A Rough Review

Appalled by the actions of UC Davis police who pepper-sprayed nonviolent student protestors, UC President Mark Yudof has sought to revise policing protocols by calling an emergency meeting with the chancellors to review police action. Yudof may be doing all he can to address this egregious incident, but his method will likely limit the possibility of substantive change to policing policy.

After a recent string of violence by police officers — most notably the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis and the baton incident at Cal — Yudof hired Bill Braton, former LAPD police chief, to review the police action taken during these protests. In 30 days, he will submit his report to a panel of students and faculty who will then suggest revisions to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.

This long-winded procedure will guarantee that by the time any revision to police protocols will be suggested, the outrage and impact of this police brutality will have fallen out of the public mind. But more importantly, Bratton is known for his zero-tolerance approach to crime. His belief that minor crimes like loitering should be dealt with as swiftly as major felonies makes it unclear whether his report will sufficiently condemn the actions of UC Davis police officers, given Bratton’s staunch support of aggressive police vigilance.

In response to the summer 2011 London riots, Prime Minister David Cameron flew Bratton over to advise the government how to react. Bratton announced his belief that the ‘criminal element’ needed to fear the police more, a feat made possible through more aggressive arrests. If this is any indication of the tone of his report, the UC system may very well end up in a more draconian police policy rooted in fear. According to UCI professor Mark Levine, Yudof hired this man without the opinions of any UC faculty — a number of whom would be much more capable experts than Bratton.

Additionally, Yudof appointed UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. to lead an examination of police protocol across all UC campuses. This will include visits to campuses to talk to students and faculty along with consultation with experts. Afterwards, they will recommend steps to be taken to change police procedures. Intentions aside, the end result may not yield any fruitful progress for police procedures. Admittedly, both Robinson and Edley Jr. are much less aggressive people than Bratton, but because they can only recommend revisions, there is no way to guarantee a change in police practices. All this effort of traveling and meeting experts could come to naught if changes are rejected by Yudof.

Ultimately, these changes to UC Davis and the UC system overall are dependent on how Yudof and the chancellors feel about the recommendations. None of the police practices are subject to democratic referendum, but rather it will be up to actors like Yudof and the chancellors to make a decisive change.

But Yudof doesn’t need two investigations and reviews to tell him that military grade pepper spray should be used from 15 feet away. Furthermore, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that police officers must face an immediate threat to use pepper spray. The videos from UC Davis on the other hand, showed police officers pepper spraying a row of students peacefully sitting on the ground in protest. Police are meant to protect and serve, a call to honor that was terribly absent during the protests. It is obvious that police procedures need to be changed. If student calls back down, these investigations will lead to meaningless reforms.

Faculty, staff, and students must be united and act vigilant to ensure police are unable to unlawfully suppress free speech on UC campuses. Students have a powerful voice, and it is time Yudof, the chancellors and the police come to this realization. Free speech must prevail and police suppression must end.

Readers can contact Saad Asad at [email protected]

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