Q: How does the Berkeley Police Department deal with reports of gun shots? How do they respond when a witness can offer no other information other than they "heard what sounded like a gunshot" in the general neighborhood?
Answer by Sgt. Mary C. Kusmiss S-6 BPD Public Information Officer.
A: This is an excellent question and one that has many answers depending on the given situation.
To start, the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) classifies “loud reports” as a high priority call. The reason may be obvious in that if there are gunshots or is gunfire, community members may be seriously injured or killed and officers want to respond as quickly as they can to help and to investigate. “Loud reports” can be challenging calls for service. Officers want to figure out where the noise(s) came from.
BPD has long used the term “loud reports,” as not all of these calls are determined to be gunshots. Calling sounds “loud reports” encompasses many loud sounds that community members hear such as backfires from cars, fireworks, transformers blowing and a host of other sounds. Gunshots and other noises can travel a long distance and there have been instances when the issue/noise came from the cities of Albany, Oakland or Kensington.
Ordinarily when a call for BPD police service of “loud reports” is broadcast, officers who may be in close proximity to the location of the caller will weigh in if they heard something too: “I heard three from the south.” “It sounded like fireworks.” “I heard large caliber west of where I am in the XXXX block of XXXX Street.” “It was definitely gunshots, sounded like a 9mm.”
The next step is sending at least two — if not more — officers to the general area to check for anything amiss. They will talk with those on the street and report, for example: “I spoke to several community members on this block and they haven’t heard anything.”
The officers or supervisors will often ask for the numbers of callers and what locations in order to cover the areas mentioned. BPD sometimes hears, “I didn’t see any officer(s) on my block." We understand that can happen and for safety, officers will often get out on foot and use methods to conceal themselves, particularly when potential gunfire is involved.
Officers will ask for updates if more community members call with their address. Officers are looking for:
- Witnesses that perhaps saw a suspect shooting a gun
- A car that dashed off after hearing the “loud reports”
- Damage to property consistent with gunfire
- Casings (the part of the round or bullet left behind from a semi-automatic or automatic weapon in the street. See the photos at the top right of this article.)
If a revolver is used, there will be no casings, unless the suspect opens the barrel and dumps them onto the street, which rarely happens. Casings from a revolver stay in the chambers after the gun is fired.
When casings are found, officers will set up a crime scene to preserve this evidence until a BPD crime scene investigator can photograph and collect it. These casings can be further examined in the lab. Officers will examine the areas around the casings for blood, look at the surrounding homes for damage and do a neighborhood check (canvas) if deemed warranted to ask if anyone saw any suspect or heard a car or anything else that may be pertinent.
BPD recognizes that community members may not want to look out their windows if he/she hears gunshots. If you do, try to get a detailed description of any individuals on the street, especially if any appear to have a gun in his/her possession — was it a small gun, big gun, or a long gun? — and which direction the subjects walked or ran in.
If you see a car, describe it to the dispatcher. If you hear a car, mention it and share what direction you think the car went — was it loud? Screeching its tires? Anything else you remember? Sometimes the smallest detail can be the information that is essential to an investigation.
Don’t assume a neighbor will call. The more calls we receive, the better able we are to pinpoint a location, particularly if it came from inside a home or apartment. If a community member finds or sees any casings after the call, point them out to officers if they have yet to find them. If you find any casings the next day or days, do not touch them and call BPD at (510) 981-5900.
Do you have a question for the Berkeley Police Department? Let us know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.