BPD, responding to attempted kidnappings, installs license-plate-reading trailer outside middle school

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Timothy Dawson/Staff

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Berkeley Police Department set up a trailer next to Willard Middle School late last month that can read and record the license plates of passing cars on Telegraph Avenue.

The trailer, composed of a small platform that can be towed by a truck, was lent at no cost to BPD by another agency. It was placed outside the school in response to a series of attempted kidnappings of children in the surrounding area over the past two months, according to BPD Lt. Jennifer Louis.

If an incident occurs in the area, the license plate data collected by the trailer could prove useful to law enforcement, who could then cross-reference license plates from the time period of the incident with descriptions of suspicious cars, Louis said.

The trailer, which will likely remain where it is for as long as it is available and seems to be of use, is one component of law enforcement’s response to attempted kidnappings of students around the school, which occurred in late September and again on Oct. 18.

BPD has also been working with neighboring police departments — including those in Albany and Emeryville — investigating leads and communicating with parents and the school community, according to Louis.

Despite law enforcement efforts of this kind, community members were not informed of the installation of the trailer and its intended purpose, although Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan responded positively once he was informed.

“We didn’t ask for it, and we were unaware of it until a parent noticed it,” said Coplan, who called the trailer a “brilliant move” and praised the police response to the attempted kidnappings.

Coplan also praised the activity of other community members responding to the attempted kidnappings, including the children themselves, adding that “in each of the incidences that have been reported are students that have done exactly the right things.”

He said the recent events have created a sense of heightened awareness throughout the community, leading children to report to authorities incidents they would otherwise have deemed insignificant.

Coplan noted a “greater sense of awareness” within the community, adding that there haven’t been similar incidences of kidnappings since mid-October.

Whether dangers have been more present or only more carefully scrutinized, some parents are still worried about the safety of their children.

“Our school has been targeted multiple times,” said Nicolle Zapien, a parent of a Willard Middle School student.

Despite her concerns, Zapien spoke positively about the responses of both law enforcement and school officials to the attempted kidnappings.

“I think they’ve been doing a great job,” Zapien said, adding that measures taken by various members of the community should pay off soon. “I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].