Dear Campus Administrators and UCPD Officials,
As you are certainly aware, much of the campus community remains engrossed in debate and discussion following the demonstration and police action on November 9 in front of Sproul Hall. Additionally, many members of the community will be closely observing the demonstrations this week and any potential response on the part of the administration and UCPD. After several days of reflection and hearing student input, we would like to present some thoughts and recommendations that might assist you in making future decisions related to student demonstrations.
Acknowledging Steps Taken thus Far by the Administration
First, we would like to commend the decision to grant amnesty under the Student Code of Conduct to students arrested in relation to the November 9 demonstration. This is a promising step in signaling to the community that the administration recognizes the concerns that have risen in response to the Day of Action and Occupy Cal. As this precedent of amnesty will guide student demonstrators’ future expectations, we hope that the administration will strive to remain consistent with this approach moving forward.
We also hope that the administration will prioritize the process of reviewing the police response (including the review of individual complaints) to ensure that it occurs in a timely manner. While the Police Review Board’s (PRB) past review of the November 2009 Wheeler Occupation and accompanying administrative response was extensive, the PRB failed to communicate results quickly enough. The PRB report was released a full seven months after the events, and the administration’s comprehensive response was first communicated to students almost two years after the incident in September 2011. By then, much of the context and interest surrounding the issue was lost. It is crucial for the administration and independent reviewers to communicate their findings and corresponding policy changes sooner while the campus remains in an effective climate to engage with them. Even if the comprehensive review process takes significant time, it would be helpful to communicate interim updates to students.
Additionally, we recommend a independent investigation to be conducted in addition to the PRB’s review. In either case, student representation is crucial to the legitimacy of the review. While the previous PRB report included the participation of one student, we would urge the inclusion of more student representatives in the process.
Evaluating UCPD/Administration Response and Recommendations
After compiling student input and examining the administration’s commitments to improve the handling of student demonstrations (http://administration.berkeley.edu/prb/PRBfinal10-12-11.pdf), we have put together a set of observations and recommendations that we hope you will find useful.
Clarity and Consistency in Communication
While the administration was clear about their objective in prohibiting tents or encampments, the administration should effectively communicate its decisions during the time of the demonstrations. For example, many students reported confusion over the multiple and sometimes conflicting dispersal orders. While announcements made by the UCPD with bullhorns were made in good faith, most of those present on Sproul on November 9 could not hear the warnings due to the large crowd and noise. Clarity in communication can greatly reduce tension and possibly avoid the physical confrontation that occurred last week. We strongly urge the UCPD to utilize the PA system that was purchased by UCPD for this very use to issue clear messages prior to police action (e.g. dispersal orders, notices that encampments will be cleared, etc.) with relevant timeline and explanation.
By late evening, it was difficult to get in contact with key administrators in an attempt to understand what decisions were being made. Without a channel of communication among students and the administration, there was greater panic and confusion. For instance, although the General Assembly voted in favor of maintaining encampments on Sproul Plaza, demonstrators were not aware that such resolution would indicate that other terms of the proposal were rejected. Due to this confusion, students were outraged that the police actions did not mirror the promises by the administration that were made earlier in the day, such as the 10 minute dispersal warning. Such discrepancy compromised the trust and reliability of the administration as well as UCPD, further escalating the tension. We urge you to maintain a clear line of communication with students in order to prevent any confrontation that may occur. One possible way of doing this would be to establish defined points of contact within both the administration and UCPD that would be available for discussion for the duration of the incident.
Furthermore, we recommend the administration and UCPD clarify what specific actions warrant an arrest. It was unclear from an observer’s viewpoint why some demonstrators were arrested as opposed to others. Providing reasons and clear guidelines for arrests would aid in better understanding of the UCPD’s actions, thereby indirectly reducing some of the tension among demonstrators, UCPD, and the administration.
The Use of only the Most Practical and Non-Intrusive Methods
As mentioned in the Chancellor’s message to the campus, many of the images and videos that were captured during the incident were disturbing and “unworthy of the university community.” We believe that this can be avoided in the future by following the rule of using only the most practical and non-intrusive methods available (language taken from the administration’s response to the PRB report).
Some of the most disturbing images of police action involved officers using force when their objectives were not immediately clear. To avoid this, we strongly urge that UCPD refrain from using any form of force against protesters engaging in non-violent demonstration. We also recommend that UCPD only disrupt or attempt to maneuver the demonstration when absolutely necessary and that they articulate these reasons before engaging in such action whenever possible.
The use of mutual aid also remains a sensitive issue as several students reported non-UCPD officers using differentially more aggressive and physical tactics. While recognizing the resource constraints of UCPD, we recommend that UCPD employ mutual aid as sparingly as possible and to continue to implement the buddy system (one UCPD officer paired with each mutual aid officer).
While we recognize that determining how many officers to deploy and which equipment to use should be left to experts in crowd control and safety (which we do not pretend to be), we think it is also worth considering the costs associated with increasing police presence in the form of escalating tensions and the adversarial nature of the environment. We recommend that these costs be weighed whenever UCPD considers deploying more officers and more serious equipment.
Finally, members of the community reported incidents of posters and other free speech material being confiscated, even when they were within campus regulations. Even in cases where campus regulations call for the removal of material (e.g. banners hanging from walls), such action often unnecessarily pits UCPD against demonstrators. We are encouraged by UCPD’s promise moving forward to remove free speech material only when it becomes an obstruction.
We hope that you will take these observations and recommendations into consideration as you make decisions related to future demonstrations. We would be happy to answer any questions or set up a meeting related to anything we have discussed.
ASUC Student Advocate
ASUC External Affairs Vice President