UC Davis task force report critical of police, campus officials

Courtesy of SF Gate

The much-anticipated UC Davis task force report was released last week in an evaluation that is highly critical of the UC Davis administration and police authorities. The report, led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, revealed the alarming extent of administrative deficiencies and miscommunication that occurred leading up to the Nov. 18 pepper spray incident. “The decision to use pepper spray was not supported by objective evidence and was not authorized by policy,” stated the report.

Among other notable findings were that the pepper-spray model (MK-9) utilized by officers was not an authorized UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) weapon and that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi bears responsibility for failing to assert her preference against the use of force.

The document concludes with a list of recommendations for the University of California to consider, most of which point to the need for administrative reform and the re-evaluation of police procedures. The report, however, did not contain any recommendations for disciplinary actions against any UC Davis administrators or police officials. “My intent now is to give the Task Force report the full and careful reading it deserves, and then, as previously announced, to meet with Chancellor Katehi and discuss her plans going forward for implementing the recommendations,” stated UC President Mark Yudof in a press release.

On April 11, UC Davis hosted the first of three public meetings where task force members were able to elaborate upon their findings and answer questions regarding the report. “There needs to be a complete review from top to bottom of the police department, of the training that’s required, the procedures and protocols and so forth,” stated Dan Dooley, senior vice president of external relations at the UC Office of the President, in response to a question regarding how unauthorized weapons were present in the UCDPD’s arsenal.

The meeting allocated 90 minutes to public questions and witnessed several disgruntled students and community members. “This [report] was to buy Katehi time and let this uproar die away…This report should have changed something but it hasn’t changed anything. How could this be?” stated a student who identified herself as one of the individuals who was pepper-sprayed on Nov. 18. Reynoso responded that disciplinary recommendations were withheld from the report at UC President Mark Yudof’s request and also due to legal restraints regarding the rights of university employees.

The delay in the release of the task force report was also a point frequently brought up by audience members, allowing Reynoso to voice his dismay with the legislation known as the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights. “When information necessary to understand and evaluate police conduct is unavailable to the public, the public has less confidence in the police and the police cannot perform their duty without public confidence,” stated Reynoso.

The Reynoso report is divided into three sections, each detailing areas of fault: deficiencies in the decision-making process made at the administrative level, conduct of the police operation and individual responsibility. The administrative mistakes highlighted by the report include miscommunication regarding the proportion of non-student protesters and the legal basis for the police operation. The former influenced the administrative response toward the Davis encampments since the presence of non-students resulted in a negative view of the demonstrations—which likely made police intervention a more attractive option.

The very leadership organization responsible for campus responses to protests was also criticized. The investigation found that the campus “Leadership Team” was informal and lacked crucial factors such as a formal roster list and record-keeping of meetings (most of which occurred via conference call). The team, which usually consisted of the chancellor and at least a dozen other top officials, met on an ad hoc basis and was plagued with miscommunication.

A glaring example of the miscommunication was the accepted level of police force agreed upon by the leadership team members. During an interview with investigators, Chancellor Katehi expressed her belief that there was a consensus on non-violence means, while Vice Chancellor John Meyer expressed that he thought only the use of batons was to be forbidden. Both views stand in contrast to a Nov. 15 operations plan in which a UCDPD officer noted that “the use of force is highly likely” and that arrests were to be expected. This confusion was the basis for many of the conclusions of the individual responsibility section of the report, which pointed to Chancellor Katehi and the leadership team for failing to properly review and discuss the police operation.

A particularly contentious portion of the report pertains to the conduct of the police operation, which found that there was a breakdown of leadership in the UC Davis Police Department and failure to follow standard operating procedure. Among them was the creation of a police plan that failed to account for prisoner transport. On Nov. 18, the reason that the officers remained on the UC Davis quad premises and subsequently resorted to the use of pepper spray was because they had arrestees that were awaiting police vehicle pickup.

“The Task Force recommends the campus develop a broadly accepted agreement on rules and policies that regulate campus protests and instances of civil disobedience,” stated the first recommendation relating to the administration. This section also addressed the leadership team and noted the need for improved communication and a structure for campus members to communicate with leaders.

The need for a more efficient connection between the campus and police department was accounted for with the recommendation that a new senior administration office be responsible for overseeing the campus response to all protests. The report then recommended an outside review of UC Davis police department protocols and procedures, alongside a reevaluation of the chief of police’s duties. The report concluded with system-wide recommendations for the UC, including a study of each UC Police Department’s policies and a revision of the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights.

A separate report which expands on system-wide security concerns is currently being worked on by UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. The report is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

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