Nixle alerts are here: Q&A with UCPD Chief Margo Bennett

The UC Berkeley Police Department recently launched Nixle, a new tool that will enhance the department’s communications, distribute crime alerts, and keep the UC Berkeley community more informed about campus safety. In this Q&A with Berkeley News, UCPD Chief Margo Bennett describes what the campus can expect from Nixle. She also discusses UCPD’s latest efforts to combat crime on campus, which have contributed to an overall decrease in violent and property crimes.

The City of Berkeley recently released its 2015 crime report, which showed increased crime rates in the city last year. Has the campus experienced a similar trend?
We’ve seen a 12 percent reduction in violent crimes and a 24 percent reduction in property crimes on UC Berkeley’s campus, for an overall 23 percent decrease in these crimes in 2015, whereas crime is on the rise both locally and nationally.

Margo Bennett

UCPD Chief Margo Bennett (UC Berkeley photo)

To what do you attribute the drop in violent and property crimes on campus last year?

We place a high emphasis on crime prevention and safety outreach and we credit this in part for our results. Additionally, we’ve implemented new crime-reduction strategies, including the use of predictive policing technology, the bait bike program, a new beat-rotation system to enhance our community policing efforts and directed patrols to address community concerns and problem areas based on crime analysis. This, in combination with the efficient allocation of our limited resources, has helped us achieve this significant crime reduction in 2015.

What are some examples of UCPD’s recent efforts to prevent and combat crime on campus?
UCPD uses a proactive approach to crime reduction, including a combination of directed enforcement, both high-visibility and plainclothes patrols, safety outreach efforts and reallocation of resources based on crime trends and analysis. We also work collaboratively with the Berkeley Police Department to help investigate crime occurring in our south campus community.

UCPD recently launched Nixle, a tool to provide the campus community with timely public safety information and crime alerts. What prompted the launch of this new tool?
While the campus has been issuing crime alerts since the Jeanne Clery Act went into effect, we wanted to find a way to reach as many members of our campus community as possible with important information about campus safety situations. About one year ago, we began exploring available communications tools that would enable us to expand our reach. After a thorough vetting and testing process, we have now rolled out Nixle to the entire campus.

Is it true that students, faculty and staff will automatically receive Nixle alerts? What about others in the campus community?
In general, students, faculty, staff and affiliates are now set to receive Nixle alerts. If you are part of the UC Berkeley community as of the date we last refreshed the data and you are signed-up to receive WarnMe alerts, you were automatically added to UC Berkeley’s private group in Nixle to receive email communications at your official Berkeley email address. You don’t need to do anything further. The other great thing about Nixle is that anyone can sign up for an account, so for the first time parents, friends and even our Berkeley neighbors can stay abreast of what’s happening on campus at the same time as the rest of the university’s community.

If you don’t want to receive Nixle updates, you can opt out by clicking a link that will be located at the top of each Nixle update.

Are UCPD’s crime alerts different from Nixle communications? Can I get both? What’s the difference?
UCPD’s Crime Alerts have not changed; however, they will now be distributed to the campus through the Nixle communication system. If you were already signed up to receive Crime Alerts, you will continue to receive these “advisories” through Nixle. If you were not previously signed up, you will now be automatically enrolled with your berkeley.edu address to receive Crime Alerts. Nixle simply allows UCPD to provide these timely Crime Alerts to a much broader audience, including parents of students and our neighborhood and community partners. Community members who are not affiliated with UC Berkeley and don’t have a Berkeley.edu address may go to Nixle.com and register.

Are Nixle alerts replacing UC Berkeley’s WarnMe system?
No. UCPD will continue to use WarnMe to provide critical notifications regarding major emergency and potential life safety situations here at UC Berkeley. Nixle will simply enhance and supplement our ability to provide crime alerts, advisories and other community-type communications.

What feedback have you received, or what has the campus community response been, since the Nixle launch?
Many students and campus partners have expressed to me that the new Nixle alerts are helpful and make them feel more aware about what’s occurring across campus. Our goal is to equip the campus with knowledge about what crimes are occurring, and how to stay as safe as possible.

Since the launch of Nixle, some have noticed crimes that perhaps students weren’t aware of before. Does this necessarily mean there’s more crime around campus?
No, in fact, the number of violent crimes reported in 2015 was the lowest it has been since 2007. Now that all members of the campus community are receiving Nixle alerts, it may be perceived that there is an increasing number of crimes happening around campus. In reality, we aren’t seeing a significant spike in crime at this time; we are simply increasing awareness. In addition, the campus may be seeing crime notices for things they previously didn’t pay much attention to, such as notices about “petty” crimes like vandalism, theft or nonviolent crimes. These tips are to help inform and empower our campus community with knowledge, and keep us all safer.

Recent reports of sexual assaults near the UC Berkeley campus have some students more concerned about their safety. What can students do to help ensure their safety?
Some helpful tips to keep in mind include:

  • Use Night Safety Services,  especially after dark, in poorly lit areas and when walking alone.
    • From dusk until 3 a.m., seven days a week, you can access BearWalk to ask for a safe way home, and to see a live map of our night safety buses and where they are relative to your location.
    • You can also contact BearWalk via phone at (510) 642-WALK (9255).
    • iii) Door to Door shuttles stop on the north side of Moffitt every half- hour from 3 to 5:30 a.m.
  • Be aware of your friends and attentive to your surroundings; look out for each other.
  • Don’t use your phone, earbuds or electronics while walking.
  • Offer to walk in groups and be alert to the safety of your neighbors.
  • Notice (and point out to your friends) the emergency “Blue Light” telephone stations located around campus. These can be used to notify UCPD that assistance is needed.
  • Be aware of crime on campus by checking the UCPD Daily Activity Bulletin and by reading Nixle crime alerts, which all members of the campus community are now automatically set to receive.

 

In light of recent reports of sexual assaults on and near campus, what are some things that UCPD is doing to increase/ensure student safety in this area?
Campus law enforcement and the Berkeley Police Department have increased their patrols both on campus and in the City of Berkeley, with both uniformed and plainclothes officers, to help keep our community safe.

Given these recent reports of crimes on and near campus, what resources are there for survivors of sexual assault or sexual violence?
A great place to start is the confidential care advocate, where students can get assistance with and learn about all campus resources and their reporting options, in a confidential space. The office provides holistic support, helping survivors to access resources related to any aspect of life that is affected by sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking or harassment. Services are provided at free of charge.

How is UCPD working with the campus to help students be aware of safety best practices?
We’re working on a daily basis with campus leaders to help get the word out to the campus community, including students, about risk-reduction tips and resources.

Finally, what are the best ways for students to contact UCPD if they need assistance, have emergencies, or have general questions?
If you witness any suspicious or criminal activity, or if you need assistance:

  • For emergencies, dial 911 or via cell on campus dial UCPD at (510) 642-3333.
  • On-campus non-emergencies – UCPD at (510) 642-6760 (berkeley.edu).
  • City of Berkeley – Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5900 (berkeley.ca.us/police).
  • Also, you can anonymously report crime or suspicious circumstances through CalTIPS. You can call (510) 664-8477 or email cal@tipnow.com.