Opinion: I wanted to hate what UC Berkeley parents are doing in the name of safety, but I can’t

At first glance, the idea that parents of adult students would hire a private security force to patrol the areas around a public university campus seems like the ultimate in helicopter parenting.

I mean, seriously?

Why not just hire a bodyguard for your child?

Last year, parents of UC Berkeley students launched SafeBears, a nonprofit organization, in an effort to pressure the university to find ways to increase the safety of its students.

Opinion columnist

Robin Abcarian

Alarmed by the October 2022 fatal shooting of a youth minister on legendary Telegraph Avenue near campus and the return of crime to normal or above-normal levels in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — including a February shooting on Cal’s main drag, Sproul Plaza — parents began raising their voices about whether their children were safe.

And then they did something that seems to confirm this era as one where parents are totally going overboard: They raised $40,000 and hired a private company to beef up security around the dorms and the south side of campus for what they called a pilot program.

For two and a half weeks in March, a 30-year-old company called Streetsplus dispatched six unarmed “ambassadors” on foot and bicycle between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. A Streetplus executive told me the company provides cleaning, security and hospitality services to customers. 75 clients, almost exclusively in business improvement districts, established by local businesses. Ambassadors undergo training and background checks. With rare exceptions, they do not carry weapons or physically intervene in situations.

Critics — and many lawsuits — argue that security personnel in commercial development districts routinely exceed their authority to harass homeless people or exclude them from public spaces.

That’s not exactly the problem here, since the goal is to protect students, not improve business conditions.

Last week, my colleagues Salvador Hernandez and Nathan Solis reported that Berkeley administrators were unhappy with parents’ private efforts. They shared their disapproval in a statement: “Parents who wish to donate funds to increase campus security can do so through a university fund that has been established. We do not believe that private security should take precedence over the recruitment of sworn agents.”

And yet SafeBears founder and president Sagar Jethani, the father of twin sophomores at Cal, told me Monday that the group hasn’t really received much resistance.

“I’ll be honest, that was my concern when we started,” he said. “That we would be seen as a bunch of helicopter parents having a hard time letting little Johnny go.”

Of course, there is no way of knowing whether crimes were committed. not occurred due to the ambassadors’ presence on the streets of Berkeley, but at least one attack was thwarted when a SafeBears ambassador interrupted the attack on a young woman by a man who then fled into a car with friends. The ambassador filmed a few moments of the altercation.

The victim did not contact police or provide details about what led to the attack, Jethani told me. “We are horrified that this happened,” he told the Berkeley Scanner news site. “But it’s also significant that one of our private security guards was able to take a difficult situation and prevent it from escalating.”

Look, as a parent, I completely understand that you are concerned about the safety of your child, even your adult child. Sending a child to college is a difficult undertaking for most families. But crime around college campuses, especially urban ones, is nothing new.

It turns out that Berkeley’s program is modeled after USC’s program, the Yellow Jackets, which USC created in 2009. In 2012, after some high-profile crimes, including the murder of two Chinese graduate students while While they were sitting in their car a mile from campus, USC stepped up its security program, using security personnel dressed in brightly colored outerwear to keep students safe on the campus. campus and outside. The Yellow Jackets are unarmed but carry radios to communicate with the USC Police Department.

But from Jethani’s perspective, the situation at Cal is different than it has been in the past. By some estimates, the crime rate on and near the UC Berkeley campus is among the highest in the country.

After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, Jethani told me, UC Regents responded to the call to defund the police by producing a UC Community Safety Plan, which he described as “a new vision on how to protect members of the UC community.” without simply relying on the officers.

Cal only made it halfway; the campus police department has barely half the officers it had a few years ago, 47 compared to 80. But the police department has not yet been supplemented with non-sworn personnel as the plan calls for, so that many feel that the campus and its surrounding areas are under-policed ​​and vulnerable.

Some parents of older students told Jethani his mission was futile. “They said, ‘Sit down, Grasshopper.’ You will complain to the school and demand meetings and they will say they hear your concern and nothing will happen,” he said. “ “And your kids will graduate and you’ll move on.” I thought, “Is there a way to break this cycle of inaction?” »

I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to condemn the actions of SafeBears parents in my skeptical heart.

They want their college-age children to not just feel safe but for be on. Who can argue with that?


California Daily Newspapers

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