Berkeley and UC Police have started regular patrols of Telegraph to discourage young adults from loitering on sidewalks. Photo: Sgt. Mary Kusmiss

In response to complaints from merchants and shoppers about the increase in the number of people loitering on the sidewalks, the Berkeley Police Department and UC Police have started a new patrol around Telegraph Avenue.

During the afternoon and evening, six days a week, a pair of officers, one from Berkeley and one from UC, will walk or bike along the avenue and People’s Park.

“We have heard community concerns about ongoing problems and these teams are intended to address those concerns,” Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said in a press release.

The decision to add regular patrols comes at the time when Telegraph Avenue has seen its annual uptick of young adults who camp out on the street. On Monday and Tuesday this week, for example, at least three people were stretched out in sleeping bags in front of the old Cody’s Books in the early morning hours.

“Every year there is a seasonal influx of a bunch of young people when the weather gets nice,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has introduced three measures over the years encouraging the police department to step up patrols. “That’s when we get a lot of people going around the country, going to the Rainbow Festival and elsewhere.”

Many of the young adults hang out all day on the sidewalk with their dogs and camping gear. They can make it difficult or intimidating to walk by, said Worthington.

“The issue is the massive collection of objects they put on the sidewalk that make it difficult to walk,” said Worthington. “It’s the mega number of dogs that scare people.”

Merchants have complained for years about the ceaseless panhandling, the cluttered sidewalks, and the openly hostile mood to shoppers on the street. On Monday, one Telegraph Avenue merchant sent out an email complaining about the young adults to numerous city officials, including the mayor and police chief.

“It is 10:30 in the morning and the street is already being taken over by homeless kids and their dogs,” read the email. “We started our day today cleaning dog shit from the front of our store and now have to deal with a bunch of rude assholes. Would you want your young daughter walking on this street, day or night, being called a bitch as she is just trying to walk down Telegraph?”

Young adults pack up their belongings after spending the night in front of the old Cody’s Books on Telegraph. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Young adults pack up their belongings after spending the night in front of the old Cody’s Books on Telegraph. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Atreyu, a 19-year-old Southern Californian who says he has been on the road for four years, said he always picks up after his dog. While he and his friends have been sleeping outside Cody’s recently, in the morning they pick up their gear and get out of the way, he said.

Atreyu said he got a ticket from the police on Monday for not having his dog on a leash, even though there were many others walking around with dogs off-leash. He believes he is being penalized for perceptions about his lifestyle.

“We’re just like everybody else,” said Atreyu, who did not give his last name. “We eat and drink and do our thing. Everyone else has a different lifestyle so why should we be getting in trouble for doing something different when there’s so many more people out there doing so much more bad things? Like heavier drugs, alcohol, robberies and stuff. They should go concentrate on that rather then us kids traveling along just to see the sights and living the way we want to.”

Merchants in Berkeley’s downtown have also complained that the presence of homeless people detracts from the shopping ambiance. The Downtown Business Association recently contracted with Block by Block, an Louisville, KY organization, to beautify the area. In addition to deep-cleaning the sidewalks, painting planters and hanging flowers from streetlights, the organization has trained a number of “Downtown Ambassadors” to help visitors and try to encourage homeless people from bothering shoppers.The Berkeley Police Department trained the ambassadors on April 11, although they are not authorized to enforce Berkeley’s anti-loitering or anti-sleeping laws, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

“The ambassadors do not have any police powers,” said Sgt. Kusmiss. “They cannot enforce any CA Laws and/or Berkeley Municipal Codes. They can, however, develop relationships and enlist cooperation if they feel it is appropriate or safe to do so. They also understand problematic behavior, how to generally spot mental health related challenges and call BPD when they see a crime in progress. They do not carry BPD or any police radios but rather call as a reporting party or witness using their title when doing so.”

Newly cleaned up downtown hopes to attract more retail [04.04.12]

Telegraph Avenue property owner shows plans for vacant site [04.19.12]
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back? [04.18.12]
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders [04.11.12]
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? [08.11.11]
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people [05.31.11]
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem [02.10.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

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