Fighting crime in Berkeley one potluck at a time

Residents in the 1000 block of Shattuck Avenue gather for National Night Out. Photo: Hannah Long

On Tuesday night, the Downtown Berkeley Association, BART Police Department, and more than  50 community and neighborhood groups hosted potlucks and parties on Berkeley’s streets as part of National Night Out.

This annual event, which began in 1984, is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch to promote neighborhood camaraderie and community involvement. This year, more than 37 million people participated in these block parties nationwide, according to the group’s website.

Two children at a neighborhood gathering on 7th St. Photo: Shauna Rabinowitz

Beany Wezelman, who has lived on the 1000 block of Shattuck Avenue for more 30 years, has organized a National Night Out party for her neighborhood for the past two years. On Tuesday evening, the street was barricaded and tables and chairs were set up right in the middle of the street. As dusk fell, friends and neighbors of all ages chatted, caught up, and enjoyed the potluck-style feast.

Wezelman says that she loves the opportunity to spend time outside and bond with neighbors.

“I think that this would be a great way for neighbors who don’t know each other to come together and really connect,” she said.

Neighbors in the 2400 block of 7th Street gather for National Night Out. Photo: Shauna Rabinowitz

Her longtime friend Colleen Neff, who lives down the block, added, “We’ve been having block parties for years (before we even heard about National Night Out), and these events have made us a really tight knit-street. When new people move here we all introduce ourselves right away, and we look out for each other.”

Kids at the National Night Out gathering at Oregon and Dohr streets don red plastic firefighter hats. Photo: Kester Allen

The National Association of Town Watch hopes that, in addition to community strengthening, National Night Out will also promote safety and disaster preparedness. In Berkeley, firefighters visited each block party to distribute information about fire safety. Engine company number 4 spent about 20 minutes at the Shattuck party, their first of six for the evening, sampling food and chatting.

“This is really fun for all of the firefighters because we get to meet so many people,” said one firefighter, who only identified himself as Tony. “We hand out plastic helmets to kids and give them tours of the engine. This is a great night for the whole community.”

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan and other members of the Berkeley Police Department also went from potluck to potluck throughout the city to talk to residents about crime and other concerns.

Want to get a digest of all the day’s Berkeley news in your email inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Print Friendly
Tagged , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • bgal4

    Research proves focused targeted problem solving is the only way to reduce crime.

  • TizziLish

    Thank you for your positive, uplifting comment.


  • TizziLish

    Can you cite specific research?

    I can’t, but I am pretty sure ‘research’ has been done that shows that when people know their neighbors, crime goes down. It is easier to mug strangers than to mug friends.

  • Irisandjules

    National Night out is a great opportunity for neighbors to know each other, see who may be new in the neighborhood, form connections, and then work together on resolving e.g. crime problems as they come up. Once the connections are formed it is so much easier to act on problems than when you don’t know who your neighbors are.

  • TN

    I’m active in the neighborhood watch and other neighborhood activities in my area.

    I don’t think that neighborhood watch groups can directly reduce the worst of our neighborhood crime problems such as the very deeply entrenched drug dealers.

    What these groups can do is be organized enough to demand the attention of the police and other city agencies with the authority and fire power to deal with the problems. I think about it as part of a “political” (lower case “p”) process. And as such, some neighborhood efforts are successful and others less so depending on the social and political context of the neighborhood and the city.

  • Guest

    Links to documentation, please?

  • Joseph Spanley

    Perhaps you are capable of doing your own research?

  • Guest

    Perhaps you have no documentation?

  • Just Sayin

    Took the words right off of my keyboard…    H8rs gonna h8!

  • bgal4

    Look Tizzish,

    there is nothing negative about acknowledging the distinctions between potluck parties and crime fighting practices.

    The significant crime reductions in our south Berkeley area demonstrate how positive and realistic I am. To my mind, results count more than nice intentions.

    Just as important as knowing your neighbors is to know the criminals operating in your area.
    The majority of burglaries in the flatlands are committed by local teens.

  • bgal4

    I have posted about this resource the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
    several times.

    Plenty of studies about best practices in community policing.

    NNO is simply a promotion event. 

  • Guest

    After consideration of your comment, referring to local teens… I would say knowing your local teen neighbors may be a good idea.

  • bgal4

    Just Saying….. I would like to see Berkeley focus on youth violence, which we have advocated for years. See morale of this tale about last nights’ NYC NNO event.

    National Night Out Against Crime In New York: Eight People Shot

    By James King
    Wed., Aug. 8 2012 at 9:14 AM
    Mike Bloomberg, several district attorneys and other law enforcement
    officials celebrated the “National Night Out Against Crime” yesterday by
    walking around the city at night in a show of solidarity against crime
    across the country. Criminals in New York celebrated the “Night Out” by
    shooting a bunch of people.In all, eight people were shot in New
    York during last night’s demonstration, including six during a pair of
    triple shootings in Harlem and the Bronx between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

    “‘National Night Out Against Crime’ provides Queens County residents
    with a wonderful opportunity to meet with the police officers and law
    enforcement officials who protect their neighborhoods and who are
    largely responsible for the sharp reduction in violent crime over the
    years and the significant improvement in the quality of life,” Queens
    County District Attorney Richard Brown — one of several D.A.’s who
    participated in the demonstration — said Monday.The first triple shooting happened at the Agnes Haywood Playground in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx
    just after 11 p.m. During that shooting, three people — believed to be
    two teenage boys and a teenage girl — were shot, two in the torso, one
    in the leg. All three are expected to survive.
    In the second
    triple shooting, three people were hit near West 143rd Street and
    Fredrick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem just before 2 a.m.

    In that shooting, two women were shot in the butt. A male victim
    was shot in the arm. Two of the victims were taken to Harlem Hospital,
    while the third was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital. None of their injuries
    are considered life threatening.
    In another Harlem shooting
    last night, a man was shot in the leg and the hip while at the
    intersection of Adam Clayton Jr. Boulevard and 145th Street about 12:45
    a.m. He also is expected to survive.
    And in Brooklyn, a man was
    shot in the hip near 2601 Atlantic Avenue in East New York. He, too,
    sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
    That’s eight shootings and not a single life-threatening injury.
    Moral of the story: criminals have shitty aim.

  • bgal4

    I posted this link to the Center for Problem Oriented policing several times here, the website has plenty of studies about best practice in community policing.

  • bgal4

    Even if you are on ” friendly” terms with juvenile offenders on your block, they will still break in to your house when the opportunity strikes.

  • bgal4

    I posted a link to Center for Problem Oriented Policing which contains many studies on best practices in community policing, however B-Side seems to be removing the post, perhaps due to the link.

  • Chris

    There are plenty of negative things in your reply – which basically says that NNO is for naught. How can you discuss or learn about local criminals with your neighbors if you do not know your nieghbors?!?!

    And IF you read the story you would also understand that NNO isalso about safety and disaster preparedness. After our block’s NNO 3 years ago we organized an earthquake/disaster plan for our block, including shared disaster resources and a generator.

    On a larger scale, your message is important, and valuable, and I think most Berkeleyside readers are appreciative of the hands-on work you’ve done about safety in South Berkeley. However, your timing and phrasing go a long way to push people away from your perspective, rather than drawing them in.

  • I find it to be particularly good event since every year I’ve gone there have been new people that have moved into my neighborhood. These people don’t know the neighborhood history, but may have seen things they don’t like and want to make connections with some of the longer-term residents. It’s a fantastic way to meet neighbors in a social setting, rather than having to go door-to-door making connections AFTER a neighborhood crisis.

  • bgal4

    “I don’t think that neighborhood watch groups can directly reduce the
    worst of our neighborhood crime problems such as the very deeply
    entrenched drug dealers.”

    Of course we can, and we have proved it in beat 12. Huge changes along several blocks of Oregon St, Russell St, California St, and in the Oregon St park.