Aggie Article Claims that Student-Police Relations Committee is Underutilized


Four years ago, the issue of student-police relations erupted along with other complaints against the Davis police department.  Lost in the turmoil and controversy surrounding the Davis Human Relations Commission, was an event in early February 2006 where dozens of students, most of them African-American, came before the Davis City Council to complain about treatment from the police.

In May, as many as 150 students marched from campus to the Davis Police Station to protest what they called racial profiling and other tactics by the Davis Police Department.

Since then, it would appear that relations have improved.  However, law student Daniel Watts has on more than one occasion decried the poor treatment that he believes students have received from the police.  “No offense to members of the force in attendance,” Mr. Watts said gesturing to Davis Police Chief Landy Black during the chamber debate two weeks ago, “but the police do not have a good relationship with the students.”

This morning’s California Aggie reports that local police “have been attending ASUCD committee meetings since 2007 in order to communicate with students and residents about issues they may be having.”

Unfortunately, the ASUCD Student-Police Relations Committee “suffers from chronic low attendance, an issue that has plagued the committee since its inception.”  The article reports, “The committee was formed in 2005 but had infrequent leadership and attendance, often remaining empty for quarters at a time. The committee was re-established in 2007 and despite having consistent committee chairs, has had trouble getting people to come to meetings.”

Current chair Kara Rodenhizer told the Aggie “that although participation from both the Davis and UC Davis Police Departments has been constant, getting student committee members to attend has been more difficult.”

Recently the committee held a Student-Police meet and greet “which featured several police officers available for questions in addition to having police cars and equipment on display.”

According to Ms. Rodenhizer, “the event was going well until the last 10 minutes when a group of approximately one dozen students arrived, protesting the event. The protestors, led by Laura Mitchell, protested the police presence on campus.”

According to the Aggie article, Ms. Mitchell was a central figure of the March 4 student fee protests on the UC Davis campus and was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot and resisting arrest.

Quoting Ms. Mitchell, “The protest was an impromptu reaction to the police meet and greet.  This could have been a more productive conversation had the event planning been more widely publicized.”

Some of the solutions proposed is making the committee a full-fledged commission since there is a thought that commissioners would be more likely to attend meetings if that was in their job description.

However, according to the Aggie, Jack Zwald, the current ASUCD president disagreed.  “My personal sentiment is that we have to have a committee that works before we give it full commission powers.  The number one problem is that we don’t have a system that works. The number two problem is that there’s an overlap with the External Affairs Commission. It would also cost money; commissions aren’t free.”

Ms. Rodenhizer suggested that they have an event called “Know Your Rights as a Protestor.”

“A lot of students feel that the police were harassing them or beating them [on Mar. 4], but in reality the police were protecting the students because they could have been hit by cars,” she said.

However, the Aggie reports that Laura Mitchell is skeptical of the idea.

“‘Know Your Rights’ trainings have been lead regularly this year in collaboration between activists and legal professionals.  I would be very critical of police-developed training.”

It may be easy to criticize Laura Mitchell for not being more cooperative, but one of the problems right now is that students are a bit leery after treatment by the police on March 4, 2010 when as many as 350 protesters marched through campus and attempted to enter I-80.

The problem is illustrated by the case of Natalie Nadimi, who spoke with the Davis Enterprise.

Natalie Nadimi, a senior psychology and sociology major from Oakland, said Saturday she was holding her bicycle — “We had a bunch of bikes, not as weapons but as barriers,” she said — and as the group walked slowly forward, she was caught between her bike and those pressing forward behind her.

She received jolts on the right arm, near her right ear and on her upper chest, she said. She fell down and had trouble catching her breath.

“I’m not so upset that they used Tasers, because we were doing something illegal, … but I was confused about why they denied it,” she said Saturday. “That’s what made me question the legality of it.”

Though Nadimi said she heard other Tasers used around her, Williford said in a news release that “no other Tasers showed that they were cycled after all the weapons were checked.”

The problem here is not that the police used the Taser, which may well have been justified to prevent students from overwhelming police attempting to protect I-80, but the denial.

According to CHP Officer Marvin Williford, “reporters were incorrectly told no Tasers were used because while the use of the Taser was recorded on the official report of the incident, it wasn’t brought to the attention of officers who deal with the media until later.” 

CHP was forced to issue a statement after the Aggie produced photographs and video showing Nadimi being shocked.

Officer Williford told the Enterprise that he would not “second-guess a fellow officer’s decision made in the heat of the moment.”

“You have people coming at you with bicycles with a stated goal of getting to the freeway,” he said. “You have to use the minimum required amount of force to keep them from getting to their goal. The officer could have pulled out a baton or used pepper spray, but instead used a drive stun, which lasts as long as he pulls the trigger.

“At that point,” Officer Williford added, “maybe you’re going to get the message that what you’re doing is not the appropriate thing to do.”


The Enterprise also reported:

“After the students pushed through the line, a CHP officer warned them not to go on. Three UCD officers fired pepper balls at their feet; the irritating spray that rose up caused more students to peel off from the group.

At least one photo posted at the Davis Vanguard Web site seemed to show a round mark on a protester’s leg caused by one of the pepper balls.

Spicuzza said her officers are trained to fire the pepper balls at the ground.

“That doesn’t mean that no one got hit in the foot or the lower leg, because we’re shooting and they’re walking,” she said.”

Given what happened March 4, not with Davis Police Officers or even UC Davis Police Officers, it would seem that communication would be more and not less important between students and the police.

One problem that the Aggie article did not site, is a general problem that I have with such student organizations, the people involved in such organizations are generally not from the same population that ends up with complaints and perceived problems with the police.  Such committees need to find a way to tap into the group of students who have complaints.

I do not have a great solution to that problem, but I disagree with Ms. Mitchell for not wanting to at least meet with the police.  Communication is never a bad thing.  At the end of it, one may end up agreeing to disagree, but at least one can see the perspective of the other side.

Mr. Watts raised an important issue that should not be quickly dismissed by some of the other candidates, the council, or the Davis Police Department.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. E Roberts Musser

    The students have admitted what they did was illegal and dangerous (going onto I-80). These same students are not willing to talk with police, to voice their concerns/displeasure/whatever. To me, these students are nothing more than thugs, who are determined to do what they want to do, how and when they want to do it, even if it jeopardizes other people’s safety. From my perspective, the police did exactly the right thing. Whether law enforcement “admitted” Taser use is a silly side argument, and not relevant to the real issue – anarchy vs democracy. A student does not have the right to endanger other people’s safety to make a political point.

  2. biddlin

    A couple of thoughts here. If you choose to confront the police, you assume risks. Police are there to preserve order. They train to use particular methods and weapons. Their actions are predictable. Having some experience in this area, I must say that tasers and pepper balls sound gentler to me that the oak batons and black-jacks employed by the police in my protest days.

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