Crime prevention top of mind for a Berkeley community

Rabbi Yonatan Cohen and Councilmember Jesse Arreguin address a neighborhood gathering at the Beth Israel Congretation in Berkeley Wednesday evening. Photo: Tracey Taylor

[This story has been updated — see end of the article.]

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan expressed frustration at the Berkeley Unified School District last night, and in particular its lack of communication with the BPD, following a rash of crimes in a central Berkeley neighborhood, some of which were committed by students at Berkeley High School.

“We don’t get good information from the school district right now,” Chief Meehan said. “We asked them: if there was a robbery you knew about, would you call us? And they said, ‘we would not’.”

Chief Meehan added that the school district had not responded yet to a series of recommendations on security measures compiled by the BPD in the wake of a number of gun incidents on the Berkeley High campus.


Calls to BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett were not returned at the time of going to press.

Since January there have been three strong-arm robberies, one armed robbery, one attempted burglary and one case of an arrest for prowling/possession of burglary tools in the area west of Martin Luther King Junior Way, according to police records. Four of the six cases involved juveniles.

The robberies occurred on the 2300 block of Jefferson, 2200 block of California, Channing/Roosevelt, Allston/Roosevelt and Shattuck and Allston.

Addressing a community meeting held at the Congregation Beth Israel on Bancroft Way last night, Police Officer Casimiro Pieratoni described one home robbery incident in which two Berkeley High students were caught. Two 14-year-olds stole a laptop computer from a home in a “smash and grab” robbery, Pieratoni said. It was a first offense for one of the students.

An estimated 100 people attended the gathering which was organized by District 4 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “There has been an increase in crime in this area,” he told Berkeleyside. “People are very concerned.”

Arreguin said he gets regular calls from residents in his district concerned about the behavior of young people in the neighborhood. “There are cases of vandalized property and bad behavior,” he said. But he stressed that it is not always possible to identify whether the youth are at BHS or other schools. “There are a lot of schools in the area,” he said, “including elementary schools and the Cal Prep Academy.”


Issues discussed at the meeting included how to help prevent and deal with robberies, the presence of beat officers, communication between the BPD to the community, the need to report suspicious behavior, the need for better lighting, gang grafitti at Strawberry Creek Park, and how to have good “situational awareness” when out walking.

Officer Pierantoni said the majority of residential burglaries happen in the daytime, and that, in 25-50% of cases, the burglars access homes through unlocked doors or open windows.

There was also a reminder that phoning 911 on a cell phone connects you to California Highway Patrol in Vallejo which then has to re-direct the emergency call. Chief Meehan advised Berkeley residents using a cell phone to call 510-981 5911 for emergency calls, as this goes directly to a dispatcher answering 911 calls. Landline calls should be made to 911, not least because the location of the caller can immediately be tracked.

UPDATE, 05.06.11: BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett got in touch at around 5:00pm today. He said he had not been aware of any police department frustration over communication with the BUSD. “The first I knew there was a problem was when I read it on Berkeleyside,” he said. “We have a long-standing arrangement with the Berkeley Police Department and we want to fully cooperate with them,” he said.

Huyett said he understood that an attorney working for the school district had said that the district could not supply certain information about student robberies to the police. Huyett did not know the details about this possible legal point, and said he would be looking into it.


He added that he and Police Chief Meehan had agreed to sit down and figure out improved channels of communication.

He said the recommendations made by the police on campus security were under consideration, both by the school board and the safety committee that was set up in the wake of recent gun activity.  “We have already taken on board some of the recommendations — we’ve increased the number of days for the [on campus police officer], and are looking at having two instead of one, and some training is under way,” he said. These issues will take time and are being considered in ongoing discussions, he said.