It's a defining image of the Occupy movement: A UC Davis police officer in riot gear pepper-spraying a row of seated protesters.

In the aftermath, we asked, "What in the world was the purpose of directly spraying students who were seated and clearly committed to nonviolence?" Countless others asked the same question.

Today, a judge in Oakland may decide whether we get an answer.

A task force that investigated the Nov. 18 incident has delivered its report to UC officials, who planned to make it public.

However, lawyers for the officers obtained a court order to keep the report secret. They want the officers' names and other details gleaned by the task force withheld. The officers' privacy and reputations are at stake, according to the Federated University Police Officers Association.

So is public confidence in the University of California, and whitewashing the investigation isn't going to help.

The public has a strong interest in the findings of the task force. This incident occurred on the campus of a public institution, it involved students who were peacefully protesting rising college costs, and there are allegations of excessive force by university police.

Moreover, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said campus police defied her orders regarding the use of force. Finally, taxpayers could be held liable for damages in a lawsuit filed by the demonstrators.

"Chancellor Katehi and the UC Davis campus community have a strong interest in moving forward with any changes necessary to ensure that all possible steps are taken to avoid any future events such as the one that occurred on the afternoon of Nov. 18," UC attorneys argued in court papers.

However, there's no way for the public to know if those changes have been made unless the university explains how the incident happened in the first place.

In assessing the police union's privacy claim, bear in mind that the officer seen methodically pepper-spraying students in photos and videos has been identified. He's Lt. John Pike, and he remains on paid leave.

So is UC Davis police Chief Annette Spicuzza and a third officer, who has not been identified. None of them spoke with task force investigators; other campus police officers did cooperate, with the promise that nothing they divulged could be used against them in a criminal case, used in an internal police investigation or disclosed to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit.

State law grants special privacy rights to police officers to protect them from false accusations. In this case, it appears to be officers providing evidence, not those accused of possible wrongdoing, claiming a breach of privacy. Accepting that claim would stretch the boundaries of an already generous law.

As the university points out in court papers, similar reports have been released in the past, including investigations of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, the use of a Taser against a UCLA student and the slaying of Oakland police officers.

This report should be made public, too.