incidents like this, we’re not only placing our officers in harm’s way, we’re placing the public that were sworn to protect, and those constitutional rights that were sworn to protect in harm’s way. And the damage of the trust that it does between the public and the police is sometimes irreparable. And it’s a challenge to get that back on track again. So yesterday history was made by the failings of what happened there.
Leischen Kranick: And I would just like to second what you said about the officers on the ground, what an amazing job they did. I watched some of the footage, I’m sure most people have seen it, of that lone officer, basically being overrun as he was going up, the Capitol, the internal Capitol steps. And I could just imagine what was going on in his mind as he was by himself, you know, with a billy club or whatnot, just seeing all these people swarm.
I wanna talk to you a little bit about the training that you offer, and I’m hoping that you can start with sort of the mentality of preparing for such civil unrest. In my mind, I would think that agencies would almost want to do the worst-case planning. So starting with: What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen, and then how to move back from there. But can you talk a little bit about how you approach sort of the mentality for leaders and agencies to start preparing for such events?
Anthony Raganella: Absolutely Leischen. When I do my presentations for executive command level staff across the country one of the first things that I talk about when I do my presentations is to get the buy-in from them to realize how important this is.
The problem when it comes to civil unrest and preparing for riot control and major protests and demonstrations is that it is for all intents and purposes, it’s a high-risk, low-frequency event. And when you have a high-risk, low-frequency event, executives in police agencies tend to think, “Well, I probably have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than waking up tomorrow morning, going into work and having a riot in my jurisdiction.” And we have to get away from that mindset, because as we’ve seen over the course of what’s been happening since I’ll go back to Ferguson in 2014, we’ve just seen the onslaught of protest activity and depending on how that goes, there’s things that police and protestors can do to either escalate or deescalate the situation.
But in the event that it goes off the rails there’s a huge difference between crowd management, crowd control and riot control, and those terms are not interchangeable.
So I express to the police executives that you need to be prepared for this, and you can’t have your head in the sand and constantly think that this is not something that could possibly happen in my jurisdiction, because it can, and we’ve seen it time and time again.
It’s either you get it right, or you make the history books. And you don’t want to be that police chief that ends up in the history books because you weren’t prepared and you didn’t get it right. We’re talking about a loss of life, destruction of property. As I said, irreparable damage to credibility, trust and relationships that you’ve established both personal and agency-wide. If you’ve ever been part of a police department that has been the subject of consent decrees, not a good thing. You don’t want to get your agency put in that situation.
And then overall at the end, you’re talking about when it’s all said and done lawsuits and money, and the damage that it does monetarily is significant. Back in 2004, the Republican National Convention that we had here in New York City with the NYPD, lawsuits were just recently settled and paid out, the city paid out $18 million for a lawsuit in regard to the Republican National Convention.
I could go all the way back, for instance, that 1992 Los Angeles riots, there was $775 million in damages. If you put that in today’s money, $1.42 billion in today’s money that the LA riots. So we’re talking about a lot of different things that go in. So it’s important that executives understand that, although this is a high-risk, low-frequency event, it can happen. You need to have conversations with surrounding jurisdictions for that mutual aid and be prepared for this and have your officers trained and- and ready to go.
And you need to balance the protection of people’s first amendment rights versus the mandate to prevent crime and disorder. And we could go all the way back to Sir. Robert Peel, our founding father of modern day policing, right?
His first two basic tenants of his nine principles of policing play into civil unrest and protests very much. The first one was that the basic mission for which, and I’m paraphrasing here, but the basic mission for which the police exists is to prevent crime and disorder. Well, that certainly comes into play here.
And then the second one is that the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions. So we need that relationship. The public has to support what our police actions are, and we actually need to get them involved and be part of the discussion on how we police the crowds and what our training is and everything else. So that there’s a mutual understanding of what the expectations are.
Leischen Kranick: Can you just talk about your training when it comes to the mentality of officers who are in these very heated situations. How do you train them to not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by protestors who are trying to get them riled up? Is that part of your training?
Anthony Raganella: Yes, absolutely. I speak to the executives as well as frontline supervisors and the boots on the ground, officers. What we need to realize overall is that, at the end of the day, it’s a job that we’ve chosen that we do. We’re there to protect people’s First Amendment rights.
And we have to instill in our officers the ability to understand deescalation. It’s very easy to escalate situations, but we need to create a culture in law enforcement where we’re able to deescalate situations. Some aspects that go into that is understanding and learning about crowd psychology. I’m not going to go too deep into that, but there are certain things that we could do. Some of the colleagues that I work with are crowd scientists and criminologists that work and understand and research how crowds operate and that coexistence of a gathering with police present.
And what we need to understand in that aspect is that when you look at the research on it, the crowds and the police co-produce peace or violence. So it’s very easy to point at a protest that devolves into civil unrest and be able to say, “Oh, that was the crowd’s fault that, that happened.” Not necessarily always true. There are certain things that police do that they shouldn’t be doing that could potentially escalate the crowd into that devolvement of civil unrest. So it’s a balance that officers and frontline supervisors need to understand on how to keep that momentum of deescalation going.
Now, that being said, that there are times, unfortunately, where we do have to use force, and we do have to have a show of force. But the problem with that is when executives or field commanders that are out there that are charged with making these tactical and strategical decisions are not equipped with the proper training to be able to do that, nor do they have the experience, or the knack, to be able to do this. If you don’t get it right, you create a worse problem than you had.
So the training is very, very important on this and to understand the considerations that go into it. And without that knowledge, and without that experience, the likelihood of a positive outcome are slim. So it’s important.
Those of members of the audience that are police executives, what I will tell them is this, and this is very, very important: It’s very easy for me, or for any other subject matter experts in public order work to conduct training for police officers, sergeants, lieutenants, whatever the rank structure is. But those frontline officers and supervisors that are actually going to be engaged in the operations or the boots on the ground, it’s very easy for us to train them and tell them this is what you need to do, right?
The problem is when you have executives that don’t go through the training themselves and they just write the check and say, “Okay, I’m going to send a couple of my officers to this training” and then they check the box off to say, “Oh yes, we’ve trained our officers and our supervisors on crowd control and civil unrest preparation.”
Well that’s great. Your officers are trained, but you’re not. And the problem comes in is that now when the incident happens and you have a major protest or civil unrest in your jurisdiction, guess what? You’re now the incident commander for that incident, and you don’t know what the capabilities are of the officers and the frontline supervisors that you’ve trained. So how are you expected to now make strategical and tactical decisions when you don’t know what the capabilities of your troops are?
So I implore the executives to do the training as much as they can with the officers so that they understand the capabilities and there’ll be in much better shape to then make those correct decisions.
Leischen Kranick: That’s such an important point. And it’s a little astounding for me to know that executives, sometimes, aren’t the ones going through the training like they should be because they really, at the end of the day, they are the ones making the big calls and the big decisions. I think that’s a really important message and thank you for bringing that up.
As you were talking about executives, making those big decisions, and obviously they need information to make decisions. They’re not going to have complete information, it’s happening in real time, that’s really, really difficult.
Are there strategies that you teach about how officers and commanding officers should assess the information that they’re getting? Is that just an experience thing, or are there strategies behind how to get information about what’s happening on the ground?
Anthony Raganella: So to put it in a nutshell, a lot of the decisions that are made upfront are mostly based on intelligence that we can gather prior to an event. Now there’s two types of events, obviously, actually there’s three types of events, but we’ll say that there’s a pre-planned event and then there’s a no-notice event.
Now, in a pre-planned event, obviously we know that it’s going to happen and we have time to prepare for that. We could be proactive in that regard and we can have the opportunity to gather intelligence, where agencies get their intelligence from varies. But some agencies use fusion centers, others have their larger agencies have their own type of intelligence unit that can gather information. Have we dealt with this particular organization or protest group before? What are their motives? These are all things that- that we look into and gather intelligence that will help drive what our strategy is going to be, and then what our tactical decisions may be. But then that also dovetails off of what the plan is. And that plan needs to be flexible and adaptable.
As we’ve seen lately, you have a lot of what starts off as peaceful protests, but then you have some extremists that will hijack that peaceful protest and insert themselves into a peaceful protest. And now that creates a whole multitude of different contingencies that have to be worked out and how the tactics will get worked into how do we deal with that?
On the flip side, if you have a no-notice event, now you have to take a reactive posture because you had no time to gather intelligence and/or have a plan for it that requires a completely different posture.
And that’s where obviously a lot of the real time intel needs to be gathered. And do you have the capability to then take either community affairs officers or a police liaison groups that should always be part of the communication process in real-time with an ongoing protest group to facilitate that de-escalation and also gather information on what their wants and needs are so that we can help facilitate them and deescalated.
So there’s definitely a lot that goes into pre-planning and gathering intel to be able to develop those strategies and tactical plans that we may use during these events.
Leischen Kranick: The incident that we saw yesterday was unprecedented in so many ways, but there has been a lot of civil unrest in the last year and beyond. So it’s not a new situation in many cities.
Are you seeing this as a trend or are there any trends that you’re seeing across the country in terms of how law enforcement agencies are approaching managing protests and other large crowds? Are you hopeful in that they’re getting a lot more training on how to deal with these situations or do you think there’s a lot more work to be done?
Anthony Raganella: So I’m glad that you asked that Leischen, and the 20,000 foot view answer to that is we have as a nation, a lot, a lot, a lot of work to do. We are significantly behind in where we should be at this stage of the game with what’s been going on with protests and civil unrest.
Just to mention I was in late 2017, I was part of a research group along with four other subject matter experts from the United States that was sent by the National Institute of Justice here over to Europe to research some of the best practices and equipment and lessons learned from over in the UK and Germany and what immediately struck me, personally, and the rest of my group that I was with, agreed with me on it, and it was one of our findings is that we, as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, we, as a nation need to get to a point where we make public order work in policing a specialization and professionalize it.
And, in addition to that, we need to have national standards that govern equipment, tactics, and training when it comes to this. You could go out and buy a piece of crowd control equipment for your police agency. It doesn’t meet any standards right now because there are none, and that’s a problem.
We need to get to that place. We need to get to a place in American policing where it’s a specialization to be part of a public order unit in a police agency. Not something that we’re forced to do, t should be a voluntary thing that officers, when they come on the job aspire to get involved in.
There’s agencies in Europe that train for years before you can become part of their elite public order unit, the training that goes into that is significant. And we were very, very impressed by what we saw with agencies that have been dealing with the type of unrest that we’re recently seeing. They’ve seen it.
As an example of that, I’ll tell you Molotov cocktails and incendiary devices, fireworks, different things that we’re seeing here in this country, now, as of lately, that’s been going on over in Europe for decades, and they’ve learned how to deal with all of that.
And we have a lot to learn from our partners over in Europe and other parts of the world that have been dealing with this. We need to, as a nation of law enforcement put down our egos and come to the realization that we don’t know what we don’t know, we have to learn from that.
But I think recent observations because of the racial tensions and the political polarization that we’ve been going through from the big view, I can tell you, this is not going away anytime soon. Politics aside and I don’t like to get into politics, because to me, when you insert politics into policing it’s like oil and water. And it usually doesn’t have a very good outcome. And that’s a whole story for another day, but it’s something that police agencies have to contend with is the politics that goes into it. And the obstacles and struggles that that creates.
But, suffice to say, this is something that’s not going away. And all law enforcement agencies across the nation, whether you have seven sworn members or you have 35,000 sworn members, and you’re the biggest police agency, it doesn’t matter. We need to be prepared for this. We need to work out what the issues are, and we need to get to a better place and improve our ability to respond and train for this type of incidents that are happening.
Leischen Kranick: Well, I want thank you so much, Tony, for taking the time today to talk to me and really offering such great insight into both this event. But more importantly, I think, the big picture, the lessons that law enforcement can learn from it, how we can do better improve and really prevent this from happening in the future. So, any last thoughts or any other insight that you’d like to mention?
Anthony Raganella: Yeah, Leischen, actually, probably one of the most important things that I forgot to mention that I think is very, very important, a part of a core group of subject matter experts on this topic that are very, very, very passionate about our craft. And, I live and breathe talking about this stuff and helping agencies prepare for this. So much so that one of the other takeaways we got from our research trip, we realized quickly that in an effort to create these standards, national standards that we’re talking about for equipment training and operations and tactics, is we need a national association that can guide the narrative and create best practices and lessons learned and put all this as a body of subject matter experts that can speak to this and actually guide agencies and help them out.
So I’ve been on the forefront with several other of my colleagues and we are right on the cusp within the next month or two, we will be up and running, but we’ve created an association called Public Order Professionals Association. The acronym is POPA ,P-O-P-A.
I would encourage everybody in the next couple of months, it will be up and running. We’re working out the last minute issues with getting a website up and running. But once we have that, we will be out there. It will be a member association, a nonprofit association, but we hope to guide the narrative and put the issues out there as to what our shortcomings are and what we need to do to improve and get into a better place.
So I would ask everybody that has any agencies that have any interest in this particular subject matter, and it should be every one of the agencies, all 18,000 agencies in America should be looking at this because it can happen anytime, anywhere, and that preparation is so, so important.
So between POPA and myself with NY Blue Line Consulting, please, if you have any questions about anything, feel free to reach out to us. And let’s hope and pray that our courageous men and women of law enforcement that are out there doing this brave work in the midst of civil unrest and riots stay safe and are able to protect the citizens that are exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights.
Leischen Kranick: Well, thank you again, Tony, for the passion that you have for this topic and for helping to educate officers and agencies on how they can do this better, how they can be better prepared for civil unrest that, like you said, is unfortunately not going away anytime soon.
So we really appreciate the work that you’ve done in your career to keep the public safe, but what you’re doing in your retirement to keep everyone safe and keep agencies educated and informed. So thank you again for joining me.
Anthony Raganella: And thank you for putting this out there. I appreciate the venue of being able to discuss this and get the word out on where we need to be. So thank you very much.
Leischen Kranick: Wonderful. This is Leischen Kranick, be well and stay safe.
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