Saturday, April 7, 2012

Report: UC Cops Should Have Used Pepper Spray on Unruly Demonstrators

Doug Oakley and Kristin J. Bender 
Police trying to control a raucous protest at UC Berkeley last fall should have used pepper spray to control students, faculty and others but they were instead limited to jabbing them with their batons, concludes a review of the confrontation released Friday. 
It was not appropriate to ban officers from using options, such as pepper spray and tear gas, for which they were trained and equipped, the review found. 
Officers were trying to get through a rowdy crowd to remove tents erected on Sproul Plaza by the Occupy Cal movement. The protesters had also linked arms to block police on Nov. 9, according to the review done by Jeff Young, UCLA assistant police chief. 
"A few focused applications (of pepper spray) on the crowd that blocked the officers ... likely would have cleared the area very quickly, with few additional baton strikes," he wrote of police operations that day. 
Young said the videos that surfaced in the days after the protest that showed police jabbing protesters "were indeed graphic and hard to watch." 
"However the videos that I reviewed did not confirm any allegations of excessive uses of force on the part of UC Berkeley police," he said. 
The report said UC Berkeley police Chief Mitch Celaya "denied approval of the use of (pepper) spray," through the chain of command prompting one police officer interviewed for the report to complain: "That leaves us with only our batons." 
Celaya said there are pros and cons to using pepper spray to control unruly crowds. The biggest problem is cross contamination because it spreads quickly through the air and doesn't allow officers to target only the person not cooperating with police. 
"The advantage of pepper spray is you don't typically get injuries. It makes people run away or stop what they are doing,'' said Celaya. 
Celaya said the baton is better for crowd control when dealing with one or a few aggressive individuals. 
"With the baton, I can target individuals. I have some control of where I am directing my baton strike. There are no cross contamination issues." 
Young interviewed 20 protesters, witnesses, students, faculty, police and administrators for the report and reviewed 77 YouTube videos shot on the Day of Action for Public Education on Nov. 9. 
In general, Young found that the campus administration and police acted appropriately by their own standards and planning and by police standards. 
Young reports one unnamed campus administrator with 25 years experience working with the university police said policing protests at UC Berkeley are difficult because the administration changes its mind frequently and does not send clear messages to the officers. 
Young said the campus division of student affairs should have been more active in managing the protest and criticized giving blanket amnesty to the protesters. 
That was premature and reduced the effectiveness of UC's student affairs staff, he said. The campus judicial unit otherwise would have investigated and taken action for the good of the campus and the individual students, he said. 
Celaya said the report doesn't change how the department will do crowd control in the future. "What I've learned is demonstrations are dynamic and fluid and you've got to look at the circumstances that are going on at the moment." 
Assistant regional editor Andrew McGall contributed to this report. 
Review of UC Police 
UCLA police Assistant Chief Jeff Young made several recommendations for dealing with protests, among them: * Use more barricades.* Issue clear declarations of an unlawful assembly.* Avoid setting up police units in view of protesters.* Improve sound equipment and use high-quality video cameras.* Post online the campus police policies on the use of force.* Involve student leadership in planning.

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