BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Police in riot gear and the tactics and equipment they use on protesters such as in Ferguson, Mo. and the Occupy movement in the Bay Area may not prevent violent clashes as much as inciting them, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to UC Berkeley’s The Deciding Force Project:

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There is good reason to believe that the outcomes of such protest movements depend on the ways in which they are policed. But researchers have been unable to satisfactorily explain why police respond to protest movements as they do.

The researchers are taking an in-depth look at the Occupy movement of 2011 which saw a number of clashes between protesters and riot police in cities across the U.S., including Oakland and San Francisco.

The project hopes to find out if certain police tactics are associated with violent clashes and which approaches are more likely to lead to violence or compromise.

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“When police wear riot gear anticipating violence they unwittingly precipitate that violence by unnecessarily intimidating and alienating protesters,” said lead researcher Nick Adams.

Adams said that while there is correlational data between riot police being deployed and a violent outcome, it should also be noted that sometimes police show up in riot gear as a response to protester violence.

The Deciding Force Project is also recruiting volunteers to help process their data and add their own research to the project, with the ultimate goal of de-escalating potential flash points.

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We are not for or against police or protesters in general. We are for more peaceful and productive interactions between these parties. And we hope and expect that our research will foster conversations within and between these parties to diminish violent escalations during future episodes of political contestation.