New Southside joint safety patrol already a success

After only a few months of operation, a pilot program on the city’s south side that set up a joint safety patrol by the University of California, Berkeley, Police Department (UCPD) and the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) is showing successful results.

Like all patrols city- and campus-wide, the new Joint Southside Safety Patrol’s main charge is to suppress violent crime. It also is focused on what has been a troublesome town/gown issue: unruly parties of 10 or more people in off-campus student rental housing and fraternities that create a significant public nuisance.

Since its launch in August, the joint patrol has received approximately 135 calls for service and issued 79 warning citations for noise complaints. Officers have only had to return to eight locations to cite repeat violations, which carry fines starting at $750 if issued within a 120-day period. In fall 2008, police received 384 calls during a similar period, but officers issued only 72 warnings.

“The community sees the increased police presence and enforcement of public nuisance violations. We’re seeing quieter parties that are more respectful of the neighborhood, which can be attributed to the increased visibility and responsiveness of the Joint Southside Safety Patrol,” said Caleb Dardick, director of UC Berkeley’s Local Government and Community Relations office.

Both campus and city police agree that the joint patrols are effecting positive change.

“The joint patrol officers recognize that public nuisance enforcement is an effective tool to reduce noise complaints and improve the quality of life for both students and city neighbors. Time and time again, we see that excessive or irresponsible drinking leads to bad decisions that can include victimization of students and others,” said UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya.

“The patrols also allow campus and city police officers to increase our visibility on the south side and to respond rapidly to calls for service, whether it’s a robbery in progress or an out-of-control party,” added Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan.

City and campus police team up in two squad cars to cover the neighborhoods near campus Thursday through Saturday nights between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Police officers may issue citations when they find violations of any kind, and this information is quickly shared with the campus’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Students, who receive the majority of the public nuisance citations, also hear promptly from student conduct staff.

“The joint patrols have sent a message that there are consequences if loud parties disturb the peace. Students know that if they are cited, they may also face action under the Code of Student Conduct,” added Assistant Dean Susan Trageser, who directs the UC Berkeley Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards.

Dardick said Southside neighbors are pleased with the new patrol. “Neighbors used to complain that their calls to the police department fell to the bottom of the list,” he said. “Now they know their calls are routed directly to officers already in the area.”

“Some of the biggest problem houses have quieted down as a result of the joint enforcement efforts,” said Phil Bokovoy, block captain of the Piedmont/Parker neighborhood watch group, and a neighbor near UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus. “All of the neighbors are really pleased with the increased attention to consistent enforcement of the nuisance ordinance.”

The results of the joint patrol program are consistent with data recently released in a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study about the best strategies to reduce college drinking. It found that universities with highly visible enforcement activities, including UC Berkeley, had the best results.

UC Berkeley students also are noticing the increased enforcement and are adjusting their behaviors. “There have been a lot more police cars around this fall than in other years,” observed David Garber, a UC Berkeley student. “Though most of us don’t like to admit it publicly, there’s a lot we don’t know about alcohol laws and penalties, police relations, and alcohol safety and responsibility.”

Positive feedback from neighbors, students and campus administrators has led to a decision by the UCPD and the BPD to extend the pilot program at least through the end of the year.