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.