Berkeley security officers patrol hallways. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

It was 2:10 pm on a warm Thursday afternoon and the Berkeley High detention center was hopping.

The school’s security team had done a sweep of the park across from the high school and had netted 13 students who had cut class. Now the truant teenagers sat in desks before a blank white board, quietly talking to one another as they waited for their parents to be notified.

Ardarius McDonald, the dean of students and the man who supervises the school’s security detail, came into the room, clearly not pleased – but not surprised –by the crowd. After all, it was close to 80 degrees that day, one of the first nice days after nearly two weeks of rain, and, as he pointed out, some teenagers have a hard time resisting the lure of the sun.

Just a day earlier, Berkeley High had gone on lockdown after a parent reported that she had seen a young person with a gun outside on Martin Luther King Avenue. McDonald and his team immediately rushed into action, locking all the school’s entrances, ordering students in classrooms on the west side of campus to stay away from the windows, and fanning out to prearranged spots on the 14-acre campus as Berkeley police investigated. It was the fourth gun-related incident in a week at the high school, including one on March 22 where two students shot off a gun in a bathroom.

The upsurge in violence has shone a spotlight on Berkeley High’s security detail. While no one has been hurt on campus this year, some parents have wondered if the school is adequately prepared for a serious gun event. Others contend that the school turns a blind eye to intimidation. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Matthew Golde voiced these concerns last week when he stood up at a community forum and suggested that armed robberies were common at Berkeley High and that dangerous people wandered its halls.

It’s a concern that McDonald understands – but refutes. Berkeley High is generally a safe place, he said. Sure, wallets and iPods are stolen too often, but “there are no switchblade fights in the halls.”

Ardarius McDonald

“I know Matt Golde,” said McDonald, who has held his current role for a little more than a year. “He is loose with the truth.” (Matt Golde did not respond to Berkeleyside’s attempts to contact him.)

There are 14 security officers at Berkeley High (two have been added in the last two weeks) and a uniformed Berkeley police officer who works four days a week. As the principal mediators of conflict for the school’s 3,200 students, the officers in the department of On Campus Intervention play many roles. In the best of times they just talk to students, checking in to see how they are doing and gauging the mood of the student body. They also look for truants, break up fights, resolve conflicts, and monitor the hallways during class to ensure students don’t leave unless they have permission.

They are also investigators. When someone reports a theft, they take a report. When a student is intimidated in a hallway or forced to hand over a phone or other pricey object, the security officers try and determine the identity of the perpetrators.

“I make an analogy with NASCAR races,” said McDonald. “Sometimes there are blowouts. Sometimes people run out of gas. Sometimes there is a wreck. We are like the pit crew. Our job is not to hold you there, but to put you back on track.  My philosophy of OCI is to get you back on track as quickly as possible.”

Ginny Roemer, a former district attorney in San Francisco and the parent of a BHS freshman, said this approach, a desire to almost befriend students who get into trouble, means that serious crimes are not rigorously investigated.

“If there is an institutional acceptance of crime the kids are going to keep stealing,” she said. “I am concerned about the lack of law enforcement behind the gates of Berkeley High.”

One thing McDonald is clear on: the security officers are not police. While his safety officers have a protocol to investigate reports of a student with a gun, and have plenty of experience searching and seizing guns from backpacks, lockers, and waistbands, they call police for any serious incidents. There is one uniformed cop on duty and the Berkeley police department is just a half a block away.

“If you have the report of a gun you call the police,” said McDonald. “We don’t call 911. We have a direct connection to the Berkeley police.”

Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi concurred with that assessment.

“We do not have individuals on campus whose role is to disarm a suspect,” said Scuderi. “If you are asking me if we have personnel on campus who can do the same thing as a weapons special unit, we do not.”

California law requires all school districts to develop a plan that will keep students safe on campus. It also requires that on-campus security officers receive around 20 hours of training in conflict resolution and emergency response. So far this year, BHS security officers have had three days of professional development, including one day where they trained with a Berkeley police sergeant on how to respond to someone shooting on campus, according to Susan Craig, the director of student services for the Berkeley Unified School District. In June, the officers will do a three-day workshop with Phillip Mullendore. His Institute for Campus Safety trains on-campus officers to respond to gun threats.

But it may not be enough. In the wake of the recent gun incidents, the Berkeley police department has recommended that the school’s safety officers get additional training. While neither the police nor the school district has outlined specifics, the recommendations may include getting the security officers better uniforms, equipment and training in tactical issues like using radio communications and adding new restraint techniques, said Scuderi.

“They want to see (the security officers ) as a more uniformed and professional presence,” he said.

Berkeley school officials are also considering requiring students to wear ID cards, closing the campus during lunch, better monitoring the park across the street, and bringing in more programs to help students talk about guns and conflict. The school also recently installed an anonymous phone line for students to report gun sightings and other crimes. The district is not considering metal detectors

The structure of Berkeley’s security team resembles that of many Bay Area high schools.

James Logan High School, a school of 4,000 students in Union City, about 15 miles south of Berkeley, has about eight or nine security officers for its campus, according to Rick La Plante, the spokesman for the New Haven Unified School District. There are no uniformed police officers on campus.

But the high school has taken some other steps in recent years to improve security. While there are no metal detectors, the school permanently closed most of the entrances to campus, only leaving three doors from which students can enter or depart. They must show an identification card in order to enter, although they do not have to display their ID during the day. In addition, the school has strict laws about wearing any clothing that can be considered gang-related, he said. That includes the wearing of red, white, or blue cloth belts, red or blue shoe laces, University of Nebraska or red New York Yankees jerseys or hats, or notched eyebrows.

The Oakland Unified School District has 12 full-time uniformed police officers on duty, as well as a number of safety officers, according to Troy Flint, the district’s director of public relations. There are no metal detectors in any school, but two of the smaller high schools, Castlemont and Fremont, which have 700 and 600 students each, have closed campuses at lunch. The other schools don’t have lunchrooms large enough to accommodate the number of students, he said.

McDonald said Berkeley High is already doing some of these things, although he expects additional safety improvements in the coming weeks. The high school has 14 entrances, and most are permanently closed. During the day, after students are in school, only three entrances are open – the front door, the A gate, and the Milvia gate, he said. More get opened at lunch.

The 14 security officers have set positions around campus and constantly communicate via walkie-talkie, he said.

“We don’t ignore anything,” said McDonald. “We go home at the end of the day drained.”

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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28 Comments

  1. They call BPD for “serious” issues and otherwise take reports. What qualifies as serious? Guns sure, what about robbery, assault, theft? Reports kept in house keep crime numbers low giving the impression that BHS is safer than it actually is and that the security staff is effective. Hmm, no conflict of interest.

  2. Thomas Lord,

    I fully expected this predicable response. There is considerable difference between confidentially and “need to know policies”.

    The fact is a victim of another juvenile at school has every right to know the identity of their assailant. The simple solution would be for the School Resource cop to provide the law enforcement information, as suggested in the federal document I provided.

  3. Laura Menard, in my view you have many positive and helpful criticisms of the district and the City but you undermine your own causes in some big ways from time to time. Here is an example. You say:

    The school insisted FERPA protected the identify the student from being shared with the victim.

    You go on to ridicule that notion. Only …

    The district is almost certainly correct. The guidance in what you linked to – the “Balancing Student Privacy and School Safety: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for Elementary and Secondary Schools” document – alludes to the ways in which the district is correct so I am not sure why you think it contradicts the district.

    Here is more detailed information from the self-same agency you linked to (see http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006805.pdf , emphasis added):

    For FERPA purposes, surveillance videotapes (or other media) with information about a specific student are considered education records if they are kept and maintained by the school system. If the school’s law enforcement unit controls the cameras/videos and it is doing the surveillance for safety reasons, the ensuing videos would be considered law enforcement, rather than education, records. As soon as school officials use them for discipline purposes, however, the tapes become education records and are subject to FERPA requirements.

    and

    When created and kept by the school or education agency, videotapes or photographs directly related to a specific student are considered part of that student’s education records and, therefore, subject to FERPA. For instance, if the tape captured an altercation, it would be included in the involved students’ education record, and the school has to obtain consent before publishing or disclosing its contents to unauthorized individuals.

    So, you promote this notion that BUSD is flagrantly ignorant and/or abusive of FERPA when, in fact, they’re on pretty solid ground.

    You often complain about hitting brick walls when dealing with the district. I think that at least some of those instances are along these kinds of lines — where you have an understandable but undeniable misunderstanding of the legal context but just get stuck butting heads on that issue. It’s frustrating to watch, for me. It detracts from your solidly good points.

  4. cwr

    review the tape.

    Golde discussed two specific cases, both from this year, and both cases illuminated the pattern many of us are familiar with exposing central errors and failures by safety staff and admin.

    The facts are there, a recent transfer student with an outstanding bench warrant ( arrested for a beat down robbery at another school) robbed a younger student in the hallways with the help of two students. The strong arm robbery was recorded by surveillance cameras.

    The family made a police report in the evening which is very common since many students don’t report what happens at school until they speak with their parents. Once the police were involved the family learned the primary perpetrator had a criminal record including the bench warrant. Yet the lead safety officer insisted the teen did not have a past criminal history.

    The lead safety officer and MacDonald refused to share the names of the other students identified in the robbery with the victims parents, despite the fact one of the students returned to class a few days later with an anklet, meaning he is likely on probation.

    The school insisted FERPA protected the identify the student from being shared with the victim. I provided the school and district with this document titled “Balancing Student Privacy and School Safety: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for Elementary and Secondary Schools”
    http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/brochures/elsec.html

    If the district is SERIOUS about addressing school crime issues they need to review the pattern of cover- ups and interference with proper investigations and discipline of offenders and remedy these system failures with clearly defined procedures including evaluation methods to ensure compliance.

    Consider that the dean of discipline could have provided the community with this years incident data in his attempt to refute the DA statements, now that would be a positive change.

  5. What’s the deal with this character?

    I’ve noticed that a lot of his older posts are now attributed to “dasht” instead of “Thomas Lord” even though other people in the discussions are referring to him by that name.

    Was he banned from the site at some point and came back with a new identity?

  6. Francis, good article. Thanks. Of course the story is REALLY about safety at BHS and not so much about the personalities involved – though they may be rich in good intent and exhausted by the end of the day. Repeatedly finding loaded weapons at a school is by very definition NOT a safe situation. Why can’t they(McDonald) just admit that and say they have to try harder? That would be a lot harder to argue with. Why do they have to keep telling us it is “safe” at Berkeley High no matter what the crime level is? Is the message really that that criticism of the school means there will be a counter attack?

    Dean McDonald, with all due respect, retract what you have said about Matt Golde. He has a stellar reputation in this community and he has earned it. Get the story back on track (Nascar style) and talk about the facts please. WHAT did Matt Golde say about crime related to BHS that is NOT the truth? It has been laid out in the press. It is all true and it is a matter of record now, thanks to the courage of Matt Golde.

  7. @ Mr. Scuderi and the BPD…

    re: Crime and Violence in the park adjacent to BHS and the BPD.

    Now that good weather is here, why not leverage some of Berkeley’s unique strengths on behalf of our kid’s safety and their parent’s peace of mind:

    A “Lunch in the Park with the BPD” program.

    Start with the fact that:

    Police officers eat lunch like everyone else. And their union membership would welcome the opportunity to show additional support for the community at this time.

    Add the fact that:

    Berkeley is full of restaurants and deli’s which would welcome the opportunity of giving something back to their community, while offering visible support to the BHS families among their clientele.

    That equals:

    Gourmet Brown Bag lunches for two or three of BPD’s youth oriented officers, to be eaten in the park during school lunch hour. Supplied on a rotating basis by volunteers from our vibrant culinary community. It’s an outreach opportunity for BPD to BHS kids and great public relations for those providing the lunches. Most importantly the more flagrant offenses – fights, drinking, drug use and dealing, would have to move elsewhere, further from our kids.

  8. Truancy:

    Glad to see that some days the safety officers are sweeping the park for kids cutting class. These are the easiest students to get back in class, generally not the chronic truants. Safety advocates have identified this basic practice for over 20 years, yet the district has never been able to sustain the effort, just fits and starts.

    The more problematic truants are the ones arrested for daytime burglaries.

    During last night monthly Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee meeting we heard an overview of the recent crime trends from Capt Upson. The city continues to enjoy a 9% decline in part 1crime, ( might be due to a reduction in car theft) with the notable exceptions of robberies and burglaries. Capt Upson discussed the connection between daytime burglaries and truancy.

    Berkeleyside can follow up confirming the stats the dept shared last night, since the dept now shares crime data freely.

    Capt Upson explained that among teens arrested for burglaries the majority are Berkeley residents or live in the border area. He also explained that some of open burglaries cases include descriptions of teens suspects.

    In Oakland when crime stats show upticks in robbery/burglaries the dept sent out patrols on targeted truancy sweeps transporting truants back to the truancy intervention center.

    Chronic truancy is the first indicator for school failure and involvement in criminal activity.

    As Brad Fox suggest, having a plan and implementing will bring improve security. BPD has a plan for truancy.

    When will the city/schools agencies FINALLY implement this plan based on based practice and supported by research?

  9. There are some interesting ideas here, and a lot of Berkeley counterproductive arguing and name-calling. You really need to put together a plan based on the incredible amount of research available on school safety, and then implement it. I wish I was there to help.

    Brad

  10. Fire all 14 of them and contract to bring in 4 Alameda County Sheriff officers. Don’t mess around with truants. Disarm, arrest, prosecute and remove the juvenile armed robbers with guns.

  11. Anyone else starting to get the sense that when the press arrives, BHS staff give them the “Potemkin Village” treatment?

  12. OK so in Berkeley some people can’t tolerate what they don’t want to hear, and resort to character attack, now that is surely not unique, but rather commonplace in Berkeley.

    Have you any sense of irony?

  13. Golde was referring to incidents that happened recently. Berkeleyside has spoken with one of the parents.

    He also gave context, explaining where the robberies take place, in the park and downtown. Did you miss the most recently reported armed robbery downtown, the notice was sent out on the etree.

    Matt Golde is a professional working on behalf of the citizens of Alameda county, and this is his home and community as well.
    He was doing his job. Are you aware that it is common for schools to invite the Juvenile dept DA to participate in the program assisting with process of addressing school safety.

    Again, just because Berkeley is unique and does not ask the DA for assistance in reducing violent crime, does not mean we are doing a good job.

    Did you know that the Attorney General office teams up with the dept of Ed to develop the legal framework for school safety, and that the recommendation for drafting plans includes input from the DA?

    OK so in Berkeley some people can’t tolerate what they don’t want to hear, and resort to character attack, now that is surely not unique, but rather commonplace in Berkeley.

    Does MacDonald review police reports regularly, NO. Does the dean review arrest or victim reports from incidents occurring afterschool and on the weekends? NO. DA sees these reports.

    In many communities the school request the local law enforcement collect this information in an proactice approach to reducing reduce on campus disruptions and conflicts that start off campus.

  14. Why is it slander and abuse to request more information? As I said, if the things he discussed are happening right now we should know, but if he’s talking about things involving people that are no longer associated with the school we should know that too. I agree, he has better knowledge than most about criminal activity that involves our students, so why not help us by sharing it in a useful way? I don’t object to the truth, ugly as it may be, I object to making disturbing statements then walking away and not responding to further questions. I’m looking for information that helps us make informed decisions to keep *all* students safe.

    Yes I know about the student who was robbed at Shattuck and Channing at lunchtime at gun point. That is truly frightening and I worry just as much for that student as for my own. What do you see in my statement that defends guns, crime or criminals? Or trivializes the events that have occurred? I never said the accusations were false, I just asked for context. As far as BUSD’s communication about assaults I think Pasquale is doing a better job than his predecessor.

    BTW, regarding the presence of safety officers at meetings, Ardarius was at the meeting on Monday and was on the panel responding to the school board’s questions on Wednesday.

  15. Well look at the response he gets on Berkeleyside! I wouldn’t continue to respond to people who don’t want to hear the truth, either — and who decry what I am saying as inflammatory, loose with the truth, and other more hurtful comments seen here on Berkeleyside. He works with the D.A.’s office and has insider knowledge about the types of crimes and the severity of crimes — and yet he has been slandered and abused on the various forums. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to end up impaled on your pitchfork again. He’s not “tossing out accusations”; he verbalized some of the assaults and crimes that he is aware of. He is also not wrong, nor did he seem to be inflammatory. He was appalled at the lack of information about very real assaults that have and are occurring on and near the campus. Read some of the other comments coming out on these discussion posts; people are actually TALKING about SPECIFIC incidents involving theirs and others children. Mr. Golde also mentioned specific incidents that have occurred in the recent past, not in the distant past.

    Instead of questioning Mr. Golde, why don’t you question the BUSD and the lack of information we are given about violent incidents on campus. Just because it wasn’t your child who was assaulted, you assume that the accusations are false? What if it WAS your child? How would you feel to have someone discredited for speaking up on your and your child’s behalf.

    Speaking of truth: did you know a BHS kid was robbed on lunch break last week? Are you aware that the perpetrator had a gun? And how would you have felt about it had it been your child. I assume it wasn’t, else you wouldn’t be here defending that which shouldn’t be defended. Or is last week too far in the ancient past?

    You, Others like you and Berkeley High itself are enough of a character assassination. You don’t need Matt Golde to do it for you.

  16. BHS is stuck in reactive mode.

    I find it troubling that MacDonald gets a chance to reassure the community that he is a serious about school security and he chooses instead to present himself as disrespectful and arrogant when referring to a 20 year veteran of Alameda County law enforcement, responsible for prosecuting Berkeley youth.

    Hmmm……

    Also what is the truth on the protocol question, on one hand this story reports the safety officers have plenty of experience in disarming students carrying a weapon, and then Scuderi says something different.

    Do the safety officers use ziptie handcuffs to restrain a student who has a firearm in his waistband while they wait for BPD to arrive?

    Francis, did you ask Logan and Oakland how they respond to a gun incident, specifically?

  17. I think Golde was attempting to assassinate the character of Berkeley High. I have a child at Berkeley High, I volunteer on campus every week working with students, and I attended the meeting where Golde spoke. Why didn’t he give any context to his comments? Was he talking about incidents that happened this year? Last year? 10 years ago? Are the people who he alleged interfered with investigations still employed at Berkeley High? His lack of response to Berkeleyside deeply reduces his credibility as far as I am concerned. If the things he spoke about are happening right now we need to know. If he’s referring to things that happened long ago with people who are no longer part of the community he should be responsible for informing us. If he stands behind what he said he should have no problem responding to a request for more detailed information. I hope Berkeleyside will continue to press him and not let him just toss out these accusations without backing them up with proof.

  18. Bruce, what “direct question” was McDonald asked about Golde? BTW,I didn’t find his comment particularly reserved at all. It was a lame attempt at character assassination.

  19. Either way, I smell a rat. If they did not have to, then they didn’t because they don’t care enough. If they were told they should not, something’s wrong in crackville.

  20. It’s not hard to draw that connection!

    However, overall I applaud what these folks do. They can only work within the system they have and with an open lunch and students coming and going I think overall they do a good job.

    To address the problems at BHS there needs to be structural changes – closed lunches and fewer entrances to the school at all times.

  21. He didn’t “go out of his way”. Asked a direct question about Golde he gave a pretty reserved comment to which, at the time the article was published, Golde apparently declined to respond.

  22. “I know Matt Golde,” said McDonald, who has held his current role for a little more than a year. “He is loose with the truth.” (Matt Golde did not respond to Berkeleyside’s attempts to contact him.)

    I think it’s very telling that Ardarius McDonald went out of his way to discredit the the senior deputy district attorney for Alameda County’s juvenile justice center. Somebody is feeling the heat.

  23. I don’t know what to say. Where were they at the community meeting at BHS when they should have had a place on stage, as did the BPD, Ms. Craig, Scuderi. Why were they not present in a visible, notable way?

  24. They also… instruct Berkeley Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs) on which vehicles not to chalk. On one hand, I don’t like to see this sort of favoritism, but on the other, at least they are cultivating relationships with the police department.