University: Mediation, not police, for protests

AP News
Posted: May 04, 2012 6:07 PM
University: Mediation, not police, for protests

Administrators should consider deploying mediators instead of law enforcement at future campus demonstrations and better train school police, a University of California report issued Friday recommended after criticism of the force police used during protests last year.

The UC report lists 50 policy recommendations to help guide the 10-campus system's future responses to protests. In general, it calls for a more measured response that relies on more discussion at the beginning of a possible dispute in an effort to avoid the need for police.

"At the University of California we have an important tradition of free speech and protests," one of the report's authors, UC Berkeley Law School dean Christopher Edley Jr., said at a news conference. "We believe that it's a significant component of the process of education and maturation that students go through because we want them to be an active part in political life and civil discourse."

It's the latest in a series of reports spurred by campus police officers' use of pepper spray and batons during Occupy-related demonstrations on UC's Berkeley and Davis campuses.

The previous reports investigated the recent incidents and concluded that the use of force could have been avoided. The report released Friday was meant to change the university system's future responses to protests.

Among the 50 recommendations, the report concluded that campus administrators should be trained in de-escalation techniques that can be used instead of sending in police.

The report also recommended the development of internal student disciplinary measures that could be employed instead of having protesters arrested and sent into the criminal justice system.

"Something in between police issuing a misdemeanor citation ... versus doing nothing. There may be circumstances you want consequences for students, but don't want those consequences to be determined by the law enforcement system," Edley said.

Edley conceded that creating UC disciplinary measures comes with its own set of troubles and high administrative costs at a time of severe budget cutbacks, but he hoped the report will spur more discussion.

Video recording of clashes between police and protesters also played a role in what happened last year. Viral videos of seated students being pepper-sprayed in the face and others being jabbed with batons caused outrage.

The report said the UC should establish a program for video-taping protests "designed to develop a fair and complete record of event activity solely for evidentiary or training purposes."

Edley said the report's recommendations are meant to help the system avoid past mistakes, and he thinks it a road map to better management of future protests.

"Had our recommendations been in place, the mistakes made in November would not have been made," he said. "Maybe different mistakes, but not those mistakes. I feel very confident in that."

The report does not dismiss the need for police force in certain circumstances, and when it is needed, the authors recommend the use of "hands-on pain compliance techniques" instead of pepper spray. An example of such a technique is the application of pressure at certain points on a demonstrator's body to help immobilize the person.

"In these rare situations ... we would recommend that campus police utilize hands-on pain compliance techniques before pepper spray or batons whenever feasible," the report stated.

Barry Shiller, a spokesman for UC Davis, where the pepper-spraying incident occurred, said the insights from this report and the others that have been released will inform its reform efforts.

"Given that it includes 50 recommendations and spans more than 150 pages, we want to give this report the thoughtful review it deserves before addressing specific details," he said.