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Op-Ed

Joseph Wambaugh solves the great UC Davis pepper-spraying incident

Forget hiring Bill Bratton. You can learn all you need to know by reading the papers.

November 27, 2011|By Joseph Wambaugh

In light of the terrible financial crisis at our California universities, I feel the need to rescue UC Davis, whose administrators are, according to The Times, negotiating a price with the Kroll security firm in New York for none other than former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton to fly West and tell us what went wrong on the day that students were pepper sprayed. I can save the university a hefty Kroll consulting fee by suggesting that the administrators carefully peruse a few of the newspaper articles of the past week and all will be revealed to them.

They might start with Wednesday's hilarious Times photo of a student in a porkpie hat and bandanna mask mau-mauing the earnest but obviously flummoxed UC Davis chancellor, Linda Katehi, who actually seems to be recording the lad's rant. The bandanna mask suggests he's in full-on guerrilla mode and fears being seized and waterboarded by hooded men in a dank police station basement.

An assistant professor of English at UC Davis was quoted in The Times as saying that the pepper-spray incident was simply the latest example of "the systematic use of police brutality by UC chancellors" to suppress protests. Well, when I was an LAPD cop, I majored in English at Cal State L.A., and I can affirm that assistant professors of English claim all sorts of weird things after having been driven loopy by too much Elizabethan poetry. The UC Davis campus cops as serial brutes? I thought they just wrote tickets and attached wheel locks to illegally parked cars.

The Times also quoted a 23-year-old student (who probably majored in English) excitedly recounting his battlefield skirmish and proclaiming that the action of the campus cops was an example of police brutality that is even more "rampant" against "minority groups and women" in the world outside of UC Davis. I think the kid must be experiencing Revolutionary Overload. Allegations of excessive force against minorities have long been an issue with law enforcement critics, but police brutality against women? When did that start? I know quite a bit about police officers, and I can tell you that most of the male cops I've met like women. Really like them. A lot.

So, my message to UC Davis is to forgo Bratton (whose every fantasy involves his face on Mt. Rushmore) and save the suffering taxpayers a hefty tab from Kroll. Here's what I'm betting happened on the Day of the Gas: A campus cop — one of the 99% that the Occupy protesters are championing — looked at a bunch of envious kids who'd missed the great era of protests and Woodstock that their forebears experienced. All they've got at UC Davis is a pitiful little sit-in, but they're arm-locked and caterwauling and making the most of it.

After watching the scene for several hours, something like this goes through the campus cop's head: "I'm not busting my hump trying to untangle these entitled little twits and hauling their butts away for a few hours, which will only make their day and bring them back feistier tomorrow. My sciatica is killing me and I can already feel the arthritis in my hip and I don't get paid enough for this kind of truss-busting crap, so I'm gonna give them a taste of Come-to-Jesus juice. And if that doesn't make them go home, screw it." Then he casually strolled along the seated row and let them have it.

The loyal boss of the campus cops, Chief Annette Spicuzza, tried to tactically defend the indefensible with a statement about her cops feeling "surrounded," instead of doing what most chiefs routinely do (including Bratton) and issuing a pension-saving CYA statement throwing her cops under the bus. That loyalty will probably cost the chief her job. The campus cop who did the deed was placed on leave and will probably go the way of his boss.

The upside to all of this is that the kids now have a cherished memory that will be a hot topic at every rave and beer bash for the rest of their college lives and beyond:

"Where were you on the day we took poison gas?"

"I was writhing in pain, bro!"

"Like broken glass in my eyes!"

"My whole body was on fire, man!"

"Why oh why did I pick that day to go surfing?"

"You missed a blast, dude. It was awesome!"

Now that I've enlightened our UC leaders about what transpired that day, let's prevail on them to save us taxpayers some bucks and cancel Bratton's plane ticket. If they refuse, we should insist. Or, we could consider bringing the campus cop back from leave — and pepper spray them.

Joseph Wambaugh's latest novel is "Hollywood Hills."

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