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Report criticizes use of force at UC Berkeley's Occupy protests

>Campus police struggle with a protester who was trying to reclaim a tent at UC Berkeley in November 2011.

An independent report released Wednesday criticizes the use of force by University of California police during the Occupy Wall Street protests at UC Berkeley last fall.

The report, written by the campus’ independent Police Review Board, found that officers appeared to have strayed from campus policies and norms in their use of batons on protesters and called on the university to better explain when the use of force is appropriate.

"Strictly confined limits, as precise as possible, should be articulated regarding the use of force by law enforcement during any protest events," the report said.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau called on the board to review the events of Nov. 9, which was part of the larger Occupy Wall Street movement. Just days later, seated protesters were pepper-sprayed at UC Davis by campus police. A video released of the incident triggered further outrage at the responses.

The report said the committee members were “disturbed” by the swift use of batons on the protesters at UC Berkeley as officers attempted to break up a number of encampments on campus throughout the day. Several demonstrators were injured.

The report also criticized authorities for not learning from prior demonstrations on campus.

In a conference call with reporters, Jesse Choper, a law professor at UC Berkeley and chairman of the review board, said that despite the incident last November, UC Berkeley remains as sensitive to issues of free speech as any public institution in the country.

“We all learn from experience and I think that we’ve had no shortage of protests on this campus in the last 50 years,” he said. “We learn from each one.”

Since November, the campus has formed a Protest Response Team and has established a set of guidelines for the group.

Among others, the guidelines state that campus officials will be patient in their response, choosing a time and manner to address unlawful protests that will minimize the prospect of physical harm. Another states that each response will be specific to each protest and may differ from prior incidents.

"We truly regret that our processes were not adequate for dealing with the particular challenges of that day," Birgeneau said in a statement.

A separate study on the UC Davis pepper-spraying incident, released in April, sharply criticized the police actions and administrators' decisions in handling protests. The Davis campus police chief has resigned, and other officers were placed on administrative leave.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: Campus police struggle with a protester who was trying to reclaim a tent at UC Berkeley in November 2011. Credit: Kristopher Skinner / MCT

 
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