Willard Student Crime Sparks Community Meeting

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:02:00 AM

Last Thursday, the LeConte Neighborhood Association held a meeting together with the Berkeley Police Department and Willard Middle School Safety Officer Andre Kellum to discuss the issue of after-school student vandalism.  

Neighbors estimate 10 to 15 incidents of vandalism in the streets surrounding Willard school over the past few months, including smashed windows, knocked-over trash cans and signs, damage to homes, and other behavior problems among students on their way home from school.  

However, Berkeley Police Department Community Services Local Area Coordinator Stephen Burcham says very few cases have been reported to police. 

“In response to the meeting, we have asked the beat officers to be there around the neighborhood after school to monitor the students,” said Burcham. 

Neighbor and Berkeley Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey said that officers and neighbors held a discussion about streets that students have been targeting. 

“People talked about how students first targeted Stuart,” said Dacey. “Now because the residents of Stuart started watching the students, they have been moving to Russell Street. Students are dancing on cars and denting them. So the police have told residents on Russell to keep an eye out and start taking pictures of kids so that vandalism will cease on that street as well.” 

Karl Reeh, president of the neighborhood association, said communication between the neighbors and the school has been helpful. 

“We have talked to the principal, the vice principal, and the safety officers,” said Reeh. “The safety officer has been helpful in identifying the kids who commit these crimes.” 

Attempts to contact Willard Safety Officer Kellum for this story were unsuccessful. 

“I think that everyone in the neighborhood has been affected by the crime of Willard students,” said Dacey. “I was threatened by a bunch of kids who I was watching, because I thought they were doing vandalism. So they came up to me and yelled at me. In addition, my neighbor was picking up her kids at Stuart and Telegraph one day. When she came back, her window was smashed, probably by Willard students.” 

Robert Itherburn, principal at the middle school, said that the actions of certain students in the neighborhood are unacceptable.  

“I think that it is appalling,” said Principal Itherburn. “We have been in contact with the neighbors and asked them to take pictures of the students when possible. When we can identify the students, that is great. We have a large number of students who walk home, so unless we have specific names, we can’t do much.” 

Kriss Worthington, who represents the Willard neighborhood on the Berkeley City Council, told the Daily Planet that the city is watching the discussion and wants to be part of the solution. 

“We want to pay attention to these issues and make sure that the city uses our resources effectively,” said Worthington. 

Reeh said the meeting was successful. 

“Our main goal is to encourage individuals to report crime and go outside around three o’clock to keep an eye on kids,” said Reeh. “The police have been cooperating by making rounds after school and monitoring students.”