By Beth Treffeisen
The Berklee College of Music held a public safety meeting to discuss the recent outcry amongst Fenway residents over the lack of communication and engagement over arming the schools police force.
A sparse showing appeared to the meeting at 31 Hemenway St., on the evening of Aug. 15, with residents citing poor outreach and lack of advertising for the confusion.
“We are here because of the arming of the police officers and Berklee’s failure to notify the community and how the community wanted to be a part of and included during the decision process,” said Curtis Warner Jr., associate vice president for community and government relations at Berklee College of Music.
Stephen Sorkin, who has worked with Berklee College of Music in their safety committee, said that everyone has been running in their own bubbles and was taken aback when they walked outside and noticed it.
“Some of our tempers got all worked up because it just happened so suddenly,” said Sorkin. “The Fenway has always been a very active community. I think we will find a resolution here.”
Markie Fukuda, a Fenway activist and also a member of the safety committee, said that the school needs to enhance communication going forward.
“I am also disappointed on how this happened because a number of people have been working really hard with Berklee,” said Fukuda. “The issue with the armed police force is after the fact, without a public meeting first – it did a lot. I don’t know if we can rewind from that.”
On June 5, the school brought on a professional police-force with the armed guns. The school hired 12 patrol officers and five supervisors who are trained police officers that came from the greater Boston area. During the day, two police officers are on duty with up to four at night. Since they went online, no one has had to take out a gun.
The police force is made up of officers who have had prior experience in the field. All had to undergo additional training in firearm safety, which is a bi-annual, three-day course, and have undergone diversity and unconscious bias training.
The police force carries non-lethal pepper spray, service baton for defense tactics, handcuffs if they need to make an arrest and most recently, a pistol.
The professionally trained team of police officers is separate from the security team – most noticeably seen at entranceways to buildings – that do not hold firearms.
“We are not replacing Boston Police – we are just augmenting them,” said Mark Louney, senior director of public safety services and chief of police for Berklee College of Music.
He later added, just by having a presence of a police officer can deter unwanted activity in the area.
“The firearm is used as a last resort,” said Jeremiah Collins, administrative lieutenant of police operations at Berklee College of Music. “It only comes out of the holster if my life or your life is about to get extinguished, and we need to do something.”
In addition, Louney said their force might be able to respond to certain situations faster than the overworked Boston Police Department. Since they’ve begun, they have worked in getting treatment for homeless people and driving out the drug problem.
“We like to think of ourselves as the town of Berklee within the City of Boston,” said Collins. “We are not here to police. We are here to protect our population of students, faculty and staff.”
Berklee is joining two other major universities in the area in arming a portion of their security force. Northeastern began in 2015, with Boston University leading the way five years prior in 2010.
“There is a feeling as if we are in a neighborhood of occupied territory,” said Letta Neely. “When we walk out onto the sidewalks we are seeing people with guns…there’s a feeling that comes with that.”
Noticing how other local schools already have an armed police force, Neely said, this could lead to a domino effect where other schools, such as Emerson College, might soon follow.
Peggy Codding, professor of music at Berklee College of Music for 18 years, said that there were many situations in which she wished a professionally trained police officer was able to help her.
Codding said that five years ago, she was mugged in her car on Hemenway Street and the security guards could do nothing to help her. A few years later, she had a stalker whom she filed a restraining order against, but again, the security guards couldn’t help her. She eventually had to go the Boston Police for help.
In addition, she had a student that disappeared and if she didn’t call to have a well-being check that student might not be alive today. All of these incidents she said, the trained Berklee College police force could help her with today.
“The school is part of the community and is not separate from the city like other colleges are – there are many, many buildings,” said Codding. “Our campus is made up of very young people… we have many, many moving around the campus we need to protect.”
She continued, “I would prefer not to have guns if we lived in the best of worlds, but since we don’t I would prefer to be protected. Folks, it’s just not the same world when we went to college.”
But as one resident said, the major question that continues to loom over many residents minds is, “Why does a school that is located in a relatively safe place need armed police officers?”