How Sgt. Farrell holds rein on the rowdies
SAN Diego police Sgt. Mary (Micki) Farrell might be called the Cagney or Lacey of the bleacher seats. In the fishbowl conditions of the modern stadium -- where beer-throwing rowdies, irate fans, and intoxicated hooligans often bring heated situations to a boil -- she routinely steers potentially violent situations out of the danger zone with cool confidence.Skip to next paragraph
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``Micki has a great deal of skill in understanding people and how they behave differently in crowds,'' says her supervisor on stadium detail, Sgt. Larry Miller. ``Part of it is education, part is instinct, part is experience, and part is caring deeply,'' he says.
As the world saw in the European Cup soccer finals in Brussels, back in May 1985, much is to be learned about the potential of mayhem, even death, resulting from uncontrolled emotion in crowded sports arenas. For example, last month an angry fan threw a knife from the stands of Yankee Stadium, grazing the arm of Wally Joyner as he walked toward the third base dugout with California Angel's winning pitcher, Mike Witt.
Sergeant Farrell's defensive techniques are simple, but not easily acquired: education and experience. One of a handful of women police officers, holder of a law degree, former teacher and coach of Harlem youth, she is also the daughter of a Marine Corps general who taught her confidence and self-reliance at an early age. Add to that a personal vision sharpened through years on the police beat, her natural talent, and the inclination to help others -- and you find how she established a record of success in this most untenable of arenas.
Says Dr. Irving Goldaber, director of the Center for the Study of Crowd and Spectator Behavior in Miami: ``The potential for stadium violence has always been there, but has become much more overt and blatant in the last 10 years with the growth of sports, mega-celebrations, and big-time rock concerts.''
Just such a possibility for violence occurred midway through a recent San Diego Padres baseball game, where crowd noise had reached a feverish pitch. According to a concerned-citizen account reaching the desk of Police Chief William Kolander, ``Fans from the opposing team . . . went from being noisome hecklers to obnoxious intruders. Padres fans seemed on the verge of retaliation.''
To heighten tension, a group of young men began blowing up beach balls to heckle the security guards. Shortly, eight to 10 security guards and armed policemen descended on the area, intending to eject the youths from the game amid cries of protests from nearby crowds. A pushing-and-shoving match ensued.
``The atmosphere was torrid,'' says Faye Hall, who was watching from a nearby section. ``The likelihood of violence became a probability. There appeared to be no simple solution.''
Enter Farrell, who was dispatched to the scene via walkie-talkie from a central command post atop the stadium. ``She immediately sent all the other policemen and security away and sat down with the troublemakers,'' Mrs. Hall says. Farrell stayed in the stands talking for more than 20 minutes. The crowd quieted and began watching the game again. When she left, the perpetrators were smiling. Later, more than 30 grateful people surrounded Farrell, congratulating her on a job well done, thanking her for averting what seemed like unavoidable disaster in the stands.
In an extended conversation on crowd control, Farrell drew the bottom line at understanding the word, ``power.'' ``I climbed over the bannister and sat down next to them and said, smiling: `Hi! How ya doin'?' '' she recalls.
``I've learned from years of police work that everyone sees themself as very important to themselves. When you recognize that and give them back their importance, 99 times out of a hundred, they are perfectly willing to let common sense reign, to let you do your job [as a police officer].''
How does one ``give them back their importance''?
Listen, recognize other points of view. ``Part of recognizing power,'' Farrell says, ``is the clich'e of `understanding where they are coming from,' which means sizing up beliefs about everything from his world view to his view of the particular situation. That means not assuming who's guilty. . . .''