After launching an internal investigation earlier this year into the circumstances surrounding anti-police protests that tore through Berkeley in December, to examine how the department responded, the Berkeley Police Department has released its report on what took place and what might be improved in the future.
In a letter announcing the report, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan described the Dec. 6-7, 2014, demonstrations — which resulted in the tear gassing of a crowd on Telegraph Avenue and ongoing public criticism in response — as “significant civil unrest and violent protest.”
“It was immediately clear to the Department that the events of December 2014, which had not been experienced in Berkeley for decades, represented opportunities for our organization to learn and grow,” he wrote.
Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.
Four Berkeley officers, Lt. Dave Frankel, Sgt. Dan Montgomery, Officer Ryan Andersen and Officer Darrin Rafferty, have been working full time on the project since it was assigned earlier this year. A report on the project is expected to come Wednesday night before the city’s Police Review Commission.
The officers interviewed their colleagues within the department, but also spoke with community members, faith and student leaders, civil rights groups, business members, members of the media and outside experts as part of the endeavor.
In addition to the interviews, the team also reviewed video, dispatch records, 911 calls, case law, police department policies in Berkeley and beyond, and other documents pertaining to the department’s response. The resulting document spans 161 pages.
According to the report, officers were prepared in December for the potential for violence, noting in the executive summary that “Oakland and San Francisco had just experienced ‘Fuck the Police’ (FTP) marches which resulted in mob violence, damage to businesses, looting, vandalism to vehicles, and attacks on officers.”
They also noted that “Civil unrest is becoming more and more frequent as people gather to redress grievances nationally.”
Police said tear gas was used on the first night of protests, Dec. 6, following “crowd confrontations with officers and rampant destruction of property, including police vehicles,” which “eventually led to large crowds being ordered to disperse” and “included the use of CS gas and police batons when repeated dispersal orders were not followed.”
The next night, Dec. 7, police switched tactics and “sought to avoid the kind of conflicts with the crowd it had seen” the prior night. According to the report, “Mobile field force tactics were not successful at keeping rioters from vandalizing and looting numerous businesses on both Telegraph Ave. and Shattuck Ave. Several masked individuals attacked and injured other protesters who had attempted to dissuade them from looting and rioting.”
Among the report’s key findings, authors note that “The commanders and officers attempted to stem the violence and lawlessness and were not satisfied with the outcome.” They wrote that too few resources were used for crowd management and “tactics designed to maintain peaceful activities,” as opposed to those that were deployed for crowd control.
They also note that the tactics used to attempt mass arrests “were not effective, caused repeated conflict with the crowd, and ultimately did not lead to the arrest of all lawbreakers.”
In addition, they said it had been a mistake to locate their commanders in the police department’s Operations Center rather than in the field, writing, “In some instances, poor situational awareness led to repeated police interactions with the crowd and an escalation of force. The inability to gain situational awareness from police helicopters overhead hampered decision making.”
They also wrote that better communication with protesters would have been to everyone’s advantage: “Communication with the crowd was insufficient before and during the event. Although organizers may not wish to communicate with the police, the police can message participants and the community in an attempt to foster safe outcomes.”
The executive summary concludes with 32 recommendations related to everything from communications, tactical command, situational awareness and dispersal orders to the use of force and accountability. Some of the highlights of those recommendations appear below.
- Communications: Use social media to put out better information during protests, consider having negotiators help engage with the crowd, improve existing radio and loudspeaker equipment and tactics
- Deployment: Deploy more bicycle officers to be on scene with demonstrators, as well as fire and medical “scout” teams to address small incidents as they occur
- Situational awareness: Look at technology that could improve the information available to police during demonstrations, consider allowing the use of helicopters during civil unrest
- Dispersal orders: Issue fewer dispersal orders and record evidence showing that members of the crowd could hear them, revise the dispersal orders to review what types of force are appropriate when the orders are not followed
- Use of force: Review the department policy regarding the use of tear gas and batons in crowd control situations, ensure that officers who use less-than-lethal force are briefed in advance and understand when it is appropriate, use skirmish lines only when necessary, “train and reinforce disciplined use of baton strikes by officers to avoid striking people in no strike zones,” ensure that medical aid is on scene to treat people affected by tear gas
The report also suggests that the department should consider the establishment of a regional press credentialing system, as well as the launch of “collaborative training” with the media “to enhance their safety and safeguard the First Amendment right of a free press.” (Berkeleyside was among the media outlets that took part in this particular aspect of the discussion.)
A more in-depth review of “lessons learned” can be found on the city website for the project.
Meehan wrote in his introduction to the report that it “is intended to present accurate information in context to allow for informed, constructive dialogue. While the absence of violence or conflict cannot be guaranteed, these conversations should focus on how to minimize the likelihood of conflict with peaceful, nonviolent protesters, while working towards effectively identifying and arresting those committing violence and acts of destruction.”
He also says the report may be a starting point for additional dialogue with the community.
“This review recognizes good work but also candidly identifies numerous opportunities for the Department to improve,” he wrote. “There may be areas we may have missed, or ideas we have not considered. The Department is open to those discussions.”
The full report is available on the city of Berkeley website, along with a video archive of related footage from Dec. 6-7, 2014, that was reviewed during the course of the investigation, and other resources. Details regarding the upcoming Police Review Commission meeting on Wednesday are posted on the city website. Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.
Berkeley City Council limits police tear gas use, for now (02.11.15)
Police release redacted reports on Berkeley protests (02.10.15)
Exclusive: 23-minute delay for paramedics during Berkeley protests, patient later died (02.05.15)
Citizen panel on police to launch Berkeley protests probe (01.20.15)
Berkeley town hall examines race, police relations (01.18.15)
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