About 60 people crowded into Northbrae Community Church on Thursday night to learn how better to protect themselves in the face of a big jump this month in home burglaries, two of which turned violent.
Most of the neighbors came from the North Berkeley hills area near Fairlawn Drive, though Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said she saw people at the meeting from around her district, District 6, who were worried about safety issues.
The neighborhood is part of the Berkeley Police Department’s Beat 2, which has seen a steady rise in home burglaries since September. That month there were just two home burglaries, with five the following month, eight in November and 12 already this month, as of Wednesday, according to CrimeView Community statistics, which pulls in data from the Police Department.
So far this month there have been more than 20 home burglaries in Beat 2 and Beat 1, the neighboring beat to the northwest. (See the map above.) Five of those burglaries took place just Wednesday, according to CrimeView Community. There’s been an upward trend since August, when there were only six total burglaries in both beats.
Thursday, Officer Byron White, an area coordinator for the Police Department who oversees Beat 2, presented recent crime statistics, offered safety tips and fielded questions from residents for about two hours.
The two incidents of most concern included interrupted burglaries Dec. 12, on Senior Avenue, and just last Sunday, Dec. 16, on Fairlawn Drive.
During the incident in the 300 block of Senior, a man came home from walking his dog to find three people burglarizing his home, according to information provided by White. The man tried to stop them and, as they fled, they ran over his foot.
On Sunday, a woman was attacked in the 500 block of Fairlawn when she came home and found two men outside apparently casing her house. When she tried to get their license plate number, they struck her in the head and took her personal belongings.
In White’s presentation, he pointed out that, of the four North Berkeley beats he oversees, Beat 2 has been hardest hit in the past 30 days by many types of crime.
As a result of the recent uptick, police have increased both marked and unmarked patrols in the neighborhood, according to police Lt. Kevin Schofield, who also was at the meeting.
Schofield added that, though it’s tough to know for sure, it appears likely that one burglary crew is targeting the area.
Some residents wanted details, saying they rarely see officers in their neighborhood.
Police said, this week, six to eight officers have been in the area daily for their entire shifts.
“This has become the priority,” Schofield told residents, adding that he had changed his schedule so he could come in earlier and drive every street. “I cannot overemphasize, however, that we need more eyes out there.”
Police asked neighbors to be vigilant and call in any suspicious activity.
White said residents should think about “layers” of protection, “as opposed to one item or one device that can be defeated.” His suggestions included installing lights and dead bolts at every entrance, purchasing high-quality surveillance cameras, getting a dog — or at least a well-placed dog bowl — and possibly a home security system.
Police said the neighborhood may suffer from a reputation of being an easy target.
Residents brainstormed possibilities to make themselves less vulnerable, such as the creation of neighborhood patrols, or the hiring of a private security company to patrol.
White said that even more casual activities, such as walking dogs together in a group, can make a difference.
Neighbors asked for more communication from police when incidents happen. Wengraf encouraged people to get connected with their local Yahoo email lists, and said people could contact her office for details.
Police said authorities are taking a look at a possible reorganization of beats and resources to see if changes should be made. The process could take up to 18 months, however.
Neighbors said they feared that was too long to wait. They also asked Wengraf to schedule another community meeting in January to figure out next steps for getting organized.
Wengraf cautioned those in attendance that changes could mean fewer resources for the area, depending on what the overall statistics say. But she said the current trend is hard to argue with.
“I think it’s pretty clear from the data that we are experiencing very very high property crime in the Berkeley hills,” she said. “The myth that has lingered over the years that the hills are safe is not true.”
Berkeley man injured after interrupting home burglary [12.12.12]
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