UC Police review of Occupy Cal protest critical of administration, justifies baton use

Review says outlawing Police use of pepper-spray was inappropriate

Tony Zhou/Staff
Police attempt to break through a line of students on Nov. 9 during the Occupy Cal protests.

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A review released Friday concludes that police use of force against students in the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protests was within reason, but criticized the UC Berkeley administration’s response to the event.

The operational review was conducted by Jeff Young, assistant chief of police at the UCLA Police Department, and contends that police at UC Berkeley were limited on Nov. 9 by a ban on the use of pepper spray. Furthermore, the review takes issue with the campus’s decision to grant amnesty from Campus Code of Student Conduct violations to some protesters, among other findings.

The review has been submitted to the campus Police Review Board to consider while drafting its own report of events surrounding the Nov. 9 protests. The protests elicited widespread controversy after police used batons on student demonstrators attempting to set up an encampment on Upper Sproul Plaza.

Since many of the student protesters formed a blockade by linking arms — an action considered a form of “active resistance” in UCPD’s crowd control policy — and “pushed back against the police line,” the review concludes that police use of force was in compliance with UCPD policies and procedures.

“The protestors can be seen with interlocked arms, tensing their muscle (granted, a natural reaction to a baton strike), grabbing at officers’ batons and moving to block officers from going around the crowd,” the review states. “The videos viewed do not show any intentional baton blows to prohibited parts of the protestors’ body.”

Young’s investigation concluded that officers may have been more effective in controlling the protest crowd and reducing the time it took to clear upper Sproul Plaza if the use of pepper spray had not been prohibited by campus UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya.

“Having such a limited number of options is inappropriate for crowd management and takes away several very effective options that most of the officers are trained to use,” the review states. “Probably, the most appropriate for this situation was the use of (pepper) spray.”

However, while maintaining that the police acted within policy, the report is critical of the campus administration’s response.

The review condemns campus administrators for issuing amnesty from student conduct charges to some student demonstrators involved in the Occupy Cal protest on Nov. 9, stating that doing so “eliminates consequences for those who truly deserve some form of accountability for their actions,” and takes away the opportunity for campuswide discussions on issues that the protest may have stemmed from and new ones it may have created.

Issuing amnesty, the investigation concluded, aids in spreading a sense of indignation at the police use of force, but does not change the fact that police were lawfully responding to a situation the report called “unsafe and disruptive.”

The report also remains critical of the role administrative offices played in quelling the protest. It maintains the campus student affairs office should have first sent a representative to warn protesters of student conduct policies before the police warning.

“Typically, this first contact by Student Affairs employees can help deescalate the situation and open up dialogues that seek solutions,” the report states. “The least effective approach is that which puts the Police Department out front with no intermediate steps available between contact and enforcement.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said campus administrators and UCPD will consider the findings of the report when re-evaluating protest management policies.

“We do believe that the report provides a fair representation of the events on Nov. 9,” she said. “It raises issues for the administration and the police department and we will be evaluating these recommendations and others still pending from the Police Review Board and the UC.”

Yet this review and other investigations initiated on the heels of the Nov. 9 protest – including the Police Review Board process and a systemwide review of police practices – have raised concern among protesters who claim that any investigation associated with the university will not fairly evaluate the protest situation from the perspective of the students involved.

“The evaluation is far from perfect,” said Beezer de Martelly, a campus graduate student and Occupy Cal protester. “I don’t believe that there has been a truly independent review process.”

Since the Nov. 9 protests, the campus has taken steps to address large-scale protest management. In February, the campus announced the creation of a Protest Response Team as part of the campus’s “evolving approach to responding when protests occur that violate campus policies.”

The campus’s approach to demonstrations involves policies that consider context-specific issues and the level of disruption to campus operations as factors to be taken into account to “minimize the potential for harm” in responding to a protest, Gilmore said.

The operational review also presented other recommendations to UCPD and campus administrators to prevent a similar protest situation the future, including increasing the use of barricades and improving sound equipment to issue clearer messages on unlawful assemblies at protest sites. The report also recommends that UCPD create a new staff position charged with increasing the level community outreach between the police force and campus community.

Read the full text of the review below.

Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter.