The University of California Police Dept. and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. have been on alert for suspicious packages the last few months, but large increases in reports seen at other schools have not shown up at UCSB.
At UC Berkeley, the UCPD dealt with between 25-30 calls in October alone regarding white powder, which UCPD Capt. Mike Cooper said was a big increase over previous months. At UCSB, however, there have been only four suspicious package reports.
Two of those were suspicious enough to call in UCSB Environmental Health and Safety, UCPD Capt. Mike Foster said.
Central Stores, which is located downstairs in the UCen where the mailroom is, was evacuated Nov. 5 because two suspicious-looking packages were left on the loading dock late Sunday night. They were addressed to a vice chancellor’s office, hand-written, marked “personal and confidential” and had no return addresses.
The employees in the Central Stores became suspicious of the packages and called the police.
“We contacted the vice chancellor’s office and they were not expecting any packages that matched that description, so we evacuated the building and requested the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Bomb Squad to respond,” Foster said.
Typical UCPD protocol for the investigation of suspicious packages involves making a quick assessment to determine what it was that aroused the suspicion. If they feel the package may pose a threat, they evacuate the building and notify the bomb squad, Foster said.
“We call in the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Bomb Squad because they have the bomb robot and other equipment that we don’t have,” Foster said. “What we do is we contain the envelope in a bag, and then Environmental Health and Safety, in conjunction with their Bio-Safety Hazard Officer, places it in another bag. We then open the bag to see if it has anything suspicious or threatening in it.”
Foster said a training program for mail handlers at UCSB may have reduced the number of reports.
“Myself, our department, the Mailroom Business Services, and the Environmental Health and Safety have done a lot of education for people on campus who handle mail regularly on what to do and what to look for,” Foster said. “I think it’s helped cut down on suspicious mail packages because we’ve had that information out.”
Lieutenant Jim Dollar from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. said Santa Barbara County has seen a significant increase in suspicious package and suspicious letter calls coming from private citizens who do not feel safe opening their mail.
“We’ve probably had over 100 calls since the whole anthrax thing started. The vast majority of them are from people who just don’t feel comfortable opening their mail,” he said.
The reports have decreased as the anthrax issue has been less publicized, Foster said, and people are getting less nervous about it.
“I think if we were seeing more legitimate anthrax mailings on a regular basis, we would be seeing an increase in suspicious package and suspicious letter calls,” he said. “But since it has almost stopped we haven’t seen an increase.”