Sophomore Ann Branson admits that when she told friends she was going to go to school in Oakland, they warned her.
“People told me, ‘you should carry mace with you,'” she said. “There’s a big stigma attached [to] Oakland.”
Last year, there were 127 homicides according to sfgate.com’s homicide map. The body found near the gas station on Seminary Avenue on Nov. 14 brought Oakland up to 112 homicides for 2008 so far.
Although there is a pattern of violent crime in Oakland, district five, the area surrounding Mills has historically been a safe one. According to Oakland Police Department Public Information Officer Jeffrey Thomason, Mills College is located on one of the safest beats in the city, 28X.
“I worked that area for four years and that beat always had noticeably less calls for service than any other beat in the city,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Kristina Langner, junior, said that when her father grew up in Oakland, the situation was completely different. She thinks it’s “unfortunate” that the neighborhood around Mills has become so dangerous.
“The school was here first and then the neighborhood just developed the way it did.”
Thomason explained the relationship between Oakland Police and Public Safety as one of response and communication. Oakland Police officers must investigate crimes, but because Public Safety officers are on campus they have the ability to “respond to issues at Mills College faster than we can,” he wrote.
Niviece Robinson, assistant director of Public Safety, is also a former cadet of the Oakland police and said that many officers, up to the chief, have her personal cell phone number.
“I keep in contact with a lot of officers,” she said. “I try to use all those resources.”
The relationship between the two organizations has also grown to include education. Public Safety has offered Oakland police and fire departments space to train and do presentations on campus.
Several Mills alumnae work in the Oakland Police department and keep connected with the campus.
When an incident occurs near Mills, there are usually multiple agencies involved. Sometimes Oakland police officers come to Public Safety officers to make sure they know the layout of the campus.
Other times, Robinson said, she identifies the Oakland police helicopter in the sky and calls dispatch to ask what is going on.
“The city of Oakland does their best to let us know if something is going on,” she said.
Still, crime is a major concern for students.
Junior Vanessa Rivera said, “I love this school, but I hate the location.”
She does walk around off campus but says that she is always cautious about doing so. Rivera has a particular problem with the policy of checking people who come on to campus.
She says that Public Safety only check men who come on campus and assume that every woman who comes on campus is a Mills student.
I’m actually a little bit scared of that. They [women] need to be checked too,” she said.
“I would rather they checked everyone coming in and have a bit of a delay.”
According to Robinson, if there isn’t a Mills ID on a vehicle coming on to campus then they are stopped and asked to present identification.
Checking people is not the sole job of the gate officers, they also monitor two radios, a 911 monitor, cameras and other devices.
Robinson acknowledges the inconsistency at the gate.
“There may be times when they’ll stop you one day and not stop you tomorrow,” she said.
The problem also stems from the two-lanes of incoming traffic and two pedestrian entrances at the front gate.
“People don’t see everything that goes on at the front gate,” she said.
Robinson talked about times where people had to be turned away from entering campus because there had obviously been drinking or drug use going on with the passengers and sometimes officers at the gate are yelled or cursed at.
“People don’t really get to see that side of the gate activity,” she said. “It’s a customer service challenge every day.”
Counting Robinson and Michael Lopez, there are 14 Public Safety officers who work shifts from 6 a.m. – 2 p.m., 2 p.m. – 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. – 6 a.m.
Robinson said that the department would benefit from having a flex person to work as well.
At this point, if two officers are responding to an incident at one time there is no other officer to continue patrolling.