Monday, March 28, 2011

Law Enforcement Offers Help for Gun Problem at Berkeley High School

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Law enforcement officials Thursday outlined ways for Berkeley High School to reduce the number of guns on campus including keeping a closer watch on students with criminal records who are more likely to bring weapons.
The ideas from Matt Golde, supervising district attorney in the Alameda County Juvenile Division, and Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss came three days after a shot was fired on campus and three students were arrested in two separate gun incidents. The officials offered the ideas after schools Superintendent Bill Huyett said he "welcomes all suggestions for improving safety."
Earlier in the week, Huyett said the school would add two security guards, offer a toll-free tip line for kids to report those with guns and hold a series of community meetings.
Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan said he would make further recommendations to Huyett next week.
Seven students have been arrested since Jan. 10 in gun incidents at Berkeley High and Berkeley Technology Academy.
While both Golde and Kusmiss offered options used in other schools, they admitted that increased security measures may not go over well in a school that places a high value on individual freedoms.
Golde said there are a "tremendous amount" of criminal cases coming to his office from Berkeley High students who commit crimes on campus and off, but they come from a relatively small group.
"There's a lot they can do," Golde said. "For example, they have every right in the world to know the names of every person who is on probation, who has committed these violent offenses. One would think we could keep a little closer eye on them. They don't have to kick them out or put a scarlet letter on them or share the names with students, just keep an eye on them."
Golde emphasized he was "not telling the school what to do" and said the school has "by far the best intervention programs for at risk-youth in the county."
"But I'm talking about the people who are a bit beyond intervention who need more supervision and who are seriously violent and dangerous people and they are there, no question they are there," Golde said. "It's now time to take seriously the protection of the school and the community and deal appropriately with these kids. The status quo is no longer enough."
At the same time, in terms of the percentage of students who are potentially dangerous, Golde said Berkeley High does not "stand out at all."
"Berkeley is definitely better than most, but it is facing things it hasn't until now," Golde said. "I think it's fair to demand a safe school."
Feeling safe at school is an issue for Berkeley students. The California Healthy Kids Survey released late last year, said just 23 percent of 11th-graders feel "very safe" at school and 15 percent of ninth-graders said they felt safe.
The survey also said 9 percent of 11th-graders brought a gun to school and 7 percent of ninth-graders did. Ten percent of 11th-graders said they belong to a gang.
Kusmiss said the police department would like to begin a meaningful dialogue with school administrators about safety.
"The Berkeley Police Department wants to have an open and collaborative relationship with the school," Kusmiss said. "And we want the students to have a fun but safe experience during their high school years."
Kusmiss said the school could enact a dress code banning gang-style attire "because there are a couple of different gangs who attend Berkeley High."
She said local gangs who call themselves the West Side Boys or West Side Berkeley who are affiliates of the Nortenos, and the Border Brothers who are affiliates of the Surenos, both have students at the school.
"Prohibiting wearing gang colors has been a proven strategy to reduce violence in schools across the country," Kusmiss said.
Other options the school could enact is a ban on cellphones, Kusmiss said, getting students to wear some sort of identification badge so teachers and security guards can tell students from non-students and getting security guards at the school to have clearly identifiable clothes so that when police arrive to break up a fight, they will know who is who.
Golde said if Berkeley High wants to improve safety, it may have to sacrifice long-held beliefs about personal freedoms.
"I don't think we're at the stage of putting in metal detectors, but anytime you impose security, it involves sacrifice," Golde said. "How do you want to be as a community and protect kids at the same time? I think it's time for some meaningful change at the school."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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