In early 2006, the city of Orlando, FL was informed by officials of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) that the group was organizing a march and protest in Orlando. The NSM is a neo-Nazi group that is known to take its radical white supremacy message into minority communities in hopes of creating civil unrest.
In late 2005, an NSM march in Toledo, OH fueled a riot, more than 100 people were arrested and officers were injured when counter-demonstrators clashed with police. Fearing the planned rally in Orlando would result in large-scale civil unrest and violence, the Orlando Police Department quickly organized a progressive strategy to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized during the NSM visit.
Logistically, the Orlando Police Department developed a very comprehensive operations plan. Special response teams from three central Florida law enforcement organizations (Orlando Police, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office) were organized and trained together. The route of the march and rally points were clearly defined, electronic surveillance was installed, legal issues were reviewed, an onsite arrest processing center was established, and contingency plans were in place.
Although the local law enforcement community was well-prepared through its collaborative efforts, public safety at the event hinged on the communities’ reaction, or inaction, to the NSM.
Undoubtedly, this event had the potential to overwhelm law enforcement resources if a large number of counter-protesters showed up to confront the NSM, so an additional component was added to the overall operations—community outreach and involvement.
Under the direction and leadership of Orlando Police Chief Michael J. McCoy, the police department used a public information and social marketing strategy to mobilize community volunteers from the targeted minority community. This strategy was so successful that it sent the NSM “home early” and has been touted as a national model by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service.
Social Marketing Strategy
What is this strategy? In today’s era of “governance,” public information campaigns and social marketing strategies are used to target, change, or modify behavior in the community. This strategy works through various community networks, along several pathways to provide information, frame information, and mobilize social and institutional groups to support the desired use of the information.
When the target behavior requires joint or coordinated efforts of social groups, social support and pressure becomes very important because residents are deeply committed to their social groups, and their politics and actions are shaped by these affiliations. Most important, public information and social marketing relies on voluntary compliance rather than legal or coercive forms of influence.
In Orlando, the local minority community located just west of downtown was targeted by the NSM in hopes of causing civil unrest and violence. Historically, this community has always had a strong core of committed community leaders, including local church ministers and pastors. It was these social leaders that were contacted by McCoy and Deputy Chief Val Demings to work closely with their community and law enforcement to ensure that peace and proper community behavior prevailed through the NSM’s messages of racism.
Nine days before the rally, Demings met with several members of the community such as pastors, business owners, and elected officials. Although the group knew it could not afford to ignore racism in America, the overall theme of the meeting was to ignore the rally. Without an audience, the NSM’s efforts fail. As one local minister eloquently stated, “Without oxygen, the fire goes out.”
The enthusiasm of the group members was overwhelming. They came up with a theme, “Operation Be Cool,” and set out to spread the message throughout the community and assist local law enforcement in preparation of the event. Through a highly active social marketing campaign, Operation Be Cool spread a message of dignity and restraint through the pulpit at local minority churches, in media conferences, on local radio shows, and by distributing fliers throughout the affected minority community and schools. It has even been reported that grade school children spoke of Operation be Cool in their history and social studies classes before the NSM event.
Undoubtedly, Operation Be Cool had a profound effect on the local minority counter-protest at the NSM march and rally. Although 40 local clergy and residents attended the NSM protest, they held hands and lowered their heads in prayer. Most of the local minority community chose to stay away from the event and directed their energy to an organized memorial in the city of Eatonville for the late Coretta Scott King.
To ensure that the local reaction to the event remained calm and dignified, nearly 30 Operation Be Cool volunteers, including Orlando City Councilwoman Daisy Lynum whose district was significantly affected by the event, were on hand throughout the march and rally and worked side by side with the local law enforcement.
Several hundred counter-protesters did attend the march, but most were from out of town. Only 17 arrests were made during the entire event, and the rally ended unexpectedly when the NSM left well in advance of its scheduled permitted time.
Because of its outstanding regional working relationships, central Florida law enforcement was able to muster the needed resources for an event of this magnitude. But community reaction, or “inaction,” was the key to successful law enforcement operations.
The Operation Be Cool team was able to influence community behavior through its social marketing activities for the NSM protest and have established themselves as group of goodwill ambassadors and community liaisons for the Orlando Police Department. The NSM event, which had huge negative overtones to it, turned into a positive event that demonstrated a truly collaborative effort between local law enforcement and its community.
Jeffrey W. Goltz is a captain in the Professional Standards Division of the Orlando, FL Police Department. He can be reached at Jeffrey.email@example.com.