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A Background Check on the UC Davis Pepper-Spray Investigator

William Bratton once urged Brown University to arm its cops

William J. Bratton, the former police chief whom the University of California hired to investigate the pepper-spraying of Occupy protesters at UC Davis, has a reputation for taking on tough policing challenges — and for courting controversy.

Bratton, who has led the Los Angeles and New York City police departments, is the chairman of Kroll Security, which calls itself “the world’s leading risk consulting firm.”

Since the mid-1990s, Bratton has led a series of consulting firms, offering advice to beleaguered police forces, many abroad, only to see his very presence as an advisor bring further scrutiny to those police agencies. He was also hired to revamp the campus police departments at Barnard College and Brown University.

In 2001, Brown commissioned Bratton’s consulting company to study campus safety, after crime increased at the Providence, R.I., school. “They conducted interviews with every imaginable interest group. It was a very thorough report,” said Brown spokesman Mark Nickel.

The report, which argued in favor of arming campus police, provoked the ire of local officials. The move “will unnecessarily inject additional firearms into our city,” then-mayor David Cicilline wrote in a letter to the university president. The university adopted the report's recommendation nonetheless.

At UC Davis, Bratton and Kroll will investigate why campus police officers pepper-sprayed a group of seated protesters on Nov. 18. He and his firm will also examine the department’s chain of command and review how its current law-enforcement policies may have come into play during the pepper-spray incident.

Kroll officials began work at the Davis campus Tuesday. Bratton will be paid $300 per hour out of a UC insurance fund used for loss prevention, according to the University of California president's office. The total bill will be tallied in 30 days, when Bratton issues the firm’s report on the incident. A Kroll spokesman declined to comment on the Davis assignment.

In a statement, Mark Yudof, the university president, said Bratton would produce an “independent, unvarnished report about what happened at Davis.”

But others are skeptical. Some professors have questioned whether Kroll can provide an independent assessment, given its business ties.

The security firm, which is based in New York, has approximately 2,800 employees in 29 countries, according to its website. The company’s clients include law firms, financial institutions, corporations and government agencies.

“Kroll’s involvement with UC connects the dots between privatization of universities, the power of the financial industry over government and the growing securitization of public spaces,” Robert Meister, a UC Santa Cruz professor of political and social thought and president of the Council of University of California Faculty Associations, said in an interview.

The firm has existing contracts with the university to do background checks on job candidates and help secure the homes of employees targeted by animal rights protesters. A spokeswoman for Yudof said she would not be able to provide information about how much money the university has paid the firm before the publication of this story.

Though videos of UC Davis police Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying students have galvanized the national Occupy movement, the sprawling campus has traditionally been known more for its agriculture science and wine-making programs than for radical activism.

“We have relatively good relations with police. I know I’ll get heat for that. But it’s the truth,” said UC Davis student body president Adam Thongsavat, a senior majoring in history. “That’s why the incident with Pike was so shocking. It was so left field. Students at UC Davis have always been respectful, grounded, down to earth.”

Thongsavat said he has had conversations with UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi about creating a new sensitivity training program for campus police. He has suggested the police institute more bike patrols: currently the 48-officer force has only one, despite Davis’ reputation as a bike-friendly campus.

A university spokesman said reforms are on hold until Bratton produces his report in a month. Thongsavat said he can’t wait.

“Bratton has a responsibility to not only report on what happened here, but use it as a case study for other campuses. If our chancellors are going to be the be-all, say-all on campus, they ought to know what policies and procedures are,” he said. “There wouldn’t have been a public relations problem here if Lt. Pike hadn’t gone around spraying students like fleas.”

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