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To pepper spray or not? Questions follow Occupy UC Davis viral video

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Questions are being asked in Auburn and around the country about the use of pepper spray in the wake of a viral video showing Occupy UC Davis protesters being doused by campus police. It was a tale of two cities last week as an Occupy Auburn protest took place Thursday with no police confrontations but Occupy UC Davis turned into a focal point for protesters after the Friday incident. Auburn’s Jacquelyn Kracke, a Placer County Citizens for Action member, said Monday that the officers involved – whether they stepped over a line of reasonable force because of their own personal reasons or because they were ordered to – were in the wrong. Citizens for Action organized the Auburn protest and reported no incidents – other than a motorist looking at the protest driving into the vehicle in front of it, causing a fender-bender. The image of heavy pepper spraying of students galvanized support Monday at a demonstration Kracke attended at the university, Kracke said. “It was appalling,” Kracke said “If you look at the UC Davis code, police aren’t allowed to use pepper spray except for self-protection in serious situations.” The president of the University of California system has also said he was “appalled” by the video images of an officer methodically spraying pepper spray into the eyes of seated protesters whose arms were linked. But the use of necessary force is a tool of law enforcement and pepper spray is one that is available to police forces large and small. While not commenting about the UC Davis incident, Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said Monday that Auburn has pepper spray as well as batons, tasers and, as a last resort, firearms, for use in situations that might require force, including crowd control. But the use of any of those tools is taken very seriously and takes into account myriad factors, he added. Factors for use range from the risk of someone escaping to self protection to the training of the police officer, Ruffcorn said. Having a video camera trained on an officer shouldn’t be a factor, however, he said. “We have to do our job,” Ruffcorn said. “Whether it’s seen on a video or being explained later, the response has to be the same – no excessive force.” It can cause more problems and put lives in danger if officers question why they’re using force after they’ve made their decision based on factors their trained to look for, he said. In Auburn, Ruffcorn addressed the Occupy Auburn group at the start of the six-hour protest at the Downtown clocktower and march to the Placer County Courthouse in Old Town. The police chief said he explained they had a right to protest but that they would be hurting their own cause if they blocked small businesses nearby. “We’re very happy with the outcome of the (Auburn) protest,” Ruffcorn said. Catherine Torrez, a private investigator and former Texas police chief, said that the UC Davis can be seen as standard police procedure. “Pepper spraying is one of the safest things an officer can do to get compliance,” Torrez said. “But they don’t want to pepper spray for the fun of it. An important consideration is that things are going to get worse if they don’t take action.” Torrez said her take on the UC Davis video was that it was a situation that warranted the use of pepper spray because the group of students who were being removed had “hunkered down” and linked their arms together. That created a situation where their removal could have resulted in injuries, she said. The pepper spray safely and temporarily debilitated them, allowing them to be removed, she said.