At tonight’s City Council meeting, funds originally allocated for “front-line law enforcement needs,” including anti-gang and community crime prevention programs, will likely be re-routed for youth recreation and service programs in south and west Berkeley.
Flying in the face of punitive crime prevention measures such as Proposition 21, which expanded the three-strike crimes’ list and eased restrictions against trying youth as adults, the early intervention programs proposed on the council agenda would address what Councilmember Margaret Breland called “the real root of crime.”
“Look at the streets. Kids are still hanging out in front of liquor stores. It shows they don’t have anything to do and no where to go. We need a youth center that’s open (24) hours a day where they can come to day or night, play games, do their homework, eat some nourishing food, and find some mentoring and counseling,” Breland said.
“Crime comes down if you can get people off the streets,” she continued.
Breland said she is concerned about the number of juvenile arrests in south and west Berkeley. Home to the majority of Berkeley’s communities of color, there are few organizations which provide services for the area’s youth, she said.
Sergeant Steve Odom, who heads the Berkeley Police Youth Services Department could not be reached for comment.
“Things happen here, not just crime, but the health disparity, housing problems, because people look at this area and say ‘you’re doing okay.’ But it really comes from a combination of poverty, education and environment that more stringent laws won’t affect at all. Kids in other parts of town have their parents around to do things with. They have resources in their neighborhoods, places to go to. But here people have to work, or they have to go to school to get ahead. That means their kids have no supervision and just end up on the streets,” Breland said.
There are other problems as well. Divisions within these communities themselves make organization difficult.
“There are invisible lines in these parts of town that most people don’t see,” Breland said. “Some kids won’t cross San Pablo, while others won’t go into (James) Kenney Park. We need a central place where they can all come and feel like they have a voice. A place that takes care of their needs.”
The federal community policing money began coming to Berkeley in 1997, part of a state plan to supplement “front line” law enforcement with $100 million in funds.
In Berkeley, community policing money was slated for police equipment and youth services, but such youth services, but Councilmember Kriss Worthington said they were never developed.
“That’s when Margaret asked why we couldn’t re-allocate money for community-based youth services. She had read reports about other cities using (community policing) money for local services,” Worthington said.
Such a suggestion, he recalled, started a row in the City Council in 1997.
“People were accusing her of not supporting the local police, or trying to wrest away control of money. It was very ugly,” said Worthington.
While $243,000 in community policing grants did go to the Berkeley police that year for radio and communication equipment, it set the stage for 1998 funds to go toward the proposed youth center.
“The council voted unanimously to divert the money into the community center in 1998,” recalled Worthington. With more money coming from the community policing fund this year, the matter will again be up for vote. There seems to be little opposition.
“Youth programs are exactly what the funds are supposed to be used for,” said Councilmember Betty Olds, adding, “I’d like to see some of that money go to finishing a skate park down at Second and Harrison.”
Dean however, said she wants to see concrete plans for such youth programs.
“The money available just isn’t enough to create a new youth center, and I’d like to see if they explore ways to work with city programs that already exist,” she said. “We already have a very robust YMCA program, and our schools are adding physical fitness rooms.”
For such a youth center to be established, re-allocating this year’s funds are necessary, Worthington said.
“Right now, there isn’t enough money to get anything started.”
Setting up a subcommittee composed of Breland, Shirek and Maio, the added community policing funds this year will bring the total to $486,000, “enough to start thinking about what we can do,” Breland said. As of yet, there is no design or location for such a center.
One problem such a center faces however, is the question of sustainability.
According to City Manager Weldon Rucker’s background report on the proposed council action, “The city usually does not fund recurring costs with non-recurring income. The (community policing) program may not be a reliable long-term revenue source.” If this turns out to be the case, the long-term ability to provide such services will be in jeopardy.