Saturday, May 5, 2012

Systemwide Pepper-Spray Report Released

After the pepper-spray incident at UC-Davis, various reports were prepared.  Among them is one recently released for comment by UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC-Berkeley Law School dean Christopher Edley.  Below are some excerpts from the Robinson-Edley Report followed by a link to the full report.  Note that unlike other reports, this one is meant to be advisory to the entire UC system rather than just UC-Davis.  News accounts have noted the report’s idea of musing “mediation” to defuse conflicts.  See, for example,

Excerpts from “Robinson-Edley Report”

…We have divided our recommendations into the following nine thematic categories:

1. Civil Disobedience Challenges.  Although the University already has policies regarding free expression, we recommend that it amend those policies in order to recognize explicitly the important and historic role of civil disobedience as a protest tactic.  Such a discussion will remind administrators and police that civil disobedience is not generally something to be feared and will not necessarily require force in response.  Those policies should also make clear, however, that civil disobedience by definition involves violating laws or regulations, and that because of the impact it can have on the rest of the campus community, civil disobedience will generally have consequences for those engaging in it. 

2. Relationship Building.  Protests are an inevitable reality for any modern university.  But some protests can be avoided if there are effective lines of communication between would-be protesters and administrative officials and robust opportunities to raise substantive concerns with the Administration and to obtain a meaningful response.  The University’s response to protests can also be handled better and more efficiently by building strong working relationships between police officials and administrators. 
Interactions between protesters and police in the midst of a demonstration will be less fraught if these groups have an opportunity to interact and learn about each other before the demonstration.  We recommend ways to build each of these relationships in advance of protests or civil disobedience.

3. Role Definition and Coordination.  In order to ensure an effective University response to protests involving civil disobedience, there must be an established system for coordination between police and administrators, with well-defined roles and a shared understanding that ultimate responsibility for the campus’s response rests with the Chancellor.  We offer recommendations aimed at improving the coordination between administrators and police and at implementing a consistent approach across our campuses.  We also advance recommendations regarding coordinating with outside law enforcement agencies who may provide assistance during large demonstrations.

4. Hiring and Training.  The most effective way to avoid violent confrontations between police and protesters is to ensure that the police and administrators on the ground have the knowledge and the temperament to help resolve the situation in a peaceful way.  We advance recommendations regarding our policies for hiring police officers and for training them about how to respond to civil disobedience.  We also recommend that the University require the civilian administrators responsible for responding to civil disobedience to attend regular trainings, in order to educate them about methods to de-escalate protest situations and to help them understand police policies and practices.

5. Communications with Protesters.  Violent confrontations between police and protesters often result from a break-down in communications.  With strong communications, civil disobedience can sometimes be avoided—or, at least, can take place peacefully without any use of force by police.  We offer recommendations regarding communication and coordination with protesters in advance of a planned event, as well as during an ongoing demonstration.

6. Response During Events.  Once a protest is underway and individual protesters begin to engage in civil disobedience, the decisions made by administrators can directly affect whether the protest ends peacefully rather than with violence.  We propose various strategies for reaching a peaceful accord with protesters without resorting to the use of force by police, including employing trained mediators and using administrative citations in place of arrests.  We also recommend policies to guide our campus police departments if the Administration decides that a police response to the protest is necessary.  These include developing a framework to provide detailed guidance on appropriate responses to different types of resistance, adopting consistent policies across our campuses regarding which weapons may be carried by UC police, and devising procedures for improving coordination with outside law enforcement agencies if they are needed to provide assistance. 

7. Documenting Activity During Demonstrations.  A consistent problem in the area of police response to civil disobedience is determining, after the fact, what actually happened.  We recommend several parallel methods for recording the actions of demonstrators and police: the use of neutral observers, a policy of videotaping activity at the demonstration, and the creation of police after-action reports following both successful and unsuccessful police responses to demonstrations.

8. Post-Event Review.  In the wake of any civil disobedience incident involving the use of force, the conduct of the police and the protesters should be the subject of a close and careful review.  Although one of our campuses has a dedicated police review board composed of civilians, the other campuses do not have any established form of post-event review outside of the police department.  We recommend that the University adopt a systemwide structure located outside of the police department for reviewing the police response to civil disobedience.

9. Implementation.  Finally, we suggest a process for implementing the recommendations in this Report.  Most centrally, we propose that the President require each Chancellor to take concrete action to implement our recommendations, and to report promptly to the President on his or her progress.
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(a) Background

At the Town Hall meetings we conducted, several people suggested that our campuses should train mediators who could facilitate discussion between protesters and the Administration during civil disobedience events. These mediators might be faculty members or staff, or mediation experts from outside the University. Students said that the Administration’s “first response should not be ‘let’s call the police department,” and that a mediation approach would offer the Administration a helpful alternative.   Several pointed to instances when faculty members had helpfully facilitated communications between student protesters and the Administration. Regarding one of these instances, a student reported: “I saw a hand reaching out from the faculty.  I see that as one of the ways where we can make progress.”

(b) Recommendation

We agree with students and faculty who urged that a formal mediation program be established.  In many instances, the interaction between protesters and administrators would benefit from the presence of a trained mediator, who could help both sides arrive at feasible solutions.  We think it would be preferable to train staff or faculty volunteers to perform this function, rather than to rely on mediators from outside the University. 

Mediators internally recruited and trained would be familiar with the University and would require little advance preparation to get up to speed on most issues prompting a demonstration. Additionally, mediators may be needed on short notice; it would be helpful to have them readily available on campus, rather than relying on external mediators with potentially conflicting commitments.  We therefore recommend that campuses either develop their own team of mediators or join with other campuses in their region to do so.

Recommendation 32. Establish an internal mediation function at the campus or regional level to assist in resolving issues likely to trigger protests or civil disobedience.

Recommendation 33. Consider deploying this mediation function as an alternative to force, before and during a protest event. …
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Full report at

UPDATE: The UC-Davis chancellor was censured by the Davis Academic Senate regarding the pepper-spray incident.


Frankie Muhammad said...

Pepper spray is one of the best non-lethal weapons you can use for crowd control especially if you have a probelm on a college campus. Great article.

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