CA lawmakers investigate UC Davis pepper-spraying

December 14, 2011 8:13:06 PM PST
State lawmakers ordered college officials to explain why campus police used so much force against non-violent protesters in both the UC system and California State University system. Top leaders were called to Sacramento on Wednesday to testify about the incidents, which included pepper spraying peaceful protesters.

As it is now, there is no uniform policy with regard to police use of force on campuses in California. Now after several embarrassing incidents, lawmakers are looking at whether there should be.

"Of course, I don't ever want to see such pain inflicted on our students," said University of California President Mark Yudof.

After scandalous incidents like the one involving UC Davis campus police using pepper spray at close range, Yudof conceded to state lawmakers, sometimes standard policies and procedures need to be abandoned.

"You may not want to remove these occupiers out at all because it's just too confrontational. Sometimes the best thing to do is waive the rules for a while," said Yudof.

At UC Berkeley, police used batons to disperse demonstrators on the steps of Sproul Plaza. At UC Davis, two police officers sprayed pepper spray directly in the faces of demonstrators who were blocking a walkway.

In testimony before a joint education committee, UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi said the UC Davis pepper spray video marked the first time she knew her officers actually possessed pepper spray.

"As a matter of fact, to tell you the truth, I did not even know that they were carrying pepper spray in those cans until I saw it on the video," said Katehi.

"How can the existing policies be reworked, so that the shocking images we've seen in the last month do not reoccur?" asked St. Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.

These hearings are designed to examine and perhaps re-work policies on the use of police force on UC and Cal State University campuses. They are separate from the many different investigations under way in both the UC Davis and Berkeley incidents, including by the state attorney general. The goal is to avoid ugly police scuffles in the future.

"I don't think that our campuses, our police forces or the state in general are about trying to repress or intimidate the longstanding pillar of our democracy and our Constitution," said Assm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Also testifying at the hearing were student leaders who disputed the claims of UC officials that many of the demonstrators were not students. They also disputed whether the police officers were in some way provoked by the demonstrators. One other note, Yudof suggested that the UC system might be a good place to investigate the effects of pepper spray.


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