UC Berkeley to review WarnMe alert system after gun scare

UC Berkeley will now "take a closer look at our WarnMe protocols including messaging and expanding the list of campus officials with access."

UC Berkeley to review WarnMe alert system after gun scare
Police taped of the sidewalk on the north side of Bancroft Way during the shelter-in-place order on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Emilie Raguso/Aipsasiamedia

UC Berkeley has pledged to review its WarnMe system in the wake of fierce criticism about how it was used when a man started shooting on campus last week.

No one was hurt and police arrested the suspect within two minutes of the gunfire a week ago Friday, Feb. 9, at 8:40 p.m.

But many community members expressed frustration because it took campus police 40 minutes to send a WarnMe alert about what happened.

In a prepared statement this week, UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said there will now be a review of the Feb. 9 gunfire response, in line with what generally happens after a critical incident.

That analysis will include the use of campus WarnMe notifications.

"We understand and appreciate the concerns raised regarding the WarnMe messages and, as with any serious incident like this one, we will conduct a review to identify areas where we can improve," she wrote.

UC Berkeley will "take a closer look at our WarnMe protocols including messaging and expanding the list of campus officials with access to the emergency system."

UCPD dispatchers or patrol sergeants currently send the initial notification, she wrote.

On Friday, however, the sergeant was tied up with the scene and the dispatcher was overwhelmed by 911 calls, which delayed community notification, The Scanner reported Saturday after reviewing hours of emergency dispatch audio in the immediate aftermath of the event.

UC Berkeley shooting suspect put on psych hold after arrest
UCPD arrested the shooter within two minutes of the first 911 call. No one was wounded Friday night.

A federal law called the Clery Act requires universities to send "timely warnings" and "emergency notifications" in certain situations.

  • Timely warnings are sent when a Clery Act crime happens in a specified geographic area — but only "when the campus determines that the crime may pose a serious or ongoing threat"
  • Emergency notifications are sent "when a significant emergency or dangerous situation occurs on the campus involving an immediate threat"
  • UCPD also sends community advisories, which are not required, when "we believe it would be helpful and appropriate to make the community aware"

There's a lot of room for discretion in the policy as described.

When questioned by The Scanner about seemingly missing WarnMe alerts about significant crimes in the past, for example, officials have said they do not need to send an alert if someone was arrested because there is no ongoing threat.

In 2020, UC Berkeley was fined more than $2 million for Clery Act violations, industry website Higher Ed Dive reported at the time.

The U.S. Department of Education determined that UC Berkeley had misclassified 1,125 incidents over a six-year period, most of which involved liquor, drug and weapons violations, Higher Ed Dive wrote.

UC Berkeley says it now follows the law about when it sends public safety notifications using the WarnMe system — but community members have long said the alerts seem inconsistent and could be improved.

Students, parents disappointed in WarnMe alerts

On Friday night, more than a dozen posts about the shooting quickly popped up on the UC Berkeley Reddit page, a popular online forum among students.

Most of the posts were critical of UC Berkeley's efforts at emergency communication.

Read more about crime near UC Berkeley.

At 9:12 p.m., about 30 minutes after the suspect had been detained, a student posted that there had been a shooting on campus, adding: "Wheres the WarnMe when you need it ??????"

The most popular post on the campus Reddit page Friday night was titled, "So we can agree WarnMe sucks."

"Warnme doesn’t hesitate to send me stupid emails the moment someone on campus steals a banana, but when some crazy man starts shooting Warnme didn’t even bother to let me know! Completely ridiculous!" one student wrote.

"And then when they do send it, it just says 'aggravated assault,'" wrote another.

It's not just students who have raised concerns.

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.

SafeBears, a public safety advocacy group for UC Berkeley parents and community members, has been asking Cal for improvements to the WarnMe system since the fall.

In an email this week, SafeBears described the emergency alerts after Friday's gunfire as a "catastrophic failure of communication."

This week, SafeBears also brought up its concerns during public comment at Wednesday's UC regents meeting, although only one of its members was called to speak.

Still, the group plans to continue to push for improvements.

In a meeting in September, SafeBears asked Cal for more consistent WarnMe messaging, faster deployment of messages when an incident happens and more detailed suspect descriptions, the group told The Scanner this week.

SafeBears also asked UC Berkeley to provide a map showing the Clery WarnMe reporting area and to change the default delivery option from email to text.

But there were no obvious changes to the system after the meeting happened, SafeBears said.

"All aspects" of the shooting at UC Berkeley to be reviewed

In Cal's statement this week, Gilmore emphasized that the suspect was arrested quickly — while acknowledging that there is room for improvement in other areas.

"We are grateful for the prompt police response and that no one was hurt," she said. "However, we are also mindful of the ordeal’s emotional toll on students and others who were unaware of the status of the situation."

She noted that "all aspects of Friday’s ordeal" would be reviewed and assessed "to determine if any changes in practices and protocols are needed to strengthen our community safety efforts."

As of this week, the university has not determined whether its review will result in a written report and whether that report would be made public.

Sign up for WarnMe alerts from UC Berkeley and learn more on its Office of Emergency Management website.

UC Berkeley shooting suspect still on psych hold

After opening fire Friday night, the UC Berkeley gunman was taken for a psychiatric hold following a brief interview attempt by campus police, The Scanner reported Saturday morning.

To date, UC Berkeley has identified him only as a 59-year-old man who is not affiliated with campus and has no known city of residence.

The man showed up to Lower Sproul Plaza on a motorcycle and had a conflict with students during dance practice before shooting a semi-automatic pistol into the air nine times, TBS reported last weekend.

As of publication time, the man still had not been released from the mental health hold.

Once he is taken to Santa Rita Jail, UCPD said this week, the man will be booked on nine counts of negligent discharge of a firearm as well as possession of a loaded firearm on campus and possession of a concealed firearm in a vehicle.

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