BearWalk escort, a safety assurance for UC Berkeley students

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-11 01:46:33|Editor: Mengjie
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SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- While it can be a big success to get admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, one of the world's leading universities located in northern California, safety has always been a top concern among new students and their parents.

They have reasons to be concerned with the state of campus safety as UC Berkeley has the second highest rate of reported campus crime in California, with 3.29 crimes per 1,000 students yearly from 2012 to 2014, according to a report last year.

For the part of the university, the safety of a campus of over 40,000 students remains a priority to work at. To ensure students safety, it has offered various security measures, featuring a night escort service called BearWalk and campus emergency call system, among other things, and responded to calls for help quickly, said the campus police.

"We are here for any need," Wade MacAdam, an officer with campus police department's Safety Programs, said recently.

UC Berkeley is situated in a downtown environment, with no walled protection and open to the public, said MacAdam, meaning that while the campus areas are believed to be relatively safer, crimes outside the campus post a challenge.

Some of the surrounding areas don't feel safe. When asked about if there's any dangerous area around UC Berkeley, 3rd year undergraduate Qingni Yu cited the People's Park and streets south of the campus as an example.

"There are lots of homeless people living in the park and also just along the streets on the south side of the campus," said Yu, who comes from China as an international student.

She said that sometimes she encounters them during daytime or at night, being afraid that some of them might have mental illness and attack her suddenly. "You can't say you are safe there," she added.

Homeless people are not necessarily dangerous, but crimes like robberies, theft and sexual assaults do happen occasionally around UC Berkeley. High crime rates cast a shadow over the reputable university, especially for international students, who are new to the country and unfamiliar with the surroundings. They tend to jump to a conclusion according to news reports and what they have heard from others.

From the perspective of Henry Cheng, a 4th year undergraduate and an international student from Panama who has lived in six countries until now, such as Canada and China, UC Berkeley is "not particularly more dangerous than other cities."

With good knowledge about how newcomers think, campus police try to prepare them enough for what they will face, explaining the situation on one hand and introducing all the precautions on the other hand.

Talking about students safety awareness programs, MacAdam said that a general safety presentation is performed during orientation, which includes introducing new students to the campus police department and their services, and talking about safe practices and crime statistics for the area.

Targeted violence presentation is arranged later to help students learn how to interact with SWAT (Special Weapons and tactics) team and what to do if there is an accident of threat for the community, he said.

In addition, students are often invited to special workshops on different safety topics, like use of pepper spray, online dating and theft prevention. "Whatever they need, we can at least take care of it for them," MacAdam added.

The officer encourages Berkeley students to use campus emergency call system whenever they need help or want to report crimes on campus property. While students can dial a 911 equivalent number which connects directly to the dispatch center of campus police, blue light phones are available as an easier way to place emergency calls, said MacAdam.

He was referring to large phone columns with blue light on top, which are installed on many campus sites and work as direct line to the dispatch center as well with one press of button.

"The only advantage with blue light phone is that we know where your location on campus is so that we can dispatch an officer to help you," he said. "If you call from your cell phone, we don't know your location and you have to relate that information to us."

Generally, students are less worried about their safety during the day at UC Berkeley. For those students who stay on campus late at night and need to avoid walking home alone, UC Berkeley offers them free and very helpful night safety services, part of which is BearWalk walking escort.

Bearwalk is a student-run operation under the campus police department, where student Community Service Officers, known as CSOs, work as walking escorts.

Being a CSO for three years, Cheng feels proud with his experience. "We would walk any student, faculty and staff and our campus affiliate people within our service boundary from point A to point B, to the cars, to the houses or to the dorms," he said.

The service is available from dusk to 3 in the morning, 365 nights a year. When working as BearWalkers, CSOs always wear yellow and gold shirts and blue or yellow jackets that have "CSO" on the back and the CSO Seal on the left breast.

MacAdam, acting as director of CSO program, said: "We see a lot of pedestrian robberies where suspects are targeting individuals walking by themselves. So we find that if someone is walking with someone in uniform, they are most likely not to be a victim of crime."

Yu hasn't tried Bearwalk yet, although there were a couple of times when she had to walk alone from campus at around midnight. She had her own ways to deal with the risk of walking home alone at night.

"There were few people around and I was scared because there were some homeless people along the street," she recalled."I just walked around them very fast. If I saw someone walking in front of me, I just walked to them, pretending that I was with them and not alone."

Yu feels important to start to use the night escort service in the upcoming new school year. Up till now, partly due to using street smart and practising discretion, she said that she has never been in an emergency or dangerous situation.