Letter from Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods by BayAreaNewsGroup

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									                               Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee
                                        Post Office Box 13665
                                      Berkeley, California 94710

April 12, 2011


William Huyett, Superintendent
Berkeley Unified School District
2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

Phil Kamlarz, City Manager
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia
Berkeley, CA 94704

Dear Superintendent Huyett and City Manager Kamlarz:

         The Board of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee (BSNC), representing one hundred
twenty nine neighborhood watch groups throughout the City of Berkeley, is writing this letter because of
our strongly-held view there is an imperative need for close cooperation between School District and City
in order to resolve the serious issues regarding violence in our schools.

         The recent widely-reported gun incidents at Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technology
Academy are extremely disturbing. However, it is even more disturbing that incidents of violence,
involving guns, drugs, gangs and gambling by our youth in and around our schools have been occurring
for at least the past nineteen years. These recent incidents represent a continuing pattern that must be
addressed immediately before someone is fatally injured. On March 31, 2011, Berkeley Police Chief
Michael K. Meehan wrote to you stating his recommendations. In that letter, Chief Meehan stated that
“more than incremental changes are required.” We emphatically agree and the District and City working
together must provide the leadership to effect meaningful and lasting changes.

        Chief Meehan’s March 31st letter contained several recommendations including the following:

●      Long-Term, Close the BHS Campus
       The Chief states this is the highest priority. We agree and further suggest that City and District
commence working on the details now so that a target date such as next Fall can be set to begin
implementation.

●        Improve the BUSD School Security Program
         The Chief states that his top recommendation for the BUSD security program is ensuring that
responding police officers can “easily recognize and coordinate with staff during incidents.” The Chief
also calls for increasing security training and equipping security officers with restraints. We agree.

●       Additional School Resources Officers (SROs)
        The Chief recommends that the District “materially support’ additional officers both at the high
school and middle schools. We agree. The financial burden should be shared between City and District,
and both should collaborate in the application process and in a strong lobbying effort to secure grant
funding for at least three SROs.
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●        Require Visible School Specific Identification Cards
         The Chief outlines several possibilities that could make the use of such identification cards
effective and valuable to school personnel, students, parents, and law enforcement. He further advises
that the use of identification cards should commence in middle school so their use is a matter of course
when students begin high school. We agree and we point out that School Director Thurmond from the
West Contra County School District which has had considerable experience with school violence
problems also recommended the use of identification cards to you. Mr. Thurmond also extended an
invitation to share experiences with you. We urge you to accept this invitation. We additionally urge
District and City to use the full range of law enforcement tools to prevent non-students from loitering in
and around school grounds with the intent of drug sales or other criminal activity.

●        Increase Attention and Support on Highest Risk Students
         The Chief is quite clear in his recommendation that a “comprehensive anti-truancy program can
help prevent crime and victimization” and that a “data-driven early warning system designed to ensure
that students starting down the wrong path receive increased attention in the way of support and
enforcement” should be established. We are deeply concerned that there is no City-District anti-truancy
partnership in place in Berkeley. Some ten years ago, the former East Bay Public Safety Corridor made
just such a recommendation. Other cities in the Bay Area have put in place exemplary anti-truancy
programs. The District and City should jointly explore the practices of cities such as San Francisco which
has an anti-truancy program considered by many to be quite effective. It is an old saying, but worth
repeating – our children cannot learn, if they are not in school. The link between truancy and the
potential for future criminal behavior is well documented and City and District should proceed to
formulate and implement an anti-truancy program and a data-driven early warning system.

         We must also remember that for each act of violence there is a victim. Any data-driven system
must also provide the necessary monitoring and services that will ensure the protection of victims from
retribution, as well as ensuring the provision of adequate support assistance to victims for the trauma
experienced.

         Equally important, but not categorized in Chief Meehan’s letter is his recommendation that
BUSD should have “an advanced data collection, analysis, sharing and reporting program” and that
BUSD needs to ensure that the Berkeley Police Department “is notified of all incidents that require
reporting to local law enforcement and all incidents that require suspension or expulsion.” It has been
reported to the Board that parents will go to the Police Department directly in the evening regarding
school-related incidents and that reported robberies and thefts at school are higher than what the District
reports to the State. It is essential that we have accurate data if we are to effectively deal with safety in
our schools, reduce rumors, and ensure that programs are focused.

       While we have written about law enforcement issues, we acknowledge that the work that needs to
be done will also require the best efforts of our many social service providers. We have not commented
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Letter from BSNC to Superintendent Huyett and City Manager Kamlarz



on any of these programs, but we want to assure you that we believe they must be provided in any
comprehensive program to address the school violence problems we face.

         In closing, we emphasize that providing a bright future for all of our young people requires true
institutional change not just glossing over problems only to have them break out again and again. It is
essential that it be recognized that the problem of safety in our schools is a shared City and District
responsibility. You must work together to find the lasting solutions that are vitally needed.


                                                          Yours truly,

                                                          Trudy Washburn
                                                          On behalf of the Board
                                                          Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee




cc: Members of the Berkeley School Board
    Mayor and Members of the Berkeley City Council
    Chief Michael K. Meehan



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