Police Departments Learn from Riot in Preparation for Protests

Photo: Berkeley police and UCPD clashed with rioters Friday. UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said the department was reluctant to arrest many protesters because officers were outnumbered.
Skyler Reid/Photo
Berkeley police and UCPD clashed with rioters Friday. UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said the department was reluctant to arrest many protesters because officers were outnumbered.

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Anaylsis: police response to Friday riots

City News Editor Tomer Ovadia and Assistant City News Editor Chris Carrassi talk about the police response to Friday morning's riots.

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Police efforts to confront Friday morning's campus occupation and the subsequent riot were met with mixed results, and officials said they are learning from the incidents in preparation for the March 4 statewide protests in support of public education.

UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya said that the department is preparing to be able to deal with a variety of potential scenarios.

"We're bringing in additional staffing," he said. "We'll have some strategies in place to allow us to respond to picketing or marching or rallies or even possible sit-ins or building takeovers."

Berkeley police Lt. Andrew Greenwood said the Berkeley Police Department is aware of the scope and potential of the upcoming demonstrations and that "there's significant planning under way."

Greenwood added that the department's plans will be "informed in part by the events of Friday morning."

However, officials from neither department would divulge specific details regarding preparations for March 4 or specific tactics employed Friday.

About 50 protesters occupied Durant Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Thursday evening before taking to the streets in an hour-and-a-half-long riot.

Celaya said the department did not have enough officers on duty to arrest the occupiers.

"I had less than a dozen officers (and) there were about a hundred people," he said. "I'm not going to have my officers go into a situation where they're heavily outnumbered.

"I would have liked to arrest many of those individuals and hold them responsible for the vandalism and destruction, but at the same time, we need to do it in a manner that allows my officers to be safe as much as possible."

Though there were numerous acts of vandalism and arson during the riot and occupation, police made only two arrests.

Callie Maidhof, a representative for the occupiers and a first-year UC Berkeley doctoral student, said the two arrested protesters were "singled out of the crowd."

But Robert A. Gardner, a security consultant and former police sergeant for the Simi Valley Police Department, said it is common for police departments to strategically single out individuals during large, violent demonstrations.

"The officers in general would try to pick out the instigators and the leaders, because even with a crowd like that, once the leaders are gone, most of the people are just followers," he said.

Though he said he was not familiar with the Southside riot, Gardner cited his experience as a tactical commander during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in discussing general police strategies in riot situations.

"Sometimes the decision is made to just hang back because it's not tactically sound to make arrests in that situation," he said. "What you don't do is send one or two officers to deal with a crowd like that."

UC Berkeley junior Aws Al-Abdullah, who was present at the riot, said that in dealing with the rioters, the police were "just doing their job."

"People were getting hit, but no one got hit that didn't ask for it," he said. "I stayed out of the way, didn't cross any boundaries and nothing happened to me."

Nick Myers of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Chris Carrassi and Tomer Ovadia at [email protected]

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