After he left, those who remained glanced around at the large circle of troopers surrounding them, anticipating who would be next.
On Friday, 65 Alabama State Troopers graduated from a Field Force Operations Training session at McClellan. The three-day course, offered through the Center for Domestic Preparedness and the Department of Homeland Security, teaches officers how to respond to incidents involving civil disorder, such as protests.
Violent protests have been quite frequent in other countries during the past few months, but troopers say most of the protests they have dealt with in Alabama have been nonviolent.
“We haven’t had to make any arrests except in the past when we did a lot of Klan rallies and stuff like that, which we don’t do hardly any of them anymore,” said Lt. Allan Battles, an assistant trooper commander.
The last Klan rally Battles was involved in was in Sylacauga about 15 years ago. Battles said that during the rally, he and other officers had to step in between the Klansmen and people who had shown up to antagonize them.
“Most everyone I’ve been involved with, it’s all been peaceful,” Battles said of contemporary protests.
Sgt. Michael Shannon Payne, the commander for the trooper post in Jacksonville, believes everyone has a right to protest in behalf of their beliefs. He would prefer, however, that protesters get their message across in a peaceful manner. That way law enforcement wouldn’t be needed, he said.
When asked what he thinks about recent protests that have led to violence in Ukraine and Venezuela, Payne said “that’s a whole other ballgame.”
“If it happens here, we’ll have the training and education to deal with it,” he said.
The First Amendment of the Constitution allows people the right to peacefully assemble. Officers try to allow demonstrators every avenue they can to have a peaceful, legal protest, Battles said. However, if they break the law, the troopers must step in, both he and Payne said.
Shannon Arledge, a public affairs specialist for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, said large crowd events such Mardi Gras and races at the Talladega SuperSpeedway are reasons some officers request such training.
According to CDP instructor Tom Johnstone, one thing officers learn during the training is how to work together. Individual action in heavy crowd situations is what will get officers in trouble, he said.
“Most law enforcement officers every day work by themselves. One officer to a car, one to a call. But when you got large-scale crowd management issues now all of a sudden they have to work in large groups together. That’s contrary to what they do every day. We want them to learn how to work under strict control, under the command structure, communicating with each other so they’re all making sure they’re protecting everybody’s rights.”
In the past two months, the center has had more than 200 Alabama State Troopers go through such training, according to external affairs director Lisa Hunter. It is free for state, local, or tribal law enforcement officials. For those who are interested, the center will pay for lodging, food, and even mileage for participating officers, she said.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.