April 09, 2008

A letter from Police Chief of UCPD to all Students

As a student, my emails are private unless I put them onto this domain. So at this point, i'm all for the UCPD's actions and course of direction they took during the events of late March

During our recent efforts to end the occupation of a tree outside Wheeler Hall,
I was surprised and deeply moved by the number of students who went out of
their way to express support for the University and its police force. Later
that day I received an email from an undergraduate urging me to give you,
Berkeley's students, a better sense of the principles behind our approach to
the tree-sitters on campus and in the oak grove next to Memorial Stadium. It
was a suggestion that made a lot of sense.

First, a confession: I have been the chief of the campus police force for more
than 18 years, but in all that time my officers and I have never confronted an
ongoing challenge quite like this one. I thought I had seen it all; I was wrong.
Yet, even though the situation is unique, the values guiding our response are
firmly rooted in the longstanding traditions of our university.

The very existence of an independent university police force is predicated on
the fact that this campus, our home, is a unique environment. Ensuring the
safety and security of the campus community is our mission, but everyone who
wears the UCPD uniform understands that policing here requires understanding,
sensitivity and tolerance if this campus is to remain a hospitable host for the
free exchange of ideas and opinions.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the guidelines that govern the "where,"
"when" and "how" of on-campus protest are there to make sure everyone's rights
are protected, everywhere, all the time. They help guarantee we can accommodate
interest groups regardless of their cause or the size of their support. The
fact is that, over the years, thousands of organizations and individuals have
found these rules of the road compatible with the desire to have their voices

Unfortunately, we are now contending with a few non-students who have placed
themselves above the law; people who seem to find our relatively permissive
environment and traditions too restrictive. While as a police force we are
neutral when it comes to causes espoused by campus protesters, we cannot
condone tactics that infringe on the rights of others while seeking to change
policy through a kind of extortion.

I ask you to imagine a different, but parallel scenario: a group opposed to our
study and teaching of evolutionary biology occupies a laboratory and refuses to
leave until we agree to their demands. Would you suggest that we change our
curriculum? Would you support closing the lab? Would you want to reward the

From my perspective it's pretty clear: the tree-sitters have willfully chosen
illegal occupation of University property - which is not public property - over
the sort of permissible and potentially persuasive engagement that goes on
every single day out on Sproul Plaza.

While there should be consequences for these actions, our response needs to be
commensurate with the crime and consistent with our values. I understand that
many of you are frustrated by an approach that seems overly tolerant, while
others believe we should just let it all be. However, I am convinced there is a
middle ground where we can and will maintain that delicate balance between
tolerance and law enforcement. We do believe that some of the sitters want
confrontation, but we are doing our best not to give them what they want. We
also know how difficult it is to safely remove people from perches that are as
much as six stories above the ground. One slip, one misstep and we run the risk
of causing serious injury to an officer or a protestor.

So far, UCPD has managed to contain and, to a certain extent, cordon off the
affected trees so that the protestors pose little immediate danger to members
of the campus community. That, in turn, is allowing us to make life in the
trees more difficult and less comfortable while minimizing the chances anyone
will be hurt. Already the number of people in the stadium oak grove has
dwindled to a hard-core few. They may continue to complain about conditions,
but the fact remains that they are free to come down any time they want.

There have also been complaints that we are trampling on their right to free
speech. Last October the campus went before an impartial judge and asked for a
temporary restraining order against the tree-sitters. We wanted to be certain
the protest was not, in some way, "protected speech." The protestors were
represented by their own legal counsel and had ample opportunity to make their
case. The results were clear; the court ruled that the tree-sitters are engaged
in an illegal occupation well beyond the scope of constitutional protection. If
the ruling had not gone our way we would have no choice but to abide by the
judge's decision. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other side.

I also know there are concerns about the cost of our operations, and the extent
to which our officers have been pulled away from other duties. First, you
should know that additional expenses generated by the protest are financed from
a contingency fund that supports police response to unexpected events. In other
words, funds for policing the grove are not being redirected from teaching,
research or student services. At the same time, I cannot pretend that managing
this situation is not impacting other enforcement and safety operations. We
have tried to minimize costs by utilizing an outside security firm and,
whenever possible, redeploying our staff. There's no doubt that there are other
law enforcement strategies that might be quicker and less expensive but, again,
our response must be consistent with the principles that guide this
universitys police force.

At this point we are all waiting for the court's ruling on the lawsuits filed
against the plans to build a new Student Athlete High Performance Center, a
decision that is now expected no later than June. Until then the trees, by
court order, cannot be touched. It's also worth mentioning that if, at the end
of the legal process, we are not cleared to begin construction, the University
will have to live with the final ruling. Meanwhile, the tree-sitters vow to
abide by only those court decisions they agree with.

When that ruling comes, everyone will have had their day in court, and it will
be time to end the occupation of trees. While we still hope for a voluntary
climb-down, we are not naive and planning continues for a peaceful but certain
conclusion to this protest.

While some of you may not agree with parts of our mission or some of our
methods, I hope that after reading this letter you can, at the very least,
appreciate the complexity of the situation. I also hope that you can appreciate
the extent to which our UCPD officers have done an unbelievable job in their
professional, tolerant, and sensitive response to a really challenging
situation. We take seriously our sworn duty to uphold the law in a manner
consistent with our culture and consistent with our primary concern for the
safety of every member of our community.


Victoria Harrison
Chief, UC Police Department

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