As UC Berkeley students leave campus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, campus streets and surrounding areas remain virtually deserted, resulting in a 30% drop in calls for support to the Berkeley police station.
Despite this drop, Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, spokesperson Officer Byron White noted that safety — even during this uncertain time — should always be a priority for students. To avoid the most common incident reports, which, according to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Nicolas Hernandez, include theft, White suggested students should remain aware of their surroundings.
Last April, the city of Berkeley ranked in the bottom 20 of the safest cities in all of California. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis report, there is no visible downward trend in the number of crimes reported from 2016 to 2018 at UC Berkeley.
“I definitely think that in regards to crime, Berkeley is not one of the safest places to live in,” said ASUC Senator Rebecca Soo, who has a focus on improving security on campus. “It is just disheartening and kind of scary to see so many things be reported on (social media) and to know that there are probably more things happening on top of those.”
According to White, the decline in incidents and reports should not be considered a trend, as it is likely due to the shelter-in-place ordinance issued by the city in March.
Former ASUC senator Milton Zerman began advocating for increased student safety measures following an incident when two of his friends were attacked and robbed in 2018 near the Clark Kerr Campus. Zerman has advocated for increased security cameras around Clark Kerr Campus and for higher UCPD presence in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union after hours.
“There are small but effective ways to avoid appearing to be an easy target for robbery,” Zerman said in an email. “Walk in large groups, keep valuables out of sight, and keep all bags and/or backpacks firmly secured to your person.”
Zerman and White both recognized the importance of avoiding less lit routes and staying alert and aware of all surroundings.
This year, Soo focused on improving security on and around campus, working in collaboration with fellow ASUC Senator Evina Wang. Both shared a series of night safety tips with students on their Facebook pages — including a map of central campus indicating the most frequented and well-lit paths and “the best ones to use at night.” According to Soo’s Facebook page, UCPD strongly encourages students and staff to use these routes.
“We also posted on social media platforms about safety resources on campus including BearWalk, door-to-door service or the night safety shuttle for those who are not aware of them or not sure of how to use them,” Soo said. “It took a lot of research and a very collaborative effort with Wang and the office of communications.”
Campus offers BearWalk, an operation that allows individuals to be escorted to their homes from campus at late hours by a community service officer, a student employed by UCPD. A similar resource offered by campus is the door-to-door service, a shuttle for campus members in the early hours of the morning dispatched to drop them off anywhere within the service area boundaries.
According to Soo, who has used BearWalk a number of times to safely get home from campus at late hours, the wait time period has lowered significantly since she brought it up to UCPD at the beginning of her term last year.
Since then, BearWalk’s program has been extensively developed to provide the BearWalk night safety escort service and offers students work-study and part-time jobs to become community service officers, according to Soo.
Due to the campus closure, however, night safety services have temporarily been suspended until further notice, according to Hernandez.
Being a student
Some students such as senior Samantha Tamale, who allegedly witnessed at least one incident near campus involving a car almost hitting her, said she does not feel the need to utilize these services.
“I personally haven’t used the night services provided by campus, for the most part I feel comfortable walking home late at night on my own,” Tamale said in an email. “I’m from the Bay Area, so a lot of the safety issues here on campus aren’t new to me.”
According to UCPD’s website, it is committed to working in partnership with the campus community to enhance community trust, promote safety and reduce the incidence and fear of crime.
Soo added that, as a senator, she has reached out to UCPD about certain concerns students have had in the past and said they are trying their best to keep the student body safe.