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Telegraph Has Improved, But Could Be Better, Report Says

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 27, 2007

Making Telegraph Avenue work for business owners and those who own the buildings the merchants rent, as well as for shoppers, students, street vendors, residents and folks who hang out in the area is a jigsaw puzzle whose odd-size pieces the City Council and the city’s various departments are constantly trying to make fit. 

At issue on tonight’s (Tuesday) council agenda is an evaluation of how effective spending $220,000 has been over six months—funding the city allocated in response to the closing of Cody’s Telegraph Avenue—before granting tonight’s $200,000 request for police, mental health, cleaning and beautification of the area. 

Councilmember Laurie Cap-itelli, who had asked for the evaluation, told the Planet he is concerned that, even with a $30,000 expenditure on a mental health team that funds two workers 3-9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, there hasn’t been adequate reduction in problematic street behavior on Telegraph.  

Written by the city manager’s office, the evaluation says police referred 60 individuals to the mobile mental health team, but “two thirds refused referrals despite persistent efforts by mental health outreach staff.” 

Capitelli says he doesn’t know what the answer is and is anxious to hear from those providing the services at the Tuesday council meeting. “Those people need help; it goes beyond shelter or a bed.” 

In an interview Monday, Mental Health Commission Chair Michael Diehl cited the need for long-term solutions. People are picked up and placed on a mental health hold for a few days. 

“We have to do something after they come out of John George [Psychiatric Pavilion],” he said, citing possible cuts in effective city mental health programs, such as housing programs coupled with intensive services, due to pending state cuts in mental health funds, known popularly as AB 2034. 

Capitelli said he is particularly concerned about the drug dealing on Telegraph. The report indicates that police made more than 45 drug possession and drug sales arrests. (The report does not distinguish between sales and possession of drugs and does not say how many among those arrested were eventually convicted.) 

The report indicates that merchants and bike officers report a decrease in drug sales and “a slight moderation” in problematic street behavior. It also points out, however, that some individuals exhibiting problematic behavior are now spending time downtown, rather than on Telegraph. 

Capitelli said he’d like to see the Berkeley Guides program revived. The Guides, which lost funding in 2005, were teams of young people whose goal was to de-escalate conflict in the downtown area and report problems to police as well as serving as “ambassadors” to visitors. 

Telegraph-area Councilmember Kriss Worthington said in an interview on Monday that the funding for police and social services should be part of the city’s regular budget, rather than something the council must approve every six months.  

And “there are still no dedicated officers on Telegraph,” he said. Worthington is an advocate of Community Involved Policing, where officers work regular beats and get to know the community they are patrolling. 

Worthington pointed out that the $100,000 spent for police is at the overtime rate. Also, he said, police tend to work in teams on Telegraph. If they worked separately—even a block or two apart from one another—they would be less likely to intimidate a person having a mental health crisis on the Avenue, he said, noting, “It’s much harder to have a conversation with two officers than with one.”  

Addressing problematic street behavior is also discussed in a separate report to the council by the city’s Mental Health Commission, which recommends that police officers get additional training in crisis intervention.  

Commissioner Diehl said some officers are very good at such interventions. One day he watched a person in a mental health crisis waving a stick around. “An officer showed up and talked to him calmly.” 

This was an officer who already knew the individual in question. “They had a connection,” Diehl said. “The officer did a wonderful job.”  

On the other hand, Diehl said he’s heard of instances when an individual is in crisis and an officer calls for backup; suddenly there are a half-dozen police cars. In a situation like this, the individual in crisis will not want to talk to the police. 

“And the situation can lead to negative consequences.” Neighbors see the police and begin to fear the individual, who could lose his housing, Diehl said.