What is Kettling?

Christina Edwards

Sometimes, during protests or other crowd gatherings, law enforcement officials use a crowd control technique known as kettling. This technique is also sometimes known as corralling or containment, and it involves police herding protesters, or other members of a crowd, towards one certain area. Sometimes these crowds can be held for hours, which denies them certain rights and privileges. This crowd management technique has been scrutinized in a number of countries, and some citizens have even brought lawsuits against local law enforcement officials who use kettling.

Kettling is a crowd control technique police may use with large gatherings of people.
Kettling is a crowd control technique police may use with large gatherings of people.

Kettling gets it name from the idea that steam is confined to one small area in a tea kettle. It was first developed and used by German law enforcement officials in 1986. During a protest against nuclear devices in Hamburg, German law enforcement officials used kettling to try to contain roughly 800 people.

Kettling is a containment strategy used to keep crowds in a certain are.
Kettling is a containment strategy used to keep crowds in a certain are.

During kettling, a line of law enforcement officials usually tries to force a crowd to a certain designated area. It is often likened to herding cattle to a certain spot in a field. Sometimes the crowd is pushed back, and sometimes the crowd is forced to stay in one certain area for hours. During this time, the members of the crowd are typically denied any privileges such as water, food, or bathrooms. The idea behind the concept is that the protesters will grow so weary that the only energy they have left will be concentrated toward giving up and going home.

In addition to other tactics, sometimes the police officers involved in the kettling will use other riot and crowd control methods to drive the crowds where they want them. The use of police batons and other violent riot tactics are not uncommon when it comes to kettling. Many law enforcement officials whot have used this tactic have been criticized, and some have even been sued.

During the May Day Riots of 2001, London police officials attempted to control the crowd in the streets by using kettling. They held the crowd for hours, and some innocent bystanders were also trapped along with the protesters. Two people tried to sue the police department, but lost in 2005. They appealed their case, but lost that as well.

In 2002, during a protest against nuclear devices, German police also used kettling to control the crowd. One woman sued the police, stating that she was not allowed access to a toilet during the management of the crowd. The courts ruled in her favor, stating that she had not been treated humanely.

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Discussion Comments


Kettling is despicable and amounts to false imprisonment. Have any of you ever read the Constitution? "Police doing their 'duty'." Right.


Amendment 1 guarantees the right to assemble peacefully.


These people are in a public place. There are not public washrooms everywhere, nor are there ever enough for everybody who may gather in public.

If you want 24/7 access to a washroom, stay home, or at the mall, or a restaurant, etc. If you feel strongly enough about an issue to inconvenience others, tie up traffic, and monopolize valuable police resources by joining a protest/tantrum/riot, then you should understand it isn't supposed to be fun. It certainly isn't fun for all rest of the citizens affected by a vocal minority.

The law abiding citizens are the real 99 percent.


@StarJo - Like you, I sympathize with the police. My husband is an officer, and I worry about his safety when things like this happen.

One of his friends was killed during a protest. He was on duty, trying to lead the crowd away to a containment area. One guy punched him, so he reached for his taser.

Before he could grab it, the guy pulled a gun on him and shot him in the head. The cops don’t use force unless threatened, yet they are viewed as the enemy.

I have nightmares about something like that happening to my husband. My plea with protestors is that they leave peacefully once the police arrive.


@goldensky - What exactly do you mean by "lured several protesters onto the Brooklyn Bridge?" They're were riots going on all over the place.

In my opinion, the police were only doing their job by trying to keep order and move the protesters to one central location.

And as I understood it, those citizens who were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge were first warned to get off the roadway. They just refused to listen and so were faced with the consequence of jail.


I think that denying people bathroom privileges is wrong. What if someone is incontinent? You take away their dignity by making them wet themselves in public.

Also, what if someone has diarrhea? That would be a terrible situation for that individual. Police shouldn’t take away basic human rights just to prove a point.

I know that crowds have to be controlled sometimes, but I just think that people should be allowed to go to the restroom when they ask. Take away their food and water, but don’t embarrass them by making them soil themselves.


Kettling may sound harsh to some, but the police are just doing their duty to maintain the peace and safety of the people. I think it may be necessary in some situations.

If people feel passionately enough about something to publicly protest it, then they have to count the cost. They need to realize that there may be consequences, and if they don’t feel strongly enough about the subject to go without a toilet or food for a few hours in support of it, then maybe they shouldn’t be protesting.

When large groups of people protest, they disrupt traffic and work for many innocent people. If they inconvenience others, they must be willing to be inconvenienced themselves.


One of my friends who lives in New York City said this kind of thing goes on more often than people realize, especially in large cities like NYC, LA and London.

Apparently, during the occupy wallstreet rioting, the police lured several protestors onto the Brooklyn Bridge where they were held against their will without water, food or bathroom privileges. Some citizens were beaten and arrested.

She said a class action lawsuit has been filed against NYPD now for the violation of the constitutional right of assembly. It'll be interesting to hear how it all turns out.

As of this writing the only response from the City of New York was from the mayor who stated that the police were only doing what they're trained to do.

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