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Transparency and closure needed Carlos R. Davalos | Fri, Oct 28 2011 12:00 PM

What I saw, while watching one particular video of police using pepper spray on Occupy protesters in San Diego's Civic Center Oct. 14, is a bunch of agitated people clustered around something. It's not clear what, but it looks like a tent.

From the right side of the screen an officer grabs one man from behind, at the neck, and forces him backward to the ground. He is later heard to say "I can't see."

As tensions escalate, protesters continue to encircle the object while police look as if they are trying to push their way through the human barrier.

Forty-nine seconds into the video an officer is seen spraying haphazardly into the crowd. He is standing behind a colleague and doesn't appear to be under immediate attack - and while the video is only about three minutes long and doesn't show the beginning of the conflict - there's no sign that any of the officers had been or were about to be physically assaulted.

In fact, police look as if they are in relative control of the scene and are simply forcibly moving people out of the way.

They are not wearing riot gear. They are not carrying shields. They are not brandishing clubs or guns with rubber bullets.

And neither are police. But they are using pepper spray and at one point one cop sprays the video camera.

In a photo published on signonsandiego.com, an officer is seen spraying someone on his back on the ground.

Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long told the Union-Tribune's Jen Kuhney, "If it's an officer safety issue and an officer felt that it was the right thing to do, I support that."

He also told the newspaper officers used pepper spray for the safety of both the officers and the protesters.

The department has guidelines and policies on officers' use of force. Reviewing them would be helpful in understanding what circumstances warrant the use of mace to protect civilians - even protesters - and cops.

But the department's procedures are not posted for public viewing. And even though all uses of force matters are reviewed by the department, the findings won't be made public for fear of violating the Officers' Bill of Rights.

So where we stand today is: Officers pepper sprayed a crowd and the use of such force may or may not have been justified by the police department's policy. But we won't know because any findings from an internal review won't be made public.

For a department that, for the most part, has been admirable in its professionalism and restraint, the lack of transparency and resolution is unsettling.

It's not too much to ask police to let people know under what circumstances they may be shot in the face with stinging liquid.

It's pepper spray today. Can it be rubber bullets tomorrow?

 

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