Page One

City-School Meeting Focuses On Youth Safety, Teen Center

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday September 15, 2006

Youth safety issues, diversion programs and a possible teen center on Center Street were some of the issues discussed at Tuesday’s meeting between officials from the city and the school board. 

The 2x2 Committee, comprised of two members of the school board and two members of the City Council, discussed youth safety in the community and how the city and school district can better work together.  

Laura Menard, a parent of a 15-year-old at Berkeley High School, said the district and city should do more to stop assaults by groups of teenagers in the city. 

“Schools and communities should start dealing with rat pack assaults by reporting them,” she said. “ Berkeley first needs to acknowledge that we have a problem with gang-related hate crime. Reporting them is the next important step.” 

Berkeley Chief of Police Doug Hambleton agreed with Menard and said reporting needs to be stepped up. “We need to work on increasing reporting because we do have a problem with it,” he said.  

Julie Sinai, senior aide to Mayor Tom Bates, spoke about revisiting the idea of distributing brochures or letters in Berkeley High School and the Alternative High School that would highlight incident reporting procedures.  

Detective Sergeant David White, who oversees the Berkeley police youth services department, agreed to work with the city and the school district on developing the concept. He also spoke about diversion programs. 

“Our philosophy is to divert as many kids away from the juvenile jail system as possible,” White said. “First time offenders are especially diverted. We also have youth courts where kids go and judge themselves. Sentences could vary from writing a letter of apology to community services. It’s pretty powerful because you are judging your peers.” 

Communication between the Berkeley school district and the Berkeley police was the key to ensuring safety for the students, White added. 

“We have a new school resource officer in Berkeley High School who provides mentoring to students if they need it and he is very approachable,” he said.  

White also told the Planet that rat pack assaults were usually reported to the police. “Even if it’s not the kid who’s reporting the incident, we do get to know about the fight from somebody,” he said. 

Discussions about a proposed teen center on Center Street drew interest at the meeting, but no plans have been agreed upon. If built, the center would be a partnership between PG&E and the Berkeley-Albany YMCA to transform PG&E’s vacant building on the corner of Center Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way into a place for teenagers. 

The PG&E Board of Directors are in the final stages of deciding whether to agree to the partnership with the YMCA for the center. If approved, the YMCA would own the building and partner with city programs and other community organizations to operate it.