Police saw steep increases in burglaries and pedestrian robberies in the first half of 2013, according to the mid-year crime report produced by the Berkeley Police Department, though serious crime reports overall were essentially flat when compared to last year.
The mid-year crime report is scheduled to come before the Berkeley City Council in a special session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, in the council chambers at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Police said pedestrian robberies are up 35% over the same period last year. Burglaries are up 11%. But overall serious crimes — which include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson — increased just 0.4%, from 2,927 to 2,940.
According to the report, the department aimed to “reduce or contain” the 2012 rise in crime in 2013. Police said earlier this year that crime reports had risen 11% from 2011 to 2012. Robbery suppression teams, more public outreach and increased bike patrols downtown were among the strategies cited in the report by Police Chief Michael Meehan as contributing to the goal of “zero growth.”
“Our goal this year was to have no increase, and we’re essentially there,” he said Monday evening. “That doesn’t mean that some things don’t go up or go down. But, the ones that do go up, we work on them.”
Meehan noted that surrounding cities have also seen increases in robberies and other crimes over the same period, adding that these kinds of changes are better understood in a regional or broader context.
Data are not yet readily available from other agencies for 2013. But most large Bay Area cities saw double-digit increases in property crime reports from 2011 to 2012, according to data reported earlier this year to the FBI. Berkeley showed a 13% increase from year to year. But burglaries, which increased in many other cities, showed a slight decrease in Berkeley. Violent crimes, too, saw many jumps across the region, but rose in Berkeley just 1%. Robberies, the most commonly reported violent crime in Berkeley, actually decreased 2%. But despite the minor year-to-year changes, Berkeley still has more robberies and burglaries per 1,000 residents than many other large Bay Area cities.
The staff report prepared for Tuesday night’s meeting lacked any degree of detail about listed crimes, such as location, suspect or victim information, closure rates, whether robberies were armed or unarmed, etc. In February when council members heard the last crime report from the police department, several officials asked for more detailed information and analysis along these lines. None of that was included in the report that was posted in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.
Meehan said Monday that additional details would be presented at the meeting.
Compared to the first six months of 2012, robberies and burglaries increased in Berkeley in 2013; homicide, rape, aggravated assault and arson remained fairly flat; and larceny and auto theft decreased. Auto theft “defied local and state trends,” according to the report, decreasing by 8.2%, “as compared to a 16% increase in Alameda County, and a 4% increase statewide in the first six months of 2013.”
The majority of robberies in Berkeley involved lone pedestrians with smartphones at night, according to the report. Police said, on the bright side, robberies at businesses declined 44 percent. Overall, robberies are at the highest they’ve been over the past five years.
Burglary reports, on the other hand, though higher, at 479, than they were during the first half of last year (433), are still lower than in the three prior years. In 2009, there were 544 burglary reports during the first six months of the year.
Larcenies have been on a mostly downward trend over the past five years from a peak in 2009 of 2,379. During the first six months of 2013, 1,860 were reported.
Only one homicide took place over the first six months of 2013, compared with three during that period last year. But there have been three additional homicides in Berkeley since June. Police have made arrests in two of the four investigations. Last year, there were five total homicides throughout the year.
The crime assessment notes that all rapes reported in the first half of the year in Berkeley involved an acquaintance, and that alcohol was present in many of the cases. This year, the Berkeley Police Department has worked with the University of California to increase sexual assault awareness through outreach efforts, according to the report.
Berkeley Police Association president Sgt. Chris Stines said staffing may be contributing to higher crime. He said the department is authorized to hire 176 sworn offers. Currently, the department has 167 officers in its ranks.
Stines said the department has seen a “huge increase in the number of guns we’re getting off the street,” and continued, “There’s a lot more violence, and that requires a lot more cops.”
Stines said there are open beats, which don’t have assigned officers at all, and that some beats have fewer officers than are needed due to the staffing level. That can result in delays for officers responding to calls, and difficulty responding to more than one “critical incident” at a time.
But Chief Meehan said Monday that staffing levels have been essentially flat over the last three years, and that the department has averaged nine to 10 vacancies annually during that period.
“We’re never at the authorized level,” he said. “We never know who’s going to leave and on exactly what date. It takes time to put people out on the street — the police academy takes six months — so there’s always a lag or space when we’re working to get people out there.”
Berkeley crime analysis: Robberies up 25% in 2013 (05.16.13)
Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety (04.18.13)
Crime in Berkeley up 11% in 2012, but longer trend is down (02.06.13)
32 robberies in recent 30-day stretch in Berkeley (12.28.12)
Berkeley hills neighbors anxious after recent robberies (12.21.12)
Big declines in violent and property crime in Berkeley (03.07.12)
Violent and property crimes decline in Berkeley (08.30.11)
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