State legislators question university officials about November protests

Over the course of a more than four hour joint legislative hearing in Sacramento Wednesday, state legislators sought answers from UC and CSU officials regarding police use of force against nonviolent protesters in recent weeks.

Legislators repeatedly questioned officials — including UC President Mark Yudof and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi — about whether the universities’ current lines of authority for dealing with protests and individual campus policies adequately work with students.

“I’m… not clear on where the accountability and the responsibility ends between the administration and the chief of police,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. “I think we’re going to have to hear a really clear statement on that.”

The hearing was called for last month by Lowenthal and state Assemblymember and Chair of the Higher Education Committee Marty Block, D-San Diego, in response to November protest incidents at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, where police officers whacked protesters with batons and pepper sprayed them.

Four panels addressed legislators on issues including police oversight and use of force in protest situations, systemwide and individual campus protest policies and student leaders’ perspectives.

During the hearing, legislators extensively questioned university administrators regarding the steps they have taken since the incidents to improve systemwide policies that deal with police use of force and protests.

Katehi said she did not direct police to use pepper spray at her campus and that though she takes responsibility for the events, an outside investigation of the Nov. 18 incident by the Kroll Security Group and its chairman William Bratton — which Yudof announced Nov. 22 — will be completed by the end of January and shed light on who was directly responsible. She added that she would “feel quite inadequate” to make tactical decisions for police on the ground.

Upon completion of the security group’s investigation, a task force chaired by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso will examine the group’s report and make recommendations.

In response to concerns about the security group’s close ties with UC security systems in the past, Yudof said there was “zip zero” conflict of interest involved in hiring the group.

“(Bratton) has a splendid record in ferreting out police misconduct and will be subject to Justice Reynoso, so I don’t agree with that observation,” he said.

In addition to the UC Davis investigation, Yudof has called upon UC Chief Counsel Charles Robinson and Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley to make recommendations for improving systemwide police protocol and policies by March. Yudof said the recommendations will inevitably lead to a centralization of policies after Robinson and Edley interview a wide variety of people with varying perspectives.

“No matter how thin a pancake is, there is always two sides to it,” he said.

Lowenthal said the legislature will hold another hearing upon completion of the investigations.

Throughout the hearing, panelists expressed a need for consistent policies at all UC and CSU campuses regarding what protest actions, if any, would necessitate use of force.

Police practices consultant Barbara Attard suggested establishing citizen oversight of police actions on campuses in addition to administrative oversight, noting that, to her knowledge, UC Berkeley is the only campus with an independent police review board.

Sean Richards, vice president of legislative affairs for the California State Student Association, said student protests will continue growing as long as the state cuts funding from higher education.

“It’s plain and simple why these things are happening,” Richards said. “Students are going to rise up, they are going to occupy. We’ve tried lobbying — we’ve tried lobbying for the past ten years. We don’t know what else to do at this point.”

Alisha Azevedo is the assistant university news editor.

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  • Meh

    Discretionary power of arrest, exercise of the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, this – by definition – is what the police hold over the populace.

    When public servants are vested with such power over the public, they must be accountable to the public. CA has enacted laws to greatly exempt law enforcement from meaningful public oversight.

    With municipal police departments at least some minimal political mechanism exists to bring about changes in force personnel and policy: the mayor and/or city council can fire and replace the chief of police.

    Regarding UCPD, the public has no codified ability to obtain oversight or bring about changes in personnel or practices. UCPD is wholly unaccountable to the people in its charge, and that situation is untenable in the long term.