Classical theories of crowd behaviour view crowd conflict as deriving from the pathology of the crowd itself. Recent developments in crowd psychology as the elaborated social identity model (ESIM) conceptualize crowd behaviour as a dynamic intergroup process between demonstrators and police. The present study assessed exposure to crowd conflict, adherence to classical views of crowd behaviour, public order policing methods and attributions of responsibility for crowd conflict among 352 Italian police officers. Results showed that exposure to crowd conflict was related to adherence to classical views of crowd, which, in turn, was related to ‘bad practices’ of public order policing and to system-justificatory attributions. Overall, these results offer support and extend the police perspective within the ESIM model. Practical implications for public order policing strategies and training are also discussed. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.