Crime & Safety

How long can Occupy Berkeley last?

The encampment in Civic Center Park includes food tents as well as rudimentary lean-tos. Photos: Lance Knobel

Update, 2:58 pm: The Berkeley Police Department has issued a list of calls for police services at the Occupy Berkeley camp. There have been a total of 24 reported calls since October 23rd, 16 of which can be classified as crimes (this differs slightly from the numbers previously reported by the BPD and cited in our story below). BPD believes there are crimes and other incidents that have gone unreported, as would be expected at any large gathering. BPD says some cases have involved deadly weapons, and that the number of calls has increased in the past week. Read the full list here.

Original story: Without media fanfare or loud demonstrations, the Occupy Berkeley encampment in Civic Center Park has grown to about 90 tents. As Berkeleyside reported, the “radical inclusivity” of the Occupy Berkeley gathering has created tensions. City officials and local police have adopted a policy of monitoring and tolerance, rather than threats and injunctions. City staff and police patrol the encampment regularly. But with both Oakland and San Francisco Occupy sites now closed, what is the likely future for the Bay Area’s last significant Occupy movement site? Not everybody is comfortable with its ongoing presence.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, whose 4th district includes Civic Center Park, has views that are echoed by other city officials. “We don’t have any plans to clear people out of the park,” Arreguín said. “I have supported the Occupy encampment from the beginning. There may come a point — I don’t believe the point is now — where we have to ask the people to go. It’s inevitable that the conversation will have to happen.”

According to Arreguín, the kinds of actions that would trigger that “conversation” include “a real threat to public safety” or “serious problems”. “Duration will be an issue,” as well, Arreguín said. He’s confident that when that time comes, “we can have a dialogue and we can work out arrangements”.


“Our response to Occupy Berkeley represents the city’s values,” Arreguín said. “We’re a compassionate city.”

That compassion seems to extend to business leaders.

“We understand and empathize with the 99% and the need to speak out,” said John DeClercq, co-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very protective of our small businesses who are clearly part of the 99%. The Occupy Berkeley group is interesting. They don’t seem to need headlines or attract thousands. By and large, they behave themselves. Right now, no harm, no foul.”

The only vocal concern about the encampment has come from the leadership of Berkeley High School, which abuts the park. Principal Pasquale Scuderi emailed parents two weeks ago pointing out the challenges the encampment creates for supervision for the open campus high school. At that time, Scuderi said there were “no negative interactions with the campers”.

Some parents have not been so sanguine. A number have pointed out that Civic Center Park is one of the two evacuation sites for Berkeley High in case of emergency (half the students are directed to go to the athletic fields on the campus, half to the park). With the encampment, it would be extremely difficult to gather 1,600 students in the park.


The scores of tents in the Occupy Berkeley encampment sit next door to Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel

Eric Gorovitz, a parent of a BHS freshman, sent an open letter to the City Council objecting to “the continued and expanding presence of the unsanitary and illegal tent village on the front stoop of our high school”. Gorovitz called for “Berkeley to join the ranks of compassionate but responsible communities that have respectfully but firmly put an end to tent villages on public property”.

“It seems like a no brainer that it shouldn’t happen on the front steps of a school,” Gorovitz told Berkeleyside. “There’s no room for error. Some kid is going to find themselves in a precarious situation there. It’s a recipe for disaster. Does [the encampment] have to go only after someone gets hurt?”

According to the Berkeley Police Department, there had been 23 reported calls for service related to the Occupy Berkeley gathering between October 23 and December 7, 15 of which could be classified as crimes. According to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the BPD, “in some of the crime cases, victims did not wish to cooperate.” She told Berkeleyside that there had been a slight increase in calls for police services in the last week. “We believe that some of the increase may be a direct outcome of the fact that the gathering has grown,” she said.

Kusmiss said that many of the reported incidents have involved “individuals that frequented Civic Center Park and the area prior to the gathering”. As Berkeleyside reported earlier, there are long-term homeless, people with mental illness, and people with drug and alcohol addictions, in addition to people who set up tent to join a protest movement.

Kusmiss would not say what plans BPD has should city officials seek an end to the encampment, but she did describe a process very different to the one next door in Oakland.


“It would be a very thoughtful, collaborative decision made by many city entities, not driven by the police department,” Kusmiss said. “We pride ourselves on being thoughtful and using as minimal force as possible in any situation we may be called upon to handle.”

Related:
Berkeley High concerned about Civic Park Occupy camp [12.01.11]
Occupy Berkeley remains, but experiment is proving fragile [11.28.11]
Occupy Berkeley consolidates camp, supports Oakland [11.02.11]
All quiet at Occupy Berkeley camp at MLK Park [10.26.11]
Berkeley joins 900 cities to condemn corporate greed [10.16.11]
Wall Street protests come to Berkeley [10.09.11]

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