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Safety a priority on, off campus

Wetmore Gate overlooks Seminary Avenue (Bridget Stagnitto)

Though crime reduction has been a priority for the City of Oakland, Mills College students still feel safer on campus than outside the gates. Mills officials have been hard at work bettering communication with local residents, businesses and city officials to help improve the neighborhood.

On Sept 28, Mills College officials, Laurel District merchants, Oakland Vice Mayor Desley Brooks, Community Members and OCCUR, which works to improve the lives and conditions of low income residents and communities,  went on a neighborhood walk to observe local businesses, clean up trash and do what they could to improve the beauty and safety of MacArthur Boulevard.

“This was a good opportunity to network,” said Niviece Robinson, Mills College Public Safety Interim Director, “as well as to see what resources we aren’t already using. We made requests for more signage to indicate speed limits, and for the police to stop by more and issue speeding tickets.”

Community walk participants couldn’t help but notice the “shady” clientele of certain businesses.

“If a store sells drug paraphernalia, they’re more likely to attract druggies,” Robinson said.

Despite Mills having many of the comforts of home, students do venture off campus. However, some are wary of doing so.

“I feel really safe on campus all the time,” sophomore Katherine Allen said.  “For instance, I have to go to track practice at 6 a.m., and even though it’s dark out and I’m walking to Haas by myself, I don’t feel scared. However, if I were doing the same thing off campus, I would feel scared.  But I don’t feel safe off campus unless I’m with a group. Even then, I would feel scared if we were walking through a ‘bad’ part of town.”

Others shared Allen’s sentiments about being outside the gates.

“To be honest, I feel a lot safer on Mills campus than off campus, in Oakland,” sophomore Monse García said.

Mills’ Public Safety Officers work to ensure that students feel safe and secure in their surroundings.

“We’re fortunate that there’s not a lot of crime on campus,” Robinson said. However, “if you see something, say something.”

Meanwhile, at a Jan 26 public safety meeting of neighborhood watch leaders, representatives from the City of Oakland and Oakland Police Department explained Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s 100-Block Community Initiative.

The Campanil previously reported that “100 blocks” refers to five percent of the city where 92 percent of Oakland’s murders have occurred in the last five years.  However, officials haven’t specifically named the 100 blocks so as not to stigmatize them.

Reygan Harmon, Public Safety Senior Policy Advisor, referred to a map detailing the proposed 100 blocks at the meeting.

“Now, obviously, there are priorities within those priorities because of our limited resources, but this is essentially it,” she said.

OPD Captain Ersie Joyner III highlighted the importance of devoting police resources to the 100 blocks.

“That’s the key: you can’t do everything well, so let’s focus on limited areas,” he said.

Captain Brian Medeiros detailed police involvement in the 100-Block plan.

“To me, weapons on the street are our biggest issue,” he said.

Harmon agreed, although she said that completely stopping gunfire in the 100 blocks is unrealistic.

“Our goal is to have less,” Harmon said, “but we will have shootings there.  And we will also have shootings in other parts of the city and homicides in other parts of the city.  The goal is to reduce the violence.”

In addition, OPD intends to do some undercover buys of drugs and work on prostitution stings because “they’re locusts for problems,” Joyner said.

Another part of the plan is to focus on gangs and the problems they create.

“It’s not just narcotic gangs,” Joyner said. “Robberies have become more and more relevant over the last six months, things that are quickly turned and quickly sold – some of these gangs are finding this to be just as or more productive than selling drugs. We’re going to try to do some operations to dismantle these gangs.”

Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils (NCPCs) are instrumental in neighborhood safety.

“NCPCs survey residents in the 100 blocks every month to see how safe they feel,” Joyner said, “It does no good if we arrest a bunch of people and no one feels any safer than before we started.”

Sometimes it’s the little things, though, that make people feel the safest.

“When you talk about certain things you can do to reduce opportunities for crime to occur,” Harmon said, “sometimes it’s just presence.”