Berkeley High cafeteria

By Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor

There were two on-campus gun incidents at Berkeley High last week, and police discovered an Oakland youth outside BHS on Friday afternoon carrying a gun, but Principal Pasquale Scuderi does not think gang activity or an intra-school beef is the reason for the recent spate of gun activity.

The three gun-related incidents last week appear to be unrelated, said Scuderi. Kids might be bringing guns to school because of the glamorous role guns have in our society, he said.

“I don’t buy that the only reason kids are carrying guns is for personal protection. I think there is some sort of fascination, a cultural fixation with firearms,” he said.

Pasquale Scuderi

On Friday, at about 4:15 p.m., police shut down the sidewalks on Milvia Street and closed the school’s east gates after a BHS teacher walking to his car noticed four youths gathered around the open trunk of a white Buick Park Avenue, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department. The teacher then spotted what looked like a black semi-automatic handgun in the trunk and called 911.

When police arrived, they detained the four youths, three of whom were Berkeley High students, said Sgt. Kusmiss. They found an unloaded gun and a full magazine clip in the jacket of a 17-year old who was a student at Oakland Technical High School, along with $450 and marijuana that appeared to be for sale, she said. The youth, who told police he had a brother at Berkeley High, was arrested and booked on two felony counts, including carrying a gun near a school and intention to sell marijuana, she said. The three other youths, two boys and a girl, were questioned and released. The 17-year old told police that he had been hanging out and the three youths had come over to his car to say hello.

“The city of Berkeley Police Department does not have any specific information or intelligence that suggests there is a rivalry going on between schools,” said Sgt.  Kusmiss.

Scuderi will be talking to parents about the gun situation at BHS tonight and what measures are being taken to improve safety at the school. The forum-style meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Berkeley High School Community Theater.

In the six days since two guns were discovered on campus, one of which was fired, Scuderi has been re-examining the school’s policy towards weapons and working with staff to craft a more comprehensive and effective approach to the problem.

In addition to bringing in more security staff, and talking to all the students about guns and the consequences of having them on campus, he is taking the following measures:

  • He has talked with Chief Michael Meehan of the Berkeley Police Department which is due to present a set of recommendations to the school on Wednesday.
  • He is conferring with his security staff to review school policy and practice. (There are about 12 security officers at BHS and one Berkeley police officer on campus four days a week.)
  • He met with staff on Thursday to review the protocol of responding to reports of a weapon. As a direct result of the meeting, the BHS teacher who spotted the gun in a car trunk on Friday called 911. In contrast, on Tuesday there was a delay before police responded because BHS staff called their supervisors before alerting security.
  • He has called for a meeting with other high-school principals, including some from Oakland, to find out how they deal with this problem.
  • He is working with student services to add additional supervision for students who are currently on probation.
  • He has spoken with Matthew Gold, the Alameda County Assistant District Attorney in charge of juvenile cases about better to identify kids who might cause trouble.
  • He has contacted Bay Area Peacekeepers, a group that has extensive experience dealing with conflicts and at-risk teenagers. Scuderi is hoping to have the organization hold focus groups with students.

Scuderi added that after the gun incidents, many parents called the school asking that metal detectors be considered at BHS. Scuderi said the school district plans to examine that option, as well as the idea of banning the wearing of gang colors, but that more information needs to be gathered. He needs to know how effective metal detectors are and how they impact the school environment.

“We are talking about a decision that would radically alter the logistics and culture of the school,” he said.

The school administration has talked to about half the student body so far about the fact that guns are not allowed on campus, and has spelled out the implications of bringing them in to school. Even though this has long been a school policy, Scuderi said he thinks teenagers need to hear this message repeatedly. At their age, some things that adults think are obvious may not be so clear to teenagers, he said.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...