Police Review Board Issues Final Report on Wheeler Occupation

Report Criticizes Administration, Police for Lack of Communication

Sean Goebel/File

Read the Police Review Board's full report as well as UCPD Police Chief Mitch Celaya and Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's Response Letters. »

The review board's report

The administration's letter responding to the report

UCPD Chief of Police Mitch Celaya's letter responding to the report

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Culminating after more than five months of scrutiny over the conduct of authorities during the demonstrations that rocked the campus on Nov. 20, the UC Berkeley Police Review Board released a final report Wednesday both criticizing campus administration and police for lack of organization and communication during the protest as well as targeting UCPD for its failure to adequately grasp the day's repercussions.

While the board did not explicitly place blame on any single body for the intermittently violent nature of the protests, the report highlights a lack of communication both internally - among members of the administration and the police - and externally with the protesters. The report further criticizes UCPD for not reviewing the event both promptly and effectively.

On Nov. 20, the day after the UC Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase of student fees, protests on campus escalated dramatically with the occupation of Wheeler Hall and violent clashes outside between demonstrators, the campus police department, Berkeley Police Department, Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

Several students and faculty decried what they saw as the police's use of excessive force, prompting Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to instruct the board with evaluating the day's events and formulating recommendations for improving police conduct.

The eight members of the independent board - including faculty, students, police and community representatives - issued a total of eight recommendations for the campus administration and 20 recommendations for UCPD in order to facilitate a more cohesive and effective response to demonstrations on campus in the future.

The 128-page report also provides a detailed narrative of the day's events, describing several violent encounters between protesters and police and confirming that one student was "shot in the stomach with a rubber pellet or projectile."

A 'Center-less' Response

According to the report, administrator and police response to the protest suffered from both a lack of planning as well as a failure to properly communicate strategies and objectives throughout the day, further exacerbating tensions and possibly adding to the day's violent encounters.

"(The administration's) planning for the three-day strike was far too generalized to be helpful," the report states. "Even though there were reasons to worry that protestors might occupy a building, the planners prepared no specific strategies for responding to such a development."

During the protest, administrators received inaccurate information, leading decision-makers to believe "labor agitators" held significant roles in the protest despite contrary evidence, the report states.

According to the report, Associate Chancellor for Government, Community and Campus Liaison Linda Williams, who has experience managing protests and crises, was not sought for advice or input on how to deal with the demonstration.

The report also indicates that the lack of communication between officials and protesters further increased the protesters' angst.

"The efforts to communicate with the crowd outside Wheeler by student leaders, the few faculty on hand, and the Administration were sporadic and visibly ineffectual," the report states.

Communication problems also plagued inter-police agency discourses, causing confusion between several of the agencies involved, the report states.

According to the report, UCPD Captain Margo Bennett conflicted with state policy when she requested mutual aid from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office - omitting several key pieces of information about the size and intensity of the crowd and the equipment needed to respond.

"When Captain Bennett placed the call to the mutual aid coordinator she did not specify the number of officers that would be needed, the kind of equipment they should bring, the gear they should wear or how they would be deployed," the report states. "Nor did she indicate that any particular kind of equipment or gear should not be brought or used."

When Sheriff's Officers arrived on scene they were equipped with "less lethal weapons" including "FN303s guns" that could shoot rubber balls or bean bags and resemble machine guns, as well as "37 mm launchers" for deploying smoke or chemicals.

No Follow-up

The report fields several criticisms of UCPD's actions following Nov. 20, emphasizing the absence of a comprehensive debriefing session and the failure to conduct an internal "Operational Review" of the day's events in a timely fashion.

Debriefing sessions were held among UCPD command staff and UCPD sergeants more than a week after the protests. A month later, command staff from the multiple police agencies held debriefing sessions, but no session was held that included all the officers present during the protests.

"(UCPD) had a great deal to teach itself from what happened on the 20th," the report states. "That teaching would have been more effective, and the learning richer, if it had been undertaken shortly after the 20th."

The report reprimands UCPD for acting slowly to complete its operational review of the day's events, which had to be completed before the board could begin its own analysis. Much of the evidence from the department's review forms the basis of many of the board's conclusions.

The report states that while the deadline for the review was the end of January, it was not completed until seven weeks later, "compromising" the information on which the board based its review due to "fading" memories.

'Reasonable' Recommendations

The report makes several recommendations to both police and administrators to rectify the deficiencies in both parties' response to the day's protests.

The report's recommendations for UCPD focus mainly on planning, organization and correspondence between the police and other bodies, with four of the 20 recommendations explicitly mentioning some form of the word "communicate."

Other recommendations for UCPD range from urging the department to engage its officers in some form of attitude training to increasing its understanding of and more effectively employing the mutual aid system.

The report makes fewer recommendations for administrators but follows the same general trajectories of increasing communication and planning policies.

In particular, the report spends a considerable amount of time suggesting administrators utilize an existing Emergency Operations Plan to structure responses to events like the protests.

"Why, we wonder, has the campus spent so much time and money setting up this elaborate machinery, machinery that is designed to handle all the decision-making, management, coordination and communication tasks that were not handled well on the 20th, but not used it for major disruptions (and potential threats to personal safety and property) that are caused by civil disobedience?" the report questions.

Emma Anderson, Stephanie Baer and Javier Panzar of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Mihir Zaveri at [email protected]

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