Guardian editorial: The problem of U.C. police

Guardian graphic by former Guardian art director and cartoonist Louis Dunn. For more Dunn, go to

GUARDIAN EDITORIAL Twenty years from now, when people look back on the Occupy movement, one of the indelible images will be the video of the University of California police officer casually dousing a group of peaceful, seated students in Davis with pepper spray. It's a video that's been seen millions of times around the world. It reflects a serious problem not just with one officer but with the way officials at all levels have responded to the protests — and with the way institutional police forces operate in this state.

In the video, a group of students involved in the OccupyUC movement are seated on the ground with arms linked. Lt. John Pike walks up and down the row, indiscriminately shooting the orange spray — which causes severe pain and breathing problems — over the students, who make no move to resist. It's horrifying and stunning, the sort of thing that you wouldn't believe unless you saw it yourself.

The Davis chancellor, Linda Katehi, has been reeling from the incident and is facing calls for her resignation. Pike and the chief of the U.C. Davis police have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

But now Assemblymember Tom Ammiano of San Francisco told us he  wants to go a step further — he  he plans  to hold hearings in Sacramento not just on this incident but on how police agencies across the state have dealt with mostly nonviolent protesters. He's absolutely right — and his hearings should also raise a critical question: Why does the University of California need its own armed police force?

The problems with the police at Davis mirror problems with the behavior of the U.C. Berkeley police — which mirror problems with the BART police. And all of them stem from a central problem: These little police fiefdoms have poor supervision, poor training,  and limited civilian oversight.

The chancellor of U.C. Davis doesn't know anything about running a police department; she's an electrical engineer and an academic. If she resigns, she'll be replaced by another academician who knows nothing about law enforcement. And if the U.C. police misbehave, where do people go to complain? There's no independent auditor, no office of citizen complaints.

If the Oakland police ran rampant — and they have been known to do exactly that — at least the elected mayor can be held accountable. Same for any city that has a municipal force. But when campus and transit security operations turn into armed paramilitary agencies, it's a recipe for trouble.

At the very least, the U.C. police — like the BART police — need an independent oversight agency to handle complaints. But it might be time to discuss whether campuses can best be protected with unarmed security guards supported by local municipal police. The University of California will never take that step on its own, so the state Legislature needs to evaluate whether lawmakers should force the issue.

Postscript: STOP SHOOTING STUDENTS:  The real problem for U.C. Davis's Kotehi and other U.C. chancellors was illustrated by  this classic J'Accuse open letter by Nathan Brown,  U.C/Davis.assistant professor in the Department of English.


And twenty years from now, nobody will remember that a few unwashed people urinated in public for a few months until it got cold and wet.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

20 years ago there were widespread protests against George Bush senior's attack on Iraq in 1991, and plenty of people still remember those protests. The 1999 Seattle protest to shut down the WTO is still quite well remembered and was a direct precursor to the Occupy movement.

And the crackdowns in Davis and Oakland have resulted in hospitalizations for extremely serious injuries.

If we don't start telling these out of control cops to back the fuck off in a big way, there will eventually be one or more deaths.

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 3:49 pm


Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

and the stories followed.

Occupy is an overblown media story on the decline, where the real story is how shrewd the authorities have been in leaving the camps alone and letting them self-destruct.

It's old news already. Your 15 minutes of fame was in 1970.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

which required over a thousand cops each.

Far from declining, the Occupy demonstrations are getting bigger and more widespread.

It is amusing to watch elite reactionaries (who so often crow like professional wrestling fans to falsely accuse progressives of wishful thinking) becoming the one's who are truly engaged in absurd wishful thinking to marginalize the very powerful Occupy movement, in their tiny anachronistic minds.

There is a wave building, and blindered conservative naysayers will either wake up and get out of its way, or be plowed over, along with their ill gotten wealth.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

This has by no means played out yet, no one knows where it will lead, but I will note that 'polls' conducted and published by reputable MSM sources in the past few days suggest that over 50% are sympathetic to the goals of the movement, though not all favored the 'camping' tactic. Most surprising was the level of support in 'The Heartland' and traditionally Republican areas. Que sera.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 30, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

"At the very least, the U.C. police — like the BART police — need an independent oversight agency to handle complaints."

From the November BART Times:

New, independent oversight of BART Police
In order to provide the public with effective and independent oversight of the BART Police Department, the BART Board of Directors created the Office of the Independent Police Auditor (OIPA). The office was created as a service for anyone who is a victim of, or a witness to, misconduct by the BART Police Department.
The OIPA is responsible for accepting complaints of misconduct, investigating certain complaints, reviewing Internal Affairs investigations conducted by the BART Police Department, and developing recommendations to improve the performance of the police department.
The OIPA is separate from the BART Police Department and reports directly to the BART Board of Directors. This means it serves as an independent body to provide effective citizen oversight of the police department. The OIPA has unfettered access to police reports and personnel records, and sworn personnel are required to cooperate with the OIPA during investigations.
If you believe you are a victim of, or a witness to, misconduct by the BART Police Department and would like to file a complaint with the OIPA, you can do so by mailing, calling, faxing, emailing, or visiting the office. OIPA Complaint Forms are being made available throughout the BART District, and you can always download one at
For contact information or to learn more, visit, or call 510/874-7477

Just FYI, Bruce.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2011 @ 9:07 pm