University of California at Berkeley administrators and police did a poor job of planning for a protest last November that resulted in the takeover of a building and more than 40 arrests, an investigative panel said today.
A 128-page report by the university’s Police Review Board said only five campus police officers were on duty when protesters took over Wheeler Hall at about 6 a.m. on Nov. 20 and the response by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and his staff was “center-less,” meaning that it wasn’t clear who was in charge.
The report says the administration’s preparation for a three-day student strike to protest tuition increases “was far too generalized to be helpful” and there were no specific strategies for responding to the possibility that students might occupy a building.
Wayne Brazil, a UC Berkeley law professor and former federal judge who chaired the panel that prepared the report, told reporters that, “In hindsight, it would have been better to have more officers available” when Wheeler Hall was taken over.
Brazil also said the campus’s police department “was undermanned at the command staff level” because it only had one captain at the scene even though it was supposed to have two captains for such a situation.
And the captain who was at the scene was someone who focused on administrative duties and didn’t have field training, he said.
Joining Brazil at a news conference on campus today, UC Berkeley Police Chief Mitch Celaya said, “In hindsight, it would have been better to have more officers available that morning.”
But Celaya said the campus’s police department has been hit by budget cuts and he staggered officers’ shifts so that a larger group of officers would be available for larger demonstrations that were scheduled for later in the day on Nov. 20.
Celaya also admitted that police “clearly could have done a better job communicating with the administration” about how to handle the takeover of Wheeler Hall and “fell short on communicating with the protesters.”
But he said officers did their best in responding to what he described as “a chaotic, confusing and unpredictable situation.”
Celaya said, “The last thing we want to do is arrest our students.”
Brazil said the student protesters share some of the blame for the problems that occurred, saying, “40 people deprived 4,000 people of their rights” by occupying Wheeler Hall and preventing people from going to classes and doing their jobs.
Birgeneau, who requested the investigation, said in a prepared statement that the report’s findings “should be sobering for us all.”
He said, “It portrays a situation of some confusion on the part of all parties” and “criticizes the administration and the police for not having foreseen and planned better, and for errors of implementation and failures of effective communication.”
Birgeneau said, “We accept responsibility for the assessment of the administration’s shortcomings on this day; we are prepared to learn from the report and, to the extent possible, implement its recommendations.”
He added that following the Nov. 20 protest his administration has put in place “a much more robust crisis management structure” and has communicated more actively with students about rules for protesting safely.