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Police, students cooperate in protest training
Charlie Marshall of the Riverton Police Department demonstrated crowd-control technique with cooperative student Annah Brown during Friday's preparedness drill on the Central Wyoming College campus in Riverton. Photos by Wayne Nicholls

Only a drill: Police, students cooperate in training

Feb 20, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge Staff Writer

The Riverton Police Department Special Response Unit squelched a protest by students at CWC on Friday.

But just for fun -- and training.

Eight students from the CWC debate team showed up on the west side of the Robert A. Peck Arts Center to stage a mock protest so the college to do some annual testing of the emergency alert system.

CWC rural justice director Eric Heiser said the training was the brainchild of several different people, among them campus safety director Steve Barlow and Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead.

"The original plan for Friday's training was to include more emergency departments and involved a live shooter, but it was decided this first joint venture should start out small.

"The scenario of a protest is absolutely in line with what could happen at the college, especially with an election season approaching," Heiser said.

Student protestors were asked to stage a mock protest while the police moved in and practiced dispersing the crowd. Chief Mike Broadhead informed the students prior to the protests that it was also an exercise for officers to see how they would react in particular situations.

"Any time you hear a whistle, stop. We will more than likely talk things over and figure out if something could have gone a little better or if something could have been prevented," Broadhead said.

The students held up handmade posters with slogans such as, "Dear 97%, take a shower, grow up, get a job," or "Fat cats-America not stray cats," "Hug a banker not a tree," and "The corporation makes the man."

A siren went off at the college to let everyone on campus know the training would be starting. Police officers lined up on one side of the building with student protestors chanting on the sidewalk and proceeded to move toward them and push them off the sidewalk.

As the students chanted, "hell no, we won't go," or "down with the 99!" Police officers marched toward them saying in unison, "Left, left, move back! Police! Move back!"

The first time the police dispersed the crowd, the students seemed a bit frazzled as the police shoved them back off the sidewalk.

"It is a little intimidating having someone scream at you to move back and mean business" student Annah Brown said.

The drill was repeated three times, and the students appeared to become more comfortable getting into the role of protestors.

At one point all eight students linked arms and sat down on the ground as the police moved in and removed them from blocking the entrance of a door.

Student Martin Diaz attempted to make it very difficult for the police to extract him from the premise until a police officer started using force and Diaz reluctantly gave in.

"I was thinking I was going to continue resisting until the police officer hit this one point on my neck and I was pretty sure there was no way I was going to continue putting up with that," Diaz said.

Students also used tennis balls to throw at police to distract them from attempting to disperse them from protesting.

Although the students agreed it was an educational experience and they did not expect the force from the police, Annah Brown wondered if she might have been more inclined to not back down from the police approaching if it had been an actual protest.

"I'm sure if I was actually involved in a protest for something I am really passionate about, I wouldn't spend my time protesting and go through something like this if it was for nothing.

"I wouldn't have backed down and would be willing to stand up for something I believe in," Brown said.

The training was worked into the college's annual Jeanne Cleary Act-required testing of its emergency alert system.

"This was definitely an interesting experience to be able to see what might happen during an actual protest.

"The police really motivate you to listen to them with their voices while moving toward you and even though I wanted to resist, I ultimately gave in," Diaz said.