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What the Sheriff’s office said about Occupy Cal

I helped my colleague Matt Krupnick gather some string for our coverage of Occupy Cal today, talking with Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson about decision-making and use of force. Several dozen sheriff’s deputies had assisted UC Police in dispersing the crowd and making arrests Wednesday on Sproul Plaza.

As today’s Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland stories got rolled into one, much of what Nelson told me got dropped, so here it is.

“This is UC Berkeley’s gig,” Nelson said Thursday afternoon. “UC Berkeley called us, they asked for help, so we go. They give an order, whatever their order was – that’s a better question for them. At some point, they’re going to go in and complete their task, whatever their task is, and we go in and help them achieve that.”

If a no-camping policy is defied and a crowd refuses to disperse, he said, “they certainly have the right to move them out of that area.”

Nelson said “they playbook gives many different options” for how to achieve that. “Sometimes taking one person out at a time is more hazardous than just moving forward to clear the area. … You should ask UC about that, because it’s their call.”

First, he said, police ask people to disperse or move back. If protesters not only refuse but lock arms or otherwise resist removal, taking them one by one for arrest and citation isn’t possible. At that point, police might use tear gas – which they didn’t Wednesday night at Cal – or do a “stomp and drag,” meaning they push forward with batons a half-step at a time, shouting “MOVE.”

Which tactic to use is left up to the incident commander on the scene, he said. “It’s UC’s incident, so they’re the shot-callers on that one.”

I also talked today with Cal Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab. The GA, with delegates from most campus departments, had overwhelmingly voted to support the day of action and peaceful protests. Navab, 29, said she was on Sproul Plaza when police moved in Wednesday.

“I understand the campus policy on encampments but if you look at the video … students were standing there peacefully when police started pushing and hitting with batons,” she said. “That type of violence seems very unnecessary and questionable.”

Navab said she and other campus leaders are discussing what to do. “We obviously can talk to administrators and the chief of police, but our concern moving forward is how to we prevent this from happening in the future.”

She said they’re all hoping the police violence doesn’t overshadow the protesters’ message about “the state of funding for higher education in California … and that instead of shifting the cost onto students we have to have corporations pay their fair share in taxes.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.