Berkeley police chat Sunday ‘alt-right’ rally, local crime over coffee

Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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The weekend’s “alt-right” rally and several counterprotests dominated conversations between Berkeley residents and police officers at Tuesday’s “Coffee With a Cop” event in Downtown Berkeley.

The roughly 12 Berkeley police officers also talked local crime with the more than 15 community members who attended the event held at Starbucks.

The goal of the event was to provide the public with a chance to meet the officers who work for the department and ask any questions they want, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats.

“The intent is to not come with an agenda,” said Lt. Kevin Schofield.

Both Berkeley residents and campus students attended the event. While a range of topics were discussed, according to Officer Brandon Smith, Sunday’s rally was most prominent.

The confrontation between “alt-right” ralliers and counterprotesters resulted in 13 arrests Sunday. According to Smith, violent individuals can hide in crowds of peaceful protesters to avoid police officers. He added that peaceful protesters can inadvertently hinder police officers from reaching violent individuals by making it difficult to navigate through the crowd.

“When you see those people … get away from them,” Smith said, referring to violent ralliers.

Smith said that whether future conservative speakers’ planned visits will spark violence is up to ralliers and protesters.

Among conversation about the rally and protests, residents also voiced concerns about local crime and safety. BPD crime analyst and UC Berkeley alumna Rita De Lucchi said auto burglary is the biggest problem for the city. According to De Lucchi, the UC Berkeley campus is a “big draw” for suspects who often target students’ phones and laptops.

Some of the other questions officers fielded included personal inquiries about why they decided to enter police work and if they enjoy their work. Coats said Coffee With a Cop also allows attendees to interact with the police in a more “relaxed” environment than usual.

Berkeley resident Fred Dodsworth, who attended the event, said he felt it went fairly well. He also stated that the Berkeley police officers are the best in the Bay Area and possibly the country, citing personal experience with BPD deescalating confrontations with armed suspects.

Campus freshman Eatone Cheng, another attendee, said one officer advised that Ben Shapiro’s planned campus visit could result in violence and encouraged Cheng to stay out of the area. In regards to police abandoning the security line at the Center Street and Milvia Street entrance to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park at Sunday’s rally, Cheng stated he doesn’t blame them, as they were “hilariously outnumbered.”

Overall, the event was a success, said Officer Jumaane Jones, though he added that there is always room for improvement. Schofield stated that the event was not a one-time thing, with more to come in the future.

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.