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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Saturday, April 24, 2021

UCOP Doubles Down on Militarized Policing

Although Derek Chauvin's conviction for the murder of George Floyd offers essential accountability for one case of police violence, it is a small step towards a genuine reordering of public safety around notions of justice.  As Simon Balto has pointed out, the prosecutors made a serious and effective effort to separate Chauvin from "good policing" in order to treat him as a particularly violent officer.  Balto also suggests that a similar argument can be made about the Department of Justice's quick move to investigate the Minneapolis police department.  Both moves are necessary but they run the risk of providing accountability for a singular case while leaving intact the basic assumptions and structures of American policing.  Both the prosecution and the investigation are moments along a road that has been opened up by years of protest, legal action, critique, and reimagination of the possibilities for public safety.  Neither the Chauvin conviction nor the Minneapolis investigation mark a leap forward, but they do not impede the movement to transform if not abolish policing. 

But you would never know about these developments if you read UCOP's Police Policies and Administrative Procedures proposals.  Altering what is commonly referred to as "The Gold Book," these proposals ignore the wide-ranging debates and criticisms of UC policing over the last year--including those from the Academic Council.  Instead, UCOP has pushed towards an even more militarized and coercive structure for UCPD.   Although certain of the changes simply bring UCPD into compliance with legal requirements, as on the issue of federal law authorizing retired police officers in good standing to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the United States.  But those clauses should not blind us to the extent to which UCOP is voluntarily structuring UCPD with disregard to the multiple concerns raised within the university community and in ways that increase the likelihood of violence being used by UCPD.

I urge everyone to read the policy for themselves.  Everyone has until May 7 to send in comments on the proposed policy (you will find an address in the policy proposal).

But I would like to point out 3 instances within the policy that signify a complete disregard for community concerns.

1) The first occurs in Section 1506 and allows for a wide range of exceptions to the requirement to wear and keep active body cameras:

Exceptions to required activation or continuation of the BWV recording are: 

(a) When, in the officer’s judgment, activation, continuing to record, or changing the BWV functions would jeopardize their safety or the safety of the public. However, the officer shall activate or re-activate their BWV as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so unless other exceptional circumstances exist; 

b) When, in the officer’s judgment, a recording would interfere with their ability to conduct an investigation;

 (c) When recording could risk the safety of a confidential informant, citizen informant, victim, or undercover officer; 

(d) In patient care areas of a hospital, clinic, rape treatment center, or other healthcare facility (including mental health) unless enforcement action or evaluation by the officer under W&I §5150 et seq. is being taken in these areas. If recording is necessary, officers shall make reasonable efforts to avoid recording individuals other than the subject; Final 12 14 20

 (e) Once a crime scene is secured and the officer no longer has an investigative role, and where the chance of encountering a suspect is unlikely; 

(f) Prior to or while discussing a case on scene with other officers or during on-scene tactical planning; 

(g) When, in the officer’s judgment, privacy concerns outweigh any legitimate law enforcement interest in recording; 

(h) When a call for service is a phone call or phone report only; 

(i) When ordered to stop recording by a supervisor; 

(j) When the recording of a person is in violation of the law. (6)


A few of these are reasonable.  But a), b), e), f), g), h), and i) offer a remarkably wide range for discretion that could be used to conceal violations of law or policy.

2) The policy also allows for a wide range of what it refers to as "Pain Compliance Techniques" (section 809) including: "batons, conducted energy devices (CED), oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, chemical agents, restraints, and kinetic energy projectiles (KE)." (35)  (The euphemisms are telling).  These can be used in a wide range of circumstances predicated on loose definitions of resistance, including, going limp,  locking of arms or even verbal actions indicating an intent not to comply. (30-31).  The issue is not whether these rules are legal.  Moreover, the University can and does insist that an officer's use of force be in accord with the "reasonable officer" doctrine asserted in Graham v. Connor (1989).  The question is whether or not the University should be deploying these weapons and doctrines at a moment when policing needs to be rethought dramatically.

3) Even these two aspects of the proposed policy pale in their failure to engage with the university as a whole compared to the proposed establishment of the Systemwide Response Team (15-23).  I do not have the time to fully detail this section and I urge everyone to read it for themselves.  In essence, it aims to establish a special SWAT-like force across the entire system with its own command structure, policies, equipment and personnel drawn from local forces: each campus is expected to designate 20% of its police force members to participate in the SRT.  

Although protection of "dignitaries" is listed as one task of the SRT. it is difficult to imagine this force as designed for anything but the control of protests.  Interestingly, I have not heard any comments from UC's National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement on this issue.

In their comment on the Chauvin verdict, President Drake and Chair of the Regents Perez expressed the wish that it would help the country "to reimagine and work toward a safer and more equitable future for us all." If they actually believe that they will recall this proposal and start a genuine process of rethinking policing at UC.

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