Berkeley High School Safety Officer Walter Mitchell, has served BHS for over two decades, and has been involved in the Berkeley Unified School District community his entire life. Mitchell attended what is now known as Rosa Parks Elementary, Martin Luther King Middle School, and BHS.
“I love when you all come in and you’re having a great day and excited about being here,” Mitchell said. “That makes it worthwhile to me.”
Before acquiring his position at BHS, Mitchell worked at America West Airlines in Tempe, Arizona. This entailed flying back and forth between Arizona and California three days a week, since he was still mainly residing in Berkeley.
Mitchell then began working at BHS in 2000, after breaking up an altercation involving his daughter at a school football game. “I had to get in between my daughter and her friends just to make sure nothing happened to them and the head of security at that time, he had asked me about wanting to work here,” Mitchell said. Knowing that his daughter would be attending the school, he accepted the position.
Family has and continues to play an important part in Mitchell’s life. Every few weekends, when he gets the chance, he will make the trip to Southern California to meet up with his family. When the beginning of the school week comes around, he leaves for Berkeley at 12:30 a.m. to get to the school by 8 a.m., when it opens. Mitchell also spends much of his time taking care of his 90-year-old mother.
History also comprises Mitchell’s closely-held values. He is especially well read on the history of slave trade; his current readings cover abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.
In describing the best aspect of his job at BHS, Mitchell laughed, “The students!” Mitchell explained that his typical work day mainly consists of monitoring the outside of campus while the gates are open. During the school day, he helps monitor the campus on the inside. “To see you guys, you know, the freshman (going through) graduation and on to college, (and) then they wanna come back and visit, it’s really nice,” Mitchell said.
Overall, Mitchell believes that BHS is fairly safe. He said that he and his team do a fairly good job, especially with the help of the Berkeley Police Department. He said that, while the safety team tries its best, the fact that BHS is an open-campus makes it hard to secure. He expressed hope that the fencing around campus might be improved.
According to Mitchell, “patience, understanding, and a sense of humor” are all integral aspects of being a good safety officer.
BHS sophomore, Alita Saenz, said it’s important to have welcoming and kind officers at school because “the safety officers could be the only thing essentially keeping us safe … if we can trust them personally, it makes them seem more reliable.”
While Officer Mitchell confessed that he doesn’t know most students very well, the importance of his presence has been felt by many in the community. BHS sophomore Uly Rawitscher usually sees Mitchell posted at the M gate. “I think his impact was big during COVID-19,” Rawitscher said. “Just by giving out masks for people who didn’t have masks on them was very helpful, and I think he made a positive impact as a whole.”
After 22 years of working at BHS, Mitchell’s career is coming to an end. He said that once his granddaughter, currently a junior at BHS, graduates, he will be done with his work at the school.
“(I plan on) just traveling and then I’ll work … I built my own catering business in Southern California and (have) two radio stations,” he said. While Mitchell is looking forward to checking these experiences off his list, he said that he will miss his interactions with the students at BHS.