Q: There are often shoes hanging over telephone wires in Berkeley. Does it mean anything?
Answer by Sgt. Mary C. Kusmiss S-6 BPD Public Information Officer.
A: Over the years, the numbers of pairs of shoes — in particular athletic or running shoes — that are hanging over wires above the streets has varied. Depending on what town, city, neighborhood, state and even country you live in, there are a litany of reasons that young and older people alike have engaged in this practice.
One explanation that is often rumored is that hanging shoes is a way in which a gang or a drug dealer signals territory. Members of BPD have never been able to fully verify that all the dangling pairs of shoes in Berkeley have such significance, although coincidences might suggest it at times over the years.
A drug area may be within distance of a school, let’s say, and a common practice for young people is to snatch another’s gym shoes and toss them up on the wires as a prank or an embarrassment to a perceived weaker student. BPD officers have caught young people in the act, and not unlike any other sport or challenge, they are “trying to see if they can do it.” It is not as easy as it appears.
It could be territory, it could be fun and games, it could be a means to shame someone or in some areas, it is a way that young people mark a milestone of some sort related to dating, sex, drinking or graduation. If you search online about dangling shoes or shoe tossing, you will get dozens of reasons or theories as to why they are up above. Many community members consider them eyesores.
Q: Does anyone ever take them down?
A: There have been BPD officers that have explored that very question and had some removed, particularly if community members complain or when it is rumored that hanging shoes marks dope or gang territory. As a community member, you can make a request for the shoes to be removed. First you must identify what type of wire it is — PG&E, Cable or Telephone — then figure out the carrier and call the customer service department and make the request. Companies are very proprietary, they don’t want to manipulate any other company’s wires. It could have deadly consequences.
Please do not try to get these shoes down yourself — even if you know the line does not have an electric current.
Q: What other "weird and wonderful" things does BPD have to deal with in Berkeley?
This answer to this question is likely different to each and every officer. What may be my "wonderful" could be another BPD officer’s "weird."
Some of the strangest calls for service have included:
- Wild turkeys
- Naked people running in traffic
- People pooping in doorways
- People who forget where they parked their cars
- People from care facilities being found on community members’ lawns, front steps, or a bench in the garden
- Lost iguanas
- Lost snakes...
We also sometimes take reports in homes where the community member has a bird (whether a parrot, macaw or a cockatiel) that flies around freely indoors, which can be an interesting — "weird and wonderful" — experience.
Working with children, of course, often falls into both categories. BPD goes to pre-schools and elementary schools and events in which we meet many young people. They are earnest and funny in their questioning, and often too sophisticated for their ages in their knowledge, but they challenge us and make us feel good about what we are doing.
BPD officers recognize that many children have their own challenges in their home or school but when a police officer visits the classroom, for that 30 minutes or so, the children for most part they feel like they are getting a special treat. Police uniforms are considered "cool," as well as the patrol car, motorcycle and the police bikes.
If you are an educator or parent who wants to advocate for us to do a presentation — we love doing them. We offer a program called 911 KIDS. Call, email or visit the web page for details.
That’s all the time BPD has for this week. Please keep the questions coming.
Do you have a question for the Berkeley Police Department? Let us know in the comments.