menu

Report on UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident One Sided, Impaired By Lack of Balance

Last fall, police used pepper spray during protests at the University of California-Davis, and afterwards, the Reynoso Task Force was tasked with investigating the incident and compiling a report.

Regardless of the subject, any inquiry should be unbiased, designed to identify the facts and make conclusions about preventing recurrence and improving conditions. The Reynoso Task Force, empanelled to investigate the pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis, did not include one security or law enforcement professional and so lacked perspective.

The lack of balance and impartiality in the Reynoso Task Force membership casts doubt onto its conclusions, some of which are valid. The Report’s overarching finding – that the pepper-spraying of the students could and should have been avoided – is fair. It is true that the officer used equipment not designed for use at such close range, but that wasn’t the real problem. The reality is that pepper spray is not a particularly effective tool for the problem faced at UC Davis, and its use has serious reputational repercussions, as UC Davis, its leadership and Lt Pike are discovering. The situation should never have come about for a variety of reasons:

Failure to use an effective command and control system;

  • Poor planning;
  • Deficient leadership;
  • Political interference in police decision-making; and
  • Inadequate police understanding of protester management.

The Reynoso Report is distinctly one-sided, providing serious criticism of the police while not mentioning the roles and responsibilities of protesters and protest organizers. UC Davis prides itself on facilitating protests as a means of expression, and it’s clearly in the administration and faculty’s interest that protests against budget cuts to the university be facilitated. In any protest situation, however, every party has both rights and responsibilities, including the protesters and the protest organizers themselves. Nowhere in the report is there a mention of these responsibilities and their failure to engage with the police, nor is there any cognizance of the understanding and expectation that police officers have exactly the same human rights as the protesters they are facilitating.

This is the fundamental principle of crowd and protester management that seems to be all too often lacking in discussions and training on this topic in the US.

It is not crowd control; It is crowd management.

The former casts the police as seeking to control and dictate the actions of the community. The latter sees the police as supporting the community in conducting legitimate protests, and arresting and successfully prosecuting criminals who seek to use protests as a forum for their criminality, be it assault against police, vandalism, or other crimes. The failure to distinguish between the two shows the Reynoso Task Force’s premeditated bias against the police, reinforcing a confrontational attitude rather than attempting to diagnose all of the problems and make recommendations that address the whole problem.

Some will argue, “The police started it, the blame is wholly with them.” Surely that is the point. If an inquiry into this kind of event can’t make the educated distinction between crowd control and crowd management, and the very fundamental difference between the two, because they didn’t see the need to appoint an actual expert to the Task Force, how can the rank and file protesters be expected to make those distinctions?

The UC system had an opportunity to lead; instead they sought a political quick win. Very disappointing for all concerned, including the taxpayers that had to fund the report.

Sam Rosenfeld blogs on protestor management, security sector reform, and the intersection of security and financial issues. Chairman of The Densus Group, Rosenfeld is a former British Army infantry officer who served for eleven years in many of the world’s more contentious environments. He holds an MBA from Wharton Business School, a MSc in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management, and a BA(Hons) in International Relations and Strategic Studies. Read More
  • Davisresident

    Um…the Reynoso Report including the findings of the Kroll investigation.  A third-party consultant company headed by William Bratton, former LA PD Chief.  *None* of the police departments Kroll interviewed viewed how UC Davis handled the situation as competent (for lack of a better word).  The Kroll “report” was very detailed and only lacked for testimony from three UC Davis Police Officers (refused) and the legal staff at UC Davis (privileged communications).  Perhaps you should read the 190+ page report (Reynoso and Kroll findings) before you write a column.

  • Sam Rosenfeld

    Davisresident,

    One cannot read one
    report without reading the other; of course I read the Kroll Investigation
    Report in full.  The Reynoso Task Force were the publishers of the Inquiry
    Report, Kroll supported them by conducting the underlying investigation, which
    was effectively an outsourced Internal Affairs investigation into a use of
    force act.  Therefore the responsibility rests with the Reynoso Task
    Force, hence the focus on them; if the inquiry board as a team lacks expertise,
    how can they possibly cast a professional view on the investigation report? 
    If they don’t have any expertise in the matter, how can they comment with
    authority at all?  That’s the challenge with inquiry teams that don’t
    understand the full breadth and depth of the issue they’re publishing inquiry
    reports on.

    Without Kroll’s terms of
    reference or the biographies of their consultants who conducted the
    investigation it is hard to establish their level of expertise as crowd
    management experts – they are clearly excellent investigators, but crowd
    management and investigations are two different disciplines requiring totally
    different techniques and experiences. 

    I don’t think citing Chief Bratton strengthens your case here.  Chief
    Bratton is a world-renowned police chief and leader. However, he was also the
    Chief of LAPD who discontinued crowd management training for all officers, and
    who was in command of the LAPD during the MacArthur Park fiasco – the 45
    minutes that cost the city $12.5M in lawsuits for improper police actions.
     LAPD subsequently reached out to us for advice on how to approach crowd
    management.  

    I’m not sure you can call
    this a third party investigation; was Kroll not already a security contractor
    to the UC system?

    All this diverges from the point. The bottom line of my piece is the
    recommendations were one sided, focusing on the police to exclusion of all
    else. Is it the fact that I believe that all parties involved in a protest
    should be held accountable, both the police and the protesters, and that they
    must strive to work together and avoid confrontation that you find
    objectionable?

    It
    certainly makes sense for you to include your identity and role in all this
    when you reply so that we can turn this into an actual discussion.  That delivers transparency and accountability
    for all; something as fundamental in discussion of police and protestor conduct
    as it is in discussions about that conduct.

    • AM

      Where can I find the Kroll Report online in full? Thank you!

  • http://www.carolinasafetyproducts.com/ Mark

    The pepper spraying of the students was probably not the outcome of this incident, as they were peacefully protesting.