Recent crimes raise safety concerns for students on campus

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On Monday evening, Kuang Li, a campus senior and a former The Daily Californian staffer, was walking alone on the south side of campus when two men in hoodies ran up and surrounded him. Li said one man showed him a handgun and then asked for his wallet, which he handed over.

“I could have died any second if they were to act a bit more recklessly,” Li said. “I wasn’t being rational; my brain just wasn’t functioning.”

On that same night, five separate pedestrian robberies occurred in less than two hours on the south side of campus, prompting Berkeley Police Department to issue an advisory urging caution on the part of residents. According to a recent study by criminal defense attorney George Gedulin, UC Berkeley has the second-highest campus crime rate of any university in California, trailing only Stanford.

BPD Lt. Michael Durbin said the area south of campus has high crime rates in comparison to the rest of the city and added that the recent string of robberies was unusual. Durbin also noted that BPD was working closely with UCPD to help address such incidents.

But for students like campus junior Dayna Deblasi, these police efforts have failed to provide students with a sense of security when traveling around campus, especially at night.

“Everything that’s been going on is in the back of my head,” Deblasi said in reference to the recent robberies, as well as reports in July of sexual battery on Memorial Glade. “I was on the glade that same day, and that’s scary.”

Another UC Berkeley junior, Nicholas Daneshvari, was robbed when walking near campus with his girlfriend in January of this year. Daneshvari said he still feels “on edge” near campus and added that he no longer walks around late at night.

“We were both extremely terrified,” Daneshvari said about the incident. “We’re both from suburban areas where there’s not really much crime.”

Students cited several areas on and around UC Berkeley as places where they are particularly on guard for criminal activity. These areas included the south of campus as well as the parts of the campus that are poorly lit at night, including Memorial Glade and the pathways around the Valley Life Sciences Building.

According to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich, however, the number of crimes on campus are “relatively low” in comparison to neighboring areas. She noted that crime reduction strategies implemented by the campus police have resulted in a 12 percent decrease in violent crimes and a 23 percent decrease in all major crimes such as burglary and robbery from 2014 to 2015 — which she referred to as a “sharp contrast” to local and national crime trends.

Reich further stressed that UC Berkeley’s location contributes to the prevalence of crime taking place near campus.

“It’s important to remember that … we are situated in an urban environment and crimes do occur in our community,” Reich said in an email.

Li and Daneshvari both praised the response of the Berkeley police to their reports of these crimes, and other students expressed gratitude for the safety resources provided by the campus — including email alerts and BearWALK, a service that students can call to walk them home when they are out late at night.  

“I used to not think anything of services like BearWALK,” Daneshvari said, adding that he might not have been mugged if he had utilized the service. “In light of that experience, it made me take (BearWALK) a lot more seriously.”

Still, Li insisted that safety concerns around campus are troubling and said that as the situation stands, “things are not getting better.”

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].