Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    No shots fired — Frequent arrests at Laney shed light on Oakland’s struggle to treat the mentally…

    by Saskia Hatvany/Co-Editor

    Firefighters arrive to treat minor abrasions on the man who was verbally abusive inside the A building just moments earlier.

    A man was witnessed brandishing a replica firearm at passing vehicles on Jan. 29, standing on the 7th Street side of the Laney College student parking lot.

    Deputy Sonny Fahimi and Lieutenant Gerald Verbeck of the Peralta Police Services (PPS) approached Man Bui, 55, and tried to convince him to surrender, but he ignored them and began walking towards the campus.

    Verbeck, not knowing that the gun was a replica, feared for campus safety and tackled Bui, who was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a weapon and obstructing a peace officer and taken to a nearby hospital for medical assessment.

    According to Verbeck, police intervention is relatively frequent on campus.

    “Due to the location of the campus and the open concept, we often get non-students wandering in to use computers, restrooms or other facilities,” he said.

    One day prior to the parking lot incident, Peralta Police were called in response to an incident inside the Welcome Center at about 3 p.m.

    “He picked up his chair and banged it against the wall after yelling, ‘I’m gonna kill all of you,’” said Cassandra Upshaw, who had noticed the man sitting at a computer in the Welcome Center when he suddenly became verbally and physically hostile without provocation.

    A Welcome Center staff member immediately called the Peralta Police, who arrived on the scene around 3:10 p.m.

    After attempting to calm the man down, with some success, two deputies escorted him outside the Welcome Center, with the intention of issuing a warning to the man, when he suddenly ran off.

    The officers caught up with the man, pinned him down and handcuffed him before a fire truck arrived with medical staff to treat minor abrasions on his arm and head.

    The middle-aged man was later charged with resisting arrest and sent to Santa Rita County Jail.

    As many as 30 people witnessed the scene, and others gathered to watch as the man was handcuffed in front of the building.

    “I’m not mad — I’d rather them do that thAn use armed force,” said Kandice Moore, a Laney student who had watched the event unfold.

    Upshaw, a specialist in Laney’s Enrollment Services Program, said Laney’s Student Services staff have become “experts” in handling these kinds of situations because such events can be as frequent as two to three times a week.

    Ultimately, these types of incidents at Laney are a symptom of a wider issue.

    “Every problem that we see in Oakland and the Bay Area comes to Laney regularly,” Upshaw said.

    Alameda County has the highest rate of involuntary psychiatric holds in California, according to a 2018 report by the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (ACBH).

    Commonly known as Penal Code 5150, the law allows for mentally ill people who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others to be detained against their will for a minimum of 72 hours while they undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

    Of Alameda County’s 18 cities, Oakland accounts for nearly half of all 5150 detentions. In 2017, a total of 13,139 psychiatric holds were reported; Oakland’s share was 5,299.

    The numbers point to a staggering reality–on average, someone is arrested in Alameda county and put in costly emergency psychiatric evaluation every 48 minutes.

    Lieutenant Verbeck is no stranger to such events unfolding on the Laney campus, although it’s rare that his deputies are able to invoke a 5150 due to the California penal code’s strict criteria.

    “You can be homeless, acting bizarre and cursing at everyone you see, but still not meet the criteria,” Verbeck said.

    Moreover, the ACBH’s report highlights the problematic state of Alameda County’s Assisted Outpatient Services and points to several flaws in the system.

    The document states that individuals who are not eligible for 5150 holds receive “essentially no services,” which makes them likely to be put through the system repeatedly without receiving proper care.

    According to the ACBH, 11 percent of all ambulances in Alameda County are called for 5150’s, a practice which is both costly and time inefficient, and it can often fail to connect individuals with the services they require.

    This pattern of repeated use of crisis services has led to a wildly overpopulated system. In 2016, a KTVU report cited “inhumane conditions” at John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro, and published a video showing patients eating and sleeping on the floor of the hospital. At the time, staff members claimed that the facility was designed to hold 23 patients but often held up to 80.

    A long-time employee of Peralta Colleges concerned with matters of campus safety, Upshaw believes that the Peralta Police deserve recognition for their efforts to de-escalate dangerous situations.

    To Upshaw, the campus police are far more accessible than OPD in that they make an active effort to dialogue with the community. “There is no way I would talk to Oakland Police the same way I talk to our deputies,” she said.

    Despite efforts from Peralta police and school administrators, Upshaw is aware that the problem cannot be solved without greater involvement from both citizens and local governments. “It’s a huge problem and I wish people would pay more attention to it, because a lot of people are actively suffering,” she said.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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