What Berkeley police can (and can’t) use during protests

Julian Kilchling /File
Protesters yell at each other in alt-right rally April 15 at Civic Center Park, while police stand between the groups.

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Update 09/14/17: This article has been updated to reflect a new ordinance that was passed Tuesday.

In light of the Ben Shapiro event Sept. 14 and Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week,” from Sept. 24-27, there has been discussion about what Berkeley Police Department can use at protests. Here is a list of the equipment police officers can and cannot use in crowd control situations.

Batons – Permitted 

BPD officers are often equipped with batons at protests and are permitted to use them when trying to achieve a specific crowd control objective when directed by police leadership, according to General Order C-64. The order said that officers shall not use batons to strike individuals in the “head, neck, throat, kidneys, spine, or groin” unless that individual presents a threat of “serious bodily injury or death” to another individual or officer.

Chemical agents – Permitted

Officers may use chemical agents only after permission from the chief of police, unless a request cannot be made in a timely manner and the delay in placing the request would increase the risk and severity of the situation, according to General Order U-2. General Order C-64 states, however, that officers cannot use chemical agents with the purpose of achieving a custodial arrest on individuals “committing an unlawful act with passive resistance.”

Tasers – Not permitted 

Tasers are not permitted for use by BPD officers despite a push from the Berkeley Police Association in 2013 to change this policy.

Pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum) – Permitted

Pepper spray was prohibited from use in crowd control situations since Sept. 16, 1997. But at its special meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council approved BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood’s proposal, which asked for permission for police officers to use pepper spray. Mayor Jesse Arreguin added an amendment to the proposal, which stipulated that pepper spray cannot be used to control crowds or nonviolent individuals.

“A pepper spray aerosol dispenser allows police to employ a direct, limited application of force to repel specific attackers,” Greenwood said in his report to the council. “In contrast, tear gas canisters release a cloud of chemical irritant into a larger area, and the cloud can affect peaceful demonstrators, observers, or uninvolved parties. The use of batons to repel direct attacks on officers carries an inherent risk of injury to both suspects and officers.”

PRC Commissioner Andrea Prichett said that in 1997, City Council voted to prohibit police from using pepper spray on crowds because of the toxic effects of the propellent. She said she is curious about how BPD will use pepper spray — either towards individual violent behavior or on an entire crowd.

“I think the process is poor. This undermines, reduces and lessens the proper role of the PRC,” said PRC Chair George Lippman. “In a volatile crowd situation, the ability to control less lethal munition, including chemical munition, is notoriously poor. The likelihood is great that an unintended target will be affected.”

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel and UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich both declined to comment on the equipment officers are permitted or prohibited from using, citing both departments’ policy not to disclose tactical information.

“We don’t comment on specific tactics or how we will deploy our resources and equipment,” Reich said in an email. “In the event a crowd control situation develops, UCPD will deploy those equipment and resources authorized and available to us to protect the public and to restore order.”

Contact Cade Johnson and Gibson Chu at [email protected].