UC Berkeley's Police Chief Offers Terrible Excuses for Her Failure

In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, University of California, Berkeley police guard the building where Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Failure is at times unavoidable. Circumstances beyond one’s control can occasionally arrange themselves in such a way that makes success in a given task impossible. The mark of a leader is not the absence of failure in his past, it is the manner in which he copes with failure when it occurs.


When things go wrong, the capable leader accepts responsibility, learns from the experience, and adapts his thinking and his organization so the failure does not recur. He does not rationalize the failure and attempt to spin it in the hope that a gullible audience will judge it a success.

Which brings us to last week’s events in Berkeley, where Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak on the campus of the University of California. As everyone knows, Mr. Yiannopoulos’s appearance on Feb. 2 was abruptly cancelled when rioting broke out outside the venue where he was to speak. Black-clad anarchists broke windows, set fires, and attacked people hoping to attend the event. All of this took place as officers from the campus police department watched from inside the building.

Whatever one thinks of Mr. Yiannopoulos (and let it be known I am not a fan), it was once a generally accepted tenet of American citizenship that even people we find obnoxious have a right to speak their minds, especially when invited to do so (the Berkeley College Republicans had invited Mr. Yiannopoulos to the campus). Not anymore. If a sufficient number of thugs can be mustered, and if the police are unable or unwilling to enforce the law, then the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech is subject to the whims of the mob and becomes meaningless.

On the website for the University of California campus police, there appears Chief Margo Bennett’s “Overview and Philosophy,” which includes:


Mission: We are committed to working in partnership with our diverse campus community so together we may enhance community trust, reduce the incidence and fear of crime, and promote safety. We pledge to protect individual rights and safeguard property for our students, faculty, staff and guests. We support the University’s academic, research, and public service missions with professionalism, integrity and sensitivity.

On the same page, Chief Bennett claims that her department seeks “to be a leader in campus law enforcement and emergency services — both by following best practices and by developing standards to which others will aspire.” She further states that her department believes in “truth and honesty” and that it aspires to hold itself accountable.

These are worthy goals. Sadly, on Feb. 2, Chief Bennett failed at all of them.

Clearly, individual rights were not protected and property was not safeguarded. And if Chief Bennett feels she was following “best practices” in permitting the flagrant lawlessness the world saw on the Berkeley campus that evening, I would be keen to learn what they might be. Lastly, in regards to truth and honesty, and in holding herself accountable, here too Chief Bennett failed.

She was quoted in a Sunday Los Angeles Times story justifying her inaction against the campus mob. Taking action against the rioters, she said, would have created “a lethal, horror situation.” Then she resorted to the modern police chief’s rationalization for failing to uphold the law: “We have to do exactly what we did last night: to show tremendous restraint,” she said.


Ah, yes, “restraint.” In other words, Chief Bennett will protect individual rights, protect property, and all the rest, just as long as doing so doesn’t require her officers to use force against people whose opinions are favored by school’s administrators and faculty.

On the Berkeleyside website, Chief Bennett did her best to obfuscate the facts and further rationalize her inaction:

We are getting a significant amount of criticism from outside of the East Bay area, and my only response to that is: Crowd control situations are different than a military exercise or an active shooter situation,” she said. “It’s just a different approach and a different set of tactics that you have to use in order to not escalate the situation, in order to control it. People have a hard time understanding that. I get it.

No, she doesn’t. It’s all well and good to show restraint so as not to escalate a situation, and no police leader worthy of the term would deny it. But when a situation has already escalated to the point of vandalism, when it has already escalated to the point of physical assaults on helpless innocents, police have a duty to intervene and bring the lawless conduct to a halt.

Of course crowd-control tactics are “different than a military exercise or an active shooter situation.” But there are recognized tactics that can be employed in these situations and should have been in Berkeley. These do not involve taking shelter inside a building while rioters are rampaging just beyond the doors.


Chief Bennett further said:

In situations like that, we understand that if we go out and we engage — with the level of force and the presence of the trained anarchist-style protesters that were present — it will embolden the protesters and it will escalate the level of violence. And our officers exercised, I think, some very tough and extreme restraint.

Rubbish. The people being assaulted and the owners of the property being destroyed had a right to expect the police to intervene and not be spectators to the lawlessness.

The law authorizes officers to use force to overcome resistance, effect an arrest, and to prevent escape, and if force had been necessary to protect life and property that night, so be it. Concerns about emboldening the protesters should not weigh in the decision on whether to make an arrest when people are being pummeled before your eyes. And, just as important, experience has shown that once police engage the most violent members of a crowd, the others either flee or cease being violent.

I have no doubt that most of the officers under Chief Bennett’s command that night were ready, able, and indeed eager to engage the anarchists who turned a peaceful protest into a riot. It’s a shame that they were so poorly led. Contrary to Chief Bennett’s claims, there was nothing unprecedented about the rioters’ tactics on the Berkeley campus last week. Black-clad malcontents have been causing trouble at protests since the 1990s, and police leaders more able than Chief Bennett have developed tactics to deal with them. She should have anticipated the reception Mr. Yiannopoulos would receive and planned accordingly, and if she couldn’t provide the leadership the job required, she should have asked for help.


U.C. Berkeley was the cradle of the free speech movement in the 1960s. Today, it’s where free speech goes to die.



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