Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety

Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee

About 30 residents met with police Wednesday night to discuss public safety concerns around Berkeley. Members in this break-out session focused on North Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Wednesday night, Berkeley residents crowded into a briefing room at the Berkeley Police Department for an annual meeting aimed to bring leaders in neighborhood crime prevention efforts together with local authorities.

The meeting, of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee, included Neighborhood Watch block captains and the Police Department representatives who work with them. The committee meets monthly to talk about and plan community safety efforts, and is open to block captains around the city. (Residents interested in joining or starting a Neighborhood Watch group can contact the Police Department’s Community Services Bureau at 510-981-5808. Learn more about local law enforcement contacts via this map.)

Following presentations by Police Capt. Erik Upson, who works closely with the committee, and Police Chief Michael Meehan, residents listened to a short crime prevention presentation by officer Byron White.

White shared tips with residents about how to increase security, played videos to demonstrate how fast burglars can strike, and shared recent crime data.

Officer Byron White showed residents a crime map of recent "technology thefts" related to cell phones, computers and other property. Image: Berkeley Police Department

Officer Byron White showed residents a crime map of recent “technology thefts” related to cell phones, computers and other property. The map shows concentrations of recent incidents by color. Image: Berkeley Police Department

White noted that, despite a decrease over the years in crime, many people feel less safe than ever due to increased reporting about incidents in the media.

Chief Meehan agreed, pointing out that 2011 was Berkeley’s “best year” as far as crime statistics in the past 50 years, though an increase (primarily in property crimes) in 2012 led to an 11% bump last year. Meehan said, despite the increase, Berkeley continues to “buck against the trend” of a larger 2012 increase regionally of 17%.

Meehan reminded residents not to make it easy for thieves, confessing that he himself is an avid “door locker.” He advised residents to leave a light or a radio on when they leave home, and to get involved in local crime prevention efforts.

“We’re not in a perfect city and we have people who will take our things,” he told the group. “Why make it easy for them?”

Capt. Upson credited the Berkeley community with its proactive approach to helping police solve crimes.

“Our successes are really brought about by the active participation of neighbors,” he said. “Neighbor after neighbor comes out to identify suspects after an incident. We have a higher level of participation than many areas, and that helps make our community safer.”

The Safe Neighborhood Committee recognized Upson on Wednesday night for his regular and committed participation to the group’s activities.

A slide from officer Byron White's presentation details some types of suspicious behavior that residents can watch out for.

A slide from officer Byron White’s presentation details some types of suspicious behavior that residents can watch out for.

After the presentations, neighbors broke into four groups aligned with the Police Department’s area map, which splits the city into four geographic quadrants, so they could ask more detailed questions of local police representatives. Each area has a lieutenant who oversees crime and safety efforts, and an officer whom neighbors can contact with questions or concerns. The vast majority of attendees came from Area 1 (North Berkeley), with a handful of residents from the other areas.

In one of the breakout sessions, a man asked for tips on how to get connected to nearby community groups. Police said residents can reach out to their neighborhood’s dedicated area officer for help. Each officer also maintains an email outreach list to communicate about upcoming events, crime tips and other information. Upson said there are about 150 Neighborhood Watch groups throughout the city.

Neighbors also asked about how to handle solicitors or possible criminals casing houses, how to choose an alarm company and how to increase communication between local groups and with police.

Upson said one of the best steps neighbors can take to increase safety is to get involved with Neighborhood Watch and the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee to ensure that they have access to information about critical cases and can stay informed.

“It can be a great conduit of information,” he said. “We have somebody at every meeting every month. It’s a great opportunity for you to bring questions in or to bring information back to your neighborhoods.”

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