Page One

Police Review Commission Discusses Policing Crowds

By Judith Scherr
Friday March 28, 2008

The question of how best to police protesters surfaced over the last few months as anti-war and pro-war groups stepped up demonstrations at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center and other Berkeley venues.  

At its meeting Wednesday evening, the Police Review Commission appointed a subcommittee to review and consider revising the Berkeley Police Department’s crowd-control policies. Commissioners also decided to hold a forum on May 14 where the public will be able to speak and the police chief and city manager will follow up on complaints made at a March 13 meeting that neither attended. 

At the March 13 meeting, where police were accused of overreacting to demonstrators, including pushing some down on the ground and failing to give clear direction, the public asked for immediate changes in crow-control techniques, as the five-year anniversary of the war was to take place March 19, with several demonstrations planned.  

Commissioners Bill White and Michael Sherman attended meetings with police, city staff and protesters prior to the March 19 demonstrations. 

Videos shot by members of the public at earlier demonstrations showed police pushing demonstrators with batons—some forcibly—without the protesters having been asked to vacate the area.  

“I asked if a warning could be given,” Sherman told the commissioners, explaining, however, that he was told that if a dispersal order is given, arrests have to follow if the order is ignored. Police did not want to do that, he said. 

Sherman said discussions in meetings with city staff also focused on the role played by city employee Greg Daniel, whose title is Code Enforcement Supervisor. Daniel was called to the Marine Recruiting Station on March 13 by police to enforce code violations related to objects placed on the sidewalk, which observers said resulted in increased tensions.  

A collision between Zanne Joi of Code Pink and Daniel—which Joi says was intentional and Daniel’s supervisor, Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna, says was inadvertent—resulted in Joi’s landing on the ground in the street. Joi told the Planet Thursday she has made a complaint to police (who refused to acknowledge that she had made a citizen’s arrest at the time) and is waiting to see whether police will send the complaint to the district attorney. 

Sherman told the commission he spotted Daniel again at the March 19 World Can’t Wait demonstration: “On Wednesday he showed up again. He took out his pad [to write up citations]. There was a line of police with him.”  

Sherman said the plan had been to diffuse tensions, not increase them, which the code enforcement officer was likely to do. Sherman said he made a quick call to Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna and immediately after that, Daniel left the area.  

Police Chief Doug Hambleton told the commission that satisfying the public had been a challenge. 

“We’ve been feeling like we’re caught in the middle,” he said, explaining that there are concerns from three distinct groups: the anti-war protesters, the pro-military group and the business community.  

“They all said we’re not doing our job,” he said, joking that therefore they must be doing something right.  

Hambleton addressed the question of objects placed on the sidewalk. “The police department is not the principal enforcer for objects on the sidewalk,” he said. Sound permit enforcement comes from the Environmental Health Division in the Health and Human Services Department. 

“All departments are meeting on this,” he said.  

Commissioners said they thought policing went well during the anti-war demonstrations March 19 and the pro-war demonstration the following Saturday.  

Hambleton added that four Code Pink women had been arrested Monday when they entered and refused to leave the recruiting center. He said they praised the jail conditions and even got hot vegetarian meals. (A Daily Planet call to Code Pink confirmed this.) 

The Planet asked the chief to explain some differences perceived in policing the anti-war and pro-war demonstrations. For example, there appeared to be fewer officers Saturday for the larger pro-war crowd.  

“The numbers [of police] are based on the anticipated crowd size and anticipation for conflict,” the chief said. The information police had for the Wednesday demonstration indicated it would be larger, he said.  

The chief spoke to the issue of helmets worn at the 24-hour Feb. 12 demonstration and counter-demonstration in front of the Council Chambers. “We prefer not to have the helmet on; we put it on when we perceive hostility.” 

The perception of hostility can depend on whether the crowd is yelling at you, he said. Video clips of at least two demonstrations show demonstrators standing at close range to officers and shouting at them.  

Asked about whether police feel more comfortable with pro-war groups than pro-peace demonstrators, Hambleton said it’s easier to be with people who shake hands and comply with requests than with “people cussing at you.”