Community members concerned about increase in reported crimes near campus

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During the past several weeks in Berkeley, six robberies, a shooting and two sexual assaults have occurred, prompting concern among students and community members as well as increased use of the safety app Wildfire.

According to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel, there has been an increase in reported crimes close to campus. The majority of the recent crimes has occurred at locations near campus, while only one robbery actually happened on campus, said UC Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich.

UCPD Chief of Police Margo Bennett said in a statement that the department has actively been working toward improving campus security by increasing safety outreach and reallocating staff toward their BearWALK night safety program, among other things.

“Despite these efforts, we understand there is a perception that crime is rising on our campus,” Bennett said. “Actually, our crime reduction strategies have resulted in a 12 percent decrease in violent crimes reported in 2015 as compared with 2014. … For the first half of 2016, the decrease in crime appears to be holding steady.”

Regardless, campus sophomore Nikhil Nagpal does not feel safe walking home at night.

“Crime happens on all campuses, at any university, but the recent increase in activity has really started to make me and quite a few of my friends very nervous,” Nagpal said. “Even though I live only a few blocks from campus, I’ve been reluctant to walk home any time after dark, just because of what might happen.”

Wildfire, which was co-founded by campus alumnus Hriday Kemburu, allows users to self-report crimes and receive notifications if a crime happens close to their location. The app, which is not affiliated with BPD or UCPD, has experienced a significant increase — from 4,000 to 10,000  local users since the shooting that occurred on Dana and Haste streets last Saturday.

Kemburu said Wildfire notified students about the shooting Saturday, several minutes after it had happened, while UCPD sent out a crime alert via Nixle — a tool that sends UCPD and BPD’s alerts en masse — the following afternoon.

“Having that extra sense of security, that I’ll know right away whenever something might’ve occurred, definitely helps me feel safer on campus — especially during these last two weeks,” Nagpal said of the public safety app.

UCPD, however, has made efforts to better inform students of local crime. Since March, Reich said, the department has been using Nixle to send out crime alerts to UC Berkeley community members. Before using Nixle, people could subscribe to email lists, and reported crime was posted on the UCPD website, Reich said.

BPD cannot send out a crime alert until certain information about the investigation is known, according to Frankel. This results in instances like last Saturday, in which the crime alert was released almost a day after the crime occurred.

“Sometimes it might take us some days to connect all the dots,” Frankel said.

Reich said Wildfire could be a useful tool in improving personal safety; but the posted information is not vetted, and often when an individual alleges a crime on social media, they do not subsequently report the crime to BPD or UCPD.

“If crime is happening, we want people to be calling the police department,” Reich said.

Contact Charlotte Kosche at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.