West Berkeley neighbors ask for answers after homicide

Councilwoman Linda Maio organized a community meeting over the weekend in her district following the homicide earlier this month of Zontee Jones. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Councilwoman Linda Maio (left) organized a community meeting in her district over the weekend following the homicide earlier this month of Zontee Jones. She appears here with Detective Sgt. David White and Lt. Dave Frankel of the Berkeley Police Department, and Rev. Este Gardner Cantor, vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Emilie Raguso

About 25 neighbors came together at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church over the weekend to share concerns and ideas about safety in west Berkeley following the shooting death earlier this month of Zontee Jones.

Councilwoman Linda Maio organized the meeting with members of the Berkeley Police Department to make sure residents in her district could connect with authorities and share their worries and suggestions.

Berkeley Police Lt. Dave Frankel told those in attendance, who sat in a circle in a community room belonging to Good Shepherd, that Jones’ death, which represented the city’s first homicide of the year, was not random.

“Somebody had something against somebody else, and they dealt with their issue directly,” he said.


One attendee asked police to confirm that Jones lived in the neighborhood, and Frankel said only that he knew the victim “from a different part of town a couple years back.” He added that he couldn’t comment on leads related to the case due to the ongoing investigation.

Residents asked police about recent home burglaries, a pepper-spray attack of a woman walking to BART and how to come up with neighborhood solutions to violence.

Frankel said the best approach for community members is to reach out to police quickly, with as much information as possible, if they spot anything suspicious. (For those with “quality of life” concerns and chronic problems in Area 4, he said the best contact is beat officer Rashan Cummings at 510-981-5774. For time sensitive issues, or reporting crimes in progress, residents can call 911 for emergencies and 510-981-5900 for non-emergencies.)

“When the switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree, we know something is going down,” he said. “I want you to call about all suspicious activity. That’s what I really need you to do: Pick up the phone.”

Frankel said the most common type of crime in Area 4 — which covers much of Sacramento Street west to the waterfront, and from the city’s southern border up to Albany — is auto burglaries. He urged residents to watch out for people peering into cars and trying door handles, and to let police know if they notice this behavior. He also asked people to take the time to report auto burglaries or when a vehicle is rifled through; it helps police with data collection and asset allocation, he said. (Certain types of reports can be made online.)


Councilwoman Maio remarked that community members who are home during the day bear a “special responsibility to be the eyes on the street” to watch for anything suspicious, such as people casing homes or knocking on doors.

In response to a question about possible ways to improve safety and communication, some participants suggested organizing a Neighborhood Watch program and setting up a community email list, as well as throwing block parties or driveway parties to build neighborhood cohesion.

One longtime resident spoke of the importance of getting to know neighbors and keeping an eye on the block.

“In the old days, we took care of a lot of things ourselves,” he said. “A lot of new families are moving in, and they don’t know each other. I try to introduce myself to them.”

He also said he’d seen an improvement in neighborhood safety, and Lt. Frankel concurred. Frankel, who’s been with the Berkeley Police Department for 21 years, said there have been dramatic reductions in violent crime and open-air drug dealing.


On the flip side, people have much more access to information and data, which can lead to a false perception of increased violence, said Frankel.

“Everyone I know feels less safe than five years ago,” noted one woman. “Is it getting worse?”

Frankel acknowledged that “your perception is your reality” but reassured her that numbers are flat or down in Berkeley for most serious crimes.

One resident, Curt Gray, said there seemed to be a common phenomenon of long-time residents noting improvements in safety, but newer neighbors saying they feel unsafe, perhaps compared with where they’ve moved into the neighborhood from.

David Rodriguez said he grew up in west Berkeley, and remembers riding his bike around a local park in the 90s, and seeing dead dogs from dog fights, discarded cocaine bags and needles from drug use.


“This area has improved dramatically,” he told the group. “Now you see people biking, people jogging. It’s a big improvement. I’m happy about what’s going on.”

One resident asked if police could have greater visibility in the neighborhood following this month’s homicide. Frankel said it isn’t likely, unless there’s a longer trend of incidents to show a pattern of criminal activity.

“You’re not going to see a difference in the way the Police Department handles crime in your area,” he said. “One random event is not going to change policing in Berkeley.”

Related:
Berkeley police make arrests related to two Berkeley homicides [02.14.13]
Police name Zontee Jones as year’s first Berkeley homicide [02.06.13]
Man shot dead in Berkeley, first homicide of 2013 [02.04.13]
City of Berkeley offers reward to find ‘Cowboy’ killer [12.20.12]

If your neighborhood is having a community meeting that you think may be newsworthy, please let Berkeleyside know via email at tips@berkeleyside.com. Learn about crime in your neighborhood via CrimeView Community and CrimeMapping.com.

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