UC Berkeley's Police Review Board is Disturbed by Use of Batons

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday June 06, 2012 - 05:58:00 PM

The University of California at Berkeley's police review board says in a report issued today that it's "disturbed" by officers' use of batons against protesters at an "Occupy Cal" demonstration last Nov. 9.

Officers used batons when they cracked down on an encampment in front of Sproul Hall.

The report says the five members of the board disagree on the number of instances in which the conduct by campus police was "inconsistent with campus norms."

But it says, "We are in agreement that specific campus processes and procedures in the future must be in place to make it clear to the entire campus community when those norms may be crossed."

The report adds that, "Strictly confined limits, as precise as possible, should be articulated regarding the use of force by law enforcement during any protest events." 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who had prohibited campus encampments but was traveling in Asia at the time of the Nov. 9 protest, asked the police review board to investigate officers' actions and tactics. 

After he returned to the campus, Birgeneau and the university's crisis management team adopted a new approach to deal with protests and encampments calling for university leaders to be more patient and choose the time and manner of responding to unlawful protests that will minimize the possibility of physical harm. 

The new approach also requires that civilian university administrators must authorize any use of force by police except in emergencies in which police must act immediately on their own. 

Jesse Choper, a professor at UC Berkeley's law school who chairs the police review board, said in a conference call with reporters that the policy change is "very promising" and offers hope for better outcomes at future protests if the university implements it properly. 

The report says officers' coordinated use of batons to access protestors' tents and establish a perimeter "may well have been contrary" to university police policies at the time. 

And it says the use of batons was "more plainly contrary" to the new principles created after Nov. 9 because "there was no immediate threat to the safety of officers or others" and there wasn't any active resistance to or evasion of arrest. 

UC Berkeley graduate student Eve Weissman, a member of the police review commission, said in an addendum to the report that, "The university's use of force on Nov. 9 was unjustified because it rested on faulty factual assumptions and questionable legal premises." 

Weissman said the university's belief that non-students prone to disruptive behavior had a central role in the protest was "unfounded" and it's unclear if the university had a legal basis to remove the protesters' tents from Sproul Plaza. 

Birgeneau said in a statement that the events of Nov. 9 were "unfortunate" and "we truly regret that our processes were not adequate for dealing with the particular challenges of that day." 

Birgeneau said he's confident that the new guidelines that were put in place after Nov. 9 "will minimize the likelihood of unfortunate interactions and use of force such as occurred" that day. 

He said the university will continue to clarify and improve its future responses to protests "consistent with honoring the university's commitment to freedom of expression and maintaining the kind of secure and safe environment which makes that ideal possible."