Police speak about gang violence at Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods meeting

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At a Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee, or BSNC, meeting earlier this month, Berkeley Police Department Sgt. Patty Delaluna and Officer Matt McGee provided comprehensive information about gang violence in Berkeley for the first time in recent history.

During the meeting first reported by Berkeleyside, Delaluna and McGee spoke openly about gang violence and named the five gangs that allegedly claim Berkeley. BPD has been hesitant to refer to groups as “gangs” in the past.

Andrea Prichett, a member of Copwatch and a police review commissioner, said racial profiling is already a problem in Berkeley, so people should ask themselves what stands behind the label “gang.”

“Whether we use the word ‘gang’ or not, the point is that we have young people who feel that there is not a place for them in the world of college and careers,” Prichett said. “How can we connect with them to prevent them from thinking that gang violence is a solution and provide them assistance and support?”

Shirley Dean, president of BSNC and former Berkeley mayor, said this is not the first time that the issue of gang violence has emerged, but she said it is the first time that BPD officially named the gangs in Berkeley. Gang activity in Berkeley started more than 20 years ago, BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said in an email.

BPD has been hesitant to speak of gang violence in the past because it was not always clear whether or not certain crimes were related to gangs, according to Frankel. BPD also felt that naming gangs publicly could encourage them and compromise investigations, Frankel said in his email.

The gangs who allegedly claim Berkeley are Five Finger Mafia, 510 Clown Mob, South Berkeley, Waterfront and West Side Berkeley, which is affiliated with the larger Norteño gang, Frankel said in his email. There are also Berkeley residents with ties to gangs in other cities or prisons, Frankel added. In total, BPD is in contact with about 50 to 70 people per month who have associations with gangs in Berkeley and other cities, according to Frankel.

“(Gang violence) starts largely on social media with gang members trash talking opposing gang members,” Frankel said in his email. “This trash talk can manifest in graffiti, … fights or shootings.”

Not all gang activity is violent, according to Dean. Graffiti and photographs on social media in which gang signs are flashed are examples of “rather usual behavior from gang members,” Dean said. Though nonviolent, these activities can lead to more serious incidences, Dean added.

Dean also added that last year, BPD was successful in combating gang presence in Strawberry Creek Park through stay-away orders, increased presence and programs such as Berkeley Youth Alternatives, a crime prevention service that provides youth outreach.

BPD has trained some of its officers as gang experts who work together with BPD detectives and other local agencies, according to Frankel. McGee is stationed as a School Resource Officer at Berkeley High School as part of BPD’s effort to reach out to at-risk youth, Frankel said in his email.

BSNC is talking to the Berkeley Unified School District about providing more prevention services for youth in the future, according to Dean.

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