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Police give tips for staying safe

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Monday July 01, 2002

For Brian Goldberg, a member of Berkeley’s Jewish community, crime has become an increasingly significant issue. 

“The recent attacks in the Jewish community are part of the reason I’m here,” said Goldberg, speaking at Sunday’s Survival Workshop, an afternoon event sponsored by the Berkeley Police Department. “I think I’ve picked up a few tips on what to do and how to be less of a target.” 

In addition to religious crime, attendees of the workshop expressed fear about walking in south Berkeley at night, particularly near Telegraph Avenue and People’s Park, and wondered what to do if approached by suspicious or threatening people. 

South and west Berkeley have recently experienced a rash of violent crime, including last Thursday’s fatal stabbing on Haste Street near Telegraph Avenue as well as a number of shootings in the last month.  

According to members of the BPD, being aware of one’s surroundings and maintaining eye contact while passing people on the street are very basic but important tips. 

“Predators look for someone who’s fumbling around, lost or distracted with no direction. Making eye contact is very important because it says ‘I know you’re there.’ It communicates confidence,” said BPD Sgt. Steve Odom. 

During Sunday’s first demonstration, Odom and an attendee of the workshop acted out an armed robbery scenario. Pointing a gun at the volunteer, Odom asked for the victim’s purse. 

“Always submit property in a situation like that,” Odom said. “Property is never worth your person.” 

Though police encourage citizens to simply hand over a wallet or purse when confronted by an armed robber, they emphasize that one should never get into a car. 

“Giving up property is okay but when its you, your person, that’s not okay. Never get into someone’s car. There should be no surrender in a situation like that.” Odom said. 

Four personal safety color codes were also included in the day’s discussion. The four conditions – white, yellow, orange and red – represent the heightened levels of awareness citizens should maintain, according to officers. While many individuals maintain a relaxed or “condition white” level of awareness, individuals should maintain a more vigilant level of awareness, “condition yellow,” while walking in dark or unsafe areas.  

For “Condition Red,” individuals are expected to let their natural defense mechanisms take over. “With condition red you’re about to die, it’s about survival. You have to fight,” Odom said. 

Demonstrating an example of condition red, Odom and BPD Officer Mary Kusmiss enacted a choking scenario. With Odom’s hands placed near her neck, Kusmiss immediately countered with the dramatization of a combination blow to Odom’s face and a knee to his groin. 

“Incapacitation is the key here. Aiming for the groin will incapacitate a perpetrator. You’re fighting for your life,” Odom said. 

While carrying pepper spray or sound devices can help deter criminals certain situations, police say that an individual’s most important weapon in fighting crime is a sense of awareness. According to Kusmiss, avoiding suspicious individuals can be the most valuable defense. 

Attendees of the workshop also questioned police about how to deal with the area’s homeless population. Police say that avoiding the traps some street people set is the best way to deter confrontations with potentially unstable individuals. “A lot of these people have psychiatric problems, we can’t change that. But you can avoid the games they play, the cons they set up. The best response is just to be yourself and don’t play their game,” Odom said. 

Police also recommend doing the little things: Men should carry their wallets in their front pockets in crowded places and women should wear their purses across their bodies. They also say simple things like sticking a neighborhood watch sign in one’s front yard, motion lights, or having a dog in the house can be the difference between being victimized or being passed over by a potential thief.  

“Keep your body language strong. Be with someone else. There’s strength in numbers. Most predators don’t want any kind of resistance. A very small percentage of criminals like a fight,” said Odom. 

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” says Mike Liepman, executive director of Berkeley’s congregation Beth El. While the congregation currently has a number of security measures in place, Liepman says the local synagogue is always looking to do more. 

“We’re in contact with BPD concerning safety issues, we just hope to stay watchful,” Liepman said. 

The afternoon event was held at Berkeley’s Hillel Student Center, a center for students in the Jewish community of Berkeley, and recently the target of several incidents of hate-crime related vandalism. 

The workshop was held at the request of Berkeley resident Richard Stern, who was recently assaulted south of the UC campus, and other local residents concerned about safety, according to the BPD.