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Berkeleyan

New apparent patterns in campus crime 'alter perception of safety'
Even as it deploys more officers and closes more cases, UCPD urges caution and awareness as a first defense

| 25 January 2007

For regular subscribers to campus Crime Alerts, the short e-mails regarding incidents around the Berkeley campus can be disturbing, at times even shocking.

  • A 38-year-old male, walking near the Life Sciences Addition building one Saturday around 5 p.m., was grabbed by one suspect while a second one knocked him to the ground and a third searched through his pockets and punched him in the face.
  • An 18-year-old victim was in front of Larry Blake's restaurant on Telegraph Avenue around 11 on a Thursday night when a suspect, accompanied by four other males, pulled out a gun and demanded the victim's personal property.
  • In a wooded area near Haviland Hall, a suspect walked up to a student, struck him with a handgun, demanded his money, then took personal property from his backpack.
This school year a disturbing new kind of campus-area street crime appears to be emerging - one more frequent, more bold, and more dangerous than before, involving more suspects (often groups of teenagers or young adults), according to campus police. University of California Police Department (UCPD) officials have been surprised by the nature of these attacks, which seem to mirror a rash of street crimes seen in other Bay Area cities, including San Francisco.

Crime statistics show that there has indeed been a notable increase in campus-area robberies in recent years. During the fall 2003 semester, UCPD issued nine crime alerts for robberies on and around campus. During fall 2005 and fall 2006, the number of crime alerts for robberies jumped to 35 and 38, respectively.

Though campus statistics show that most crimes continue to occur between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., it sticks with you to hear of even a few such robberies involving weapons, during standard business hours, at seemingly random locations around campus, notes Mitchell Celaya, assistant chief with UCPD. "It alters your perception of safety.'

Campus police have responded by deploying more officers, uniformed and plainclothes alike, thanks in part to the funding of additional personnel by Chancellor Birgeneau. The campus funded an additional sergeant and officer to increase resources in the Southside and Telegraph Avenue areas to one sergeant and seven officers. Along with regularly assigned patrol officers, these additional officers focus on criminal activity on campus and in the Southside community.

Capt. Margo Bennett says that UCPD has been effective in making arrests, at times stopping crimes in progress. In 2006 the department "closed" 10 of the 24 robberies reported to it. That clearance rate of 42 percent both far surpasses the UC systemwide rate of 24 percent and is an improvement over previous years, police officials note.

"We are catching people," says Bennett. "It may not seem like we're making much of an impact because the robberies continue to occur, but it is important for people to know that we are making arrests.

"It is also important for the campus community to be aware of where and how crime is occurring."

Campus police encourage faculty, students, and staff to take precautions (see sidebar) while en route to and from campus. They also invite the campus community to participate in an upcoming brown-bag workshop on crime-safety tips. Location and other details of that Feb. 7 noontime meeting will be posted online as the date approaches.

Police also are asking the campus community to sign up for standard Crime Alerts - e-mailed summaries of crimes on and around campus - or download the ST&AR software program, which enables crime alerts to pop up on your computer desktop. Bennett says that UCPD is the first police department among the nation's colleges and universities to use such "push" technology for this purpose.

The priority that UCPD places on crime awareness informs the way the campus reports crimes to federal officials under the Jeanne Clery Act, which mandates that certain crime statistics be disclosed to the campus community and made available to prospective students. Such data are published in UCPD's "Safety Counts" booklet, available online and in the UCPD lobby in the basement of Sproul Hall.

While it's important to comply with the wording of the Clery Act, UCPD officials say, the department is committed to realizing its intent as well, which is to ensure that the public gets an accurate picture of crimes occurring on and around the nation's college and university campuses.

Following that philosophy, the campus has for years "over-reported" crimes occurring off-campus.

In other words, during the many years in which federal officials offered no clear guidelines on how far off-campus to look when calculating crime totals, campus officials took a more expansive approach, calculating incidents within an area that extended two to four blocks beyond the core campus, well into the jurisdiction of City of Berkeley police.

A recent state report on how California colleges and universities are complying with the Clery Act highlighted the campus's over-reporting and counted such instances as reporting "errors." Thus, starting with its fall 2007-2008 Clery Act reporting, UCPD will not only disclose data that follow the more restrictive reporting guidelines set out by federal officials but will disclose statistics based on the broader area encompassing many more off-campus blocks, says Celaya.

"We want to provide a truer description of what is actually happening in the areas where students, faculty, and staff are living, working, and walking to get to campus," he explains.