Private security pilot funded by Cal parents starts tonight

The safety ambassadors will be easily identifiable by their bright-colored jackets that sport the words "security" and "SafeBears."

Private security pilot funded by Cal parents starts tonight
Streetplus safety ambassadors who are part of the SafeBears private security pilot. Streetplus

A group of Cal parents concerned about safety around the UC Berkeley campus has hired its own security ambassadors — and they start tonight.

The nearly three-week pilot program, which is set to run from March 6-23, will see six "safety ambassadors" working in the Southside neighborhood from 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

The safety ambassadors will be easily identifiable by their bright-colored jackets that sport the words "security" and "SafeBears," which is the name of the parent group that raised about $40,000 late last year to launch the effort.

The ambassadors, who won't be armed, have gone through background checks as well as de-escalation and CPR training, SafeBears says.

SafeBears hired Streetplus, which also has ambassadors working in downtown Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, to run the pilot program.

Sagar Jethani (left) with Streetplus safety ambassadors who will be part of the SafeBears private security pilot program. SafeBears

Sagar Jethani, SafeBears president, said he met with the safety ambassadors to observe their training this week.

"They are a great group of folks. They're all from the East Bay/SF area, so they understand what's happening with crime in Berkeley," he wrote in a Facebook post for other SafeBears members. "They are looking forward to meeting students and making them feel safe at night."

UC Berkeley parents formed SafeBears about a year ago, prompted by concerns about safety on and around campus.

UC Berkeley parents launch SafeBears to promote safer Cal
“We want the administration to engage with us as real stakeholders dedicated to making Cal safer,” said SafeBears president Sagar Jethani.

The group was also troubled by reduced staffing in the University of California Police Department and other safety services that were reduced during the pandemic.

"UC Berkeley has cut funding for UCPD every year since 2018," SafeBears wrote on its website last fall. "In that same period, nearly every other UC school has increased funding over 2018 levels."

Meanwhile, according to SafeBears, "Cal’s UCPD budget is 14% lower than it was in 2018."

Since last year, SafeBears says, UCPD has added 10 officers, but police staffing remains short, in line with regional and national trends.

Areas that will be covered by the SafeBears private security pilot. SafeBears

The new SafeBears safety ambassadors "will not enter university property," such as dorm courtyards and the Clark Kerr campus, but will instead "stick to public areas, including public streets and sidewalks."

"Their role is to provide a physical deterrence to any threats against students," SafeBears said. "If they encounter a situation they feel is escalating, they are equipped with radios and can call for other ambassadors to assist. They also have a contact at Berkeley Police Department in the event the situation turns more serious."

  • Three ambassadors will patrol Units 1, 2 and 3, as well as Blackwell Hall
  • Two ambassadors on bikes will cover "the matrix of streets" between Bancroft Way and Dwight Way (N-S), and College Avenue and Dana Street (E-W)
  • Another ambassador on a bike will cover the horseshoe perimeter around the Clark Kerr Campus, including Piedmont Avenue up to Bancroft Way

SafeBears said it shared its plans with UC Berkeley police to make sure Cal was in the loop. (UCPD did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Read more about crime near UC Berkeley.

In the coming weeks, SafeBears plans to work with ASUC student leaders to collect student feedback about the pilot program.

Jethani noted that UCPD has been planning to launch a similar security program for some time.

SafeBears hopes the March pilot will encourage UC Berkeley to bring that work forward faster, he said,

"We’ve been impressed with its recent moves," Jethani wrote on the SafeBears website, from closing People's Park to adding UCPD officers. "But the persistent shortage of security personnel creates a dangerous environment for all members of the Cal community."

The Berkeley Scanner will continue to cover campus safety issues closely. If you're a member of the campus community with concerns, we want to hear from you.