I just finished reading Ms. Scherr’s “article” on the new Berkeley Hosts program, and felt immediately compelled to write.
In doing her background research for the article, Ms. Scherr has proven careless at best, purposely misleading at worst. I will leave it to your readers to make the decision as to which.
In spite of referencing “an organization” that performed services similar to the Berkeley Hosts, Ms. Scherr neglected to either name that organization or attempt to contact anyone in that agency for history, background or a quote for this story.
Allow me to correct the record. The Berkeley Boosters Police Activities League is the unnamed agency that proudly operated the Berkeley Guides program for a period of 10 years—at the behest of the City of Berkeley, it should be noted. The Berkeley Boosters PAL has a 25-year history of providing high quality youth development and public safety based programs in partnership with the Berkeley Police Department. We have enjoyed the support of four mayors and city councils, received three Governor’s Awards for Crime Prevention, and count many of Berkeley’s finest business, community and civic leaders among our financial supporters, volunteers and in-kind donors. The Berkeley Boosters, founded by Ove Wittstock, a Telegraph Avenue merchant that understood the very issues the Berkeley Hosts are attempting to address, and which the Berkeley Guides successfully dealt with for many years, have long had a collaborative, partnering spirit guiding our work, and was the foundation for the Berkeley Guides’ ability to establish positive relationships with every segment of the downtown community.
Roland Peterson, whom I respect and admire for his longstanding commitment to the needs of Telegraph Avenue merchants as well as his history of service to the City of Berkeley at large, was incorrect in his assumption that the Berkeley Guides did not know “what the laws” are. In fact, since the Berkeley Guides actually had police radios that connected them directly with our emergency communications center, they had to undergo extensive training from the Police Department in everything from report writing, to radio codes, to applicable loitering, trespassing, assault and other relevant public safety laws.
The Berkeley Guides’ mission, however, never included any types of arrest responsibilities. They were to serve as a bridge between the public, the businesses of downtown and visitors, shoppers, homeless and panhandlers. The relationships that they developed allowed them to defuse situations that could have gotten volatile had someone other than they intervened. They did, at the same time, however, assist in a number of arrests of violent criminals and have a number of commendations on file from various police officers and chiefs regarding their role not only in the apprehension of suspects, but also for their role in testifying in court against many of them.
The Berkeley Guides had the support and respect not only of merchants and street vendors whom they served to help protect, but also of the young Berkeley High students they interacted with, the homeless people whom they also served, the police they partnered with and the public with whom they interacted. While city leaders decided in lean budget years to do away with the funding for this worthwhile program, I am pleased to see that they are committed to bringing a version of it back to the downtown and Telegraph, where such support is badly needed. It should not, however, detract from the very noteworthy and respected work of the Berkeley Guides under the auspices of the Berkeley Boosters. Shame on Ms. Scherr for missing such an obvious connection in her story.
David W. Manson, Jr. is on the Berkeley Boosters Police Activities League’s Board of Directors.