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University of California urged not use force to end protests

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 5 May 2012 01:56 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Emmett Berg

SAN FRANCISCO, May 4 (Reuters) - The University of California, heavily criticized over campus police tactics during the "Occupy" movement, should establish strategies to handle protests without resorting to the use of force, a report commissioned by administrators urged on Friday.

The draft report came after the 10-campus University of California system came under heavy criticism over its handling of protests last fall, during which a UC Davis officer was videotaped dousing a group of seated protesters with a heavy dose of pepper spray.

And in November, UC Berkeley police struck demonstrators with batons during a protest as officers tried to remove an encampment during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality.

Campus police actions in those and more recent demonstrations, sometimes recorded on video and disseminated through social media, have led to a firestorm of criticism.

The Davis clash led to suspensions of the campus police chief and two officers, and thrust the normally quiet, mostly apolitical campus near the state capital of Sacramento to the forefront of anti-Wall Street protests nationwide.

To avoid future confrontations, the report's authors wrote that UC administrators and police should "recognize explicitly" how protesters use civil disobedience so as to not be drawn into confrontation.

"For some campus administrators and police," authors wrote, "this will require a substantial shift away from a mindset that has been focused primarily on the maintenance of order and adherence to rules and regulations."

The internal review and set of 50 recommendations at the UC system was led by General Counsel Charles Robinson and Chris Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

"These recommendations, and UC's approach to peaceful protest on our campuses in the future, are guided by academic values that foster a diversity of ideas and encourage spirited debate," Edley said.

"It is through this lens that we must continue to examine these issues and adjust our course of action."

Besides counseling flexibility on rules, the authors called for closer coordination between administrators and campus police, as well as between officials and protest organizers.

"Many protests can be avoided if there are effective lines of communication between would-be protesters and administrative officials, and opportunities to raise substantive concerns with the administration and to obtain a meaningful response," the authors wrote

Campus police officers need more regular training on how to "de-escalate protest situations" and better respond to civil disobedience, the report said. And administrators need to plan ahead to provide guidance on the level of police response.

"Once a protest is underway, the decisions made by administrators can directly affect whether the protest ends peacefully rather than with violence," the report said.

Providing neutral observers, videotaping protests and creating after-action reports with campus police can all help create accurate records, which can better inform future policies, the authors wrote.

A final report including public feedback will be published in late June, officials said, and implementation of recommendations could begin as early as the fall. (Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)

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