Bennett views UCPD as a supportive system

Nathaniel Solley/File

It’s late Thursday morning, and UCPD Chief Margo Bennett sits calmly in her office in the basement of Sproul Hall, but her day will be anything but calm.

Thursdays — like every day — are chock-full of meetings, she says, and she won’t leave the campus until 11 p.m. Advancing to the position of chief of police in April after being with the department for more than a decade, Bennett spends a lot of time in meetings discussing ways to combat crime and improve safety around campus.

“Victims speak of being angry,” she said. “Well, they should be angry. They’ve had some innocence taken from them. I’m here to help them, to catch the culprits and minimize victimization.”

In April, Bennett officially assumed the role of police chief — though she had served as interim chief since December — after a four-year stint by Mitch Celaya, whose career was marred by controversy over his management of the Occupy Cal protests in 2011.

“We’re in a different place now than we were in 2011,” she said.

In past years, Berkeley has seen an uptick in crime. About 800 crimes were reported within a one-mile radius of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way from February to June of this year. In 2012, there were 39 reported rapes — nearly double the 20 reported incidents in 2011.

In an effort to reverse the increase in crime, Bennett has implemented a two-pronged attack. She has ordered an innovative series of policy proposals aimed at curbing street crime and sexual assault. Moreover, to restore UCPD’s rapport with the community, she has opened numerous channels to open dialogue between students and officers.

“One of the most important parts of leadership is that you cannot lead from behind a desk,” said Carol Alfano, safety program administrator for BearWALK services. “She’s out and about; people see her. She is very much an ambassador and is a great asset in terms of being collaborative with the community.”

In a coalition with UC Berkeley Department of Parking and Transportation, Bennett has spearheaded efforts to extend the nightly BearWALK service and Night Safety Shuttles from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.

This year, Bennett plans to revise the way data is used by employing new collection techniques to see where and when crimes occur in hopes of having a better idea of how to deploy resources.
These measures have already seen success, Bennett said. Under her direction, a special duty unit deployed in January uses such crime data trends to monitor troubled campus locations. Using this data, the unit successfully identified and prosecuted a group of individuals not affiliated with the campus who were coming into the Recreational Sports Facility and stealing students’ belongings.

Additionally, Bennett has initiated joint safety patrols with Berkeley Police Department to hit hot spots where crime is concentrated, which, according to Bennett, occurs mostly on city streets, not on campus.

To fulfill the second part of her approach, Bennett has emphasized a clear communication between UCPD and the campus, working on repackaging UCPD as a community-receptive organization.

Soon, Bennett plans to have an open house for the ASUC and is contemplating how to begin a citizens’ academy in an effort to engage members of the campus to familiarize themselves with UCPD.

“It’s exciting to have these relationships develop, to rely on these relationships,” Bennett said. “Now there really is campus ownership of how we’re going to approach situations we encounter.”

UCPD Lt. Eric Tejada points to Bennett’s “inclusive management style” and “commitment to being a partner to the campus community” as major assets in creating an environment that will allow for a more effective UCPD.

For Bennett, police officers can function as more than just enforcers of the law — she believes officers should provide victims an outlet for support and enable them to assimilate what has happened to them, having been a victim of violence herself.

Without the support of family and friends, Bennett said, she wouldn’t have gotten through what happened to her. In the same way, UCPD can act as a support system.

“It’s about reaching out and leaning into relationships — that’s what is important,” Bennett said. “This is your police department, and we are here for you.”