Berkeley pedestrian robberies up 35%, burglaries up too

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Click the image above to view an interactive graphic created by Berkeleyside.

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.

Source: Berkeley Police Department

Crime reports for the first six months of the year from 2009 to 2013. Source: Berkeley Police Department

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.

Click the image for an interactive chart.

Click the image for an interactive chart.

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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  • iicisco

    If people would learn to stay the hell off their cell phones while walking alone like mindless zombies, maybe..just maybe they would be less likely to becoming a victim!

  • bgal4
    how much do you want to bet the council spends more time discussing the report on the safety of dental fillings than on police dept violent crime report.

  • gimpytroll

    Welcome to North Oakland.

  • The_Sharkey

    First comment on the article and we’re already into victim-blaming.

    I don’t care what someone’s doing while they walk down the street, the blame for an assault rests entirely on the person who commits the crime, not the person who gets assaulted.

  • JuiceJeasel

    Stay home.

  • Bill N

    No, no, no, no – don’t be silly it’s the post office!

  • some victim blame is OK

    I think it is a real problem if a person insists that it is their god given right to wander alone and vulnerable through city streets while deliberately focusing their attention so completely away from the environment that surrounds them — and all the while flashing expensive and easily snatched hardware.

    One reason we sometimes find fault with inebriates is their lack of situational awareness and their inability to take the most basic precautions for their own safety. The predators who prey on them increase the risks to us all.

    For a similar reason we sometimes say that certain persons with cognitive disabilities ought not to be allowed to freely wander the streets if they too unclear about what is going on around them.

    We don’t put up with letting young children blithely wander dangerous areas alone, blissfully unaware and vulnerable. We at least know better than that.

    Yet when an adult deliberately makes himself very similarly vulnerable by shutting down their own environmental awareness, that’s supposed to be just fine because, damn, that text message is really important? Even though they attract predators who make life less safe for all of us?

    A reasonable effort to maintain an awareness of your environment is a social expectation — a demand it is OK for us to make of one another. When a group of people such as some smart phone owners decides to shirk that obligation, and a higher rate of crime follows, I think it’s just fine to cast a little blame on that group itself.

  • guest

    Do we know how many reported pedestrian robberies lead to an arrest? Of those, do we know how many are prosecuted? Does a potential perp have any reasonable expectation of being caught and facing consequences for his or her crime?

  • Chris

    What if they did something that could make a practical difference??? What if they introduced legislation ending the moratorium on new street lights. Oh no! Not that! Not something simple and practical that would make a difference. It just doesn’t FEEL good enough.

  • The_Sharkey

    No, really, no victim blame is OK.
    It is everyone’s god given right to be able to walk around without being assaulted or made the victim of crime, no matter what they’re doing.
    What’s not OK, though, is people like you who are apologists for criminals and who accept the ridiculously high amounts of crime we have in Berkeley by blaming victims. Your actions enable and excuse the inexcusable.

  • djoelt1

    The blame for the crime rests entirely on the person who commits the crime. Yes.
    There are people who go out at night looking for phones to steal. They stay out on their crime run until they have stolen a phone or multiple phones. I blame them.
    However, if you don’t want that person to be you, don’t walk around with your phone.
    Did I blame the victim?

  • some victim blame is OK

    Nobody here has apologized for criminals. …. Some people have insisted that adults take some reasonable responsibility for their own safety, rather than contributing to an environment that encourages and attracts predators.

    [This comment has been moderated. –Eds]

  • bgal4

    No casing closing rates in the report, in fact, not much analysis or actionable information in the report whatsoever.

  • Woolsey

    Have they weighed in on Syria yet, or the flooding in Boulder, or the shooting in Washington? There’s so much to do and so little time. A couple of local muggings may not make the cut.

  • The_Sharkey

    When you blame victims, you are being an apologist for criminals.

    [The moderating is getting a little heavy handed… –Sharkey]

  • emraguso

    I’m at the mid-year crime report meeting right now. Police said there has been a 24% increase in robberies (for the first six months of 2013 compared to that period in 2012) — with 49% more robbery-related arrests.

  • Wavy Maybe

    If the police weren’t constantly having to deal with mental health crises and minor disputes among the growing homeless population in/around People’s Park, they would be able to respond to and/or prevent some of these thefts.

  • rhuberry

    Ah, population density. Ain’t it wonderful? Isn’t this sort of thing a natural consequence of cramming more and more people into the same small area?

  • The_Sharkey

    Why do you think it’s acceptable for Berkeley to be such a dangerous city that residents have to be worried about being assaulted all the time?

    Why do you find that acceptable rather than outrageous?

  • The_Sharkey

    Better idea, how about we get BPD to do a better job of targeting criminals and engaging in stings to catch criminals rather than living in a city where everyone has to be on guard all the time because criminals know that they are unlikely to ever be caught when they do snatch-and-grab assaults or muggings?

  • The_Sharkey

    That problem is only going to get worse if the City Council approves the hobo hotel on Berkeley Way.

  • Doc

    People’s Park was meant as an experiment. The results of which are in: crime wins

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Here’s hoping that b-side’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas focus on income inequality will provide a comprehensive solution to smash and grab street robberies!

  • GeorgeDorn

    No, you didn’t. In the real world, you’re never going to get rid of crime completely. Maybe the BPD could do more. Maybe we could have a more equitable society (or whatever) so that fewer people will become criminals. But making the public aware of things they can do to avoid attracting the attention of criminals will not only help individuals, but the community at large. Imagine if fewer people left valuables visible in their parked cars in Berkeley, for example. I think that would make criminal less likely to even bother looking for cars to break into.

    It’s possible to look for constructive solutions and strategies without getting hung up on blame. (Just to be clear, though, I make no excuses for thieves and robbers: catch them, convict them, and lock them up.)

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t think there is any correlation between population density and crime. Eg:
    — Japanese cities and west European cities have much higher population density than American cities but generally have much lower crime rates.

    — Population densities of American metropolitan areas declined steadily between 1960 and 2000. Yet crime rates increased in the 1960s and 1970s but decreased during the 1980s and 1990s.
    — Berkeley’s population density today is less than in 1970, so you certainly can’t blame crime here on increased population density.

  • GeorgeDorn

    He didn’t say it was acceptable, Sharkey.

  • Woolsey

    Income inequality is already very high in the US. We have diverged from the rest of developed countries in this metric…and the trend is not good. Higher taxes and redistributionist policies are not likely to be adopted in the US. What are the other options? Anyway, I think the smash and grab street robberies are a somewhat different issue and are caused mainly by an unemployable subclass that is going to be hard to reach.

  • guest

    not density – diversity
    greater economic + ethnic diversity = crime
    homogeneous communities have lower crime

  • berkopinionator

    Robberies will drop dramatically when we force cell phone companies to make stolen phones worthless. Let’s do what they did in Australia:

  • RFScalf

    The Netherlands has Very high population density, for a country. But compared to the USA a very low rate of violent crime.

  • GeorgeDorn

    Apple released iOS 7 today, which goes at least partway toward accomplishing that. Most recent iOS devices can take the upgrade:

    iPhone 4 and above
    iPod Touch 5th generation
    iPad 2 and above
    iPad mini

    I’d encourage everyone who can upgrade, to do so soon. (You might want to wait a bit so that Apple and app developers can iron out any glitches, but I’ve already upgraded one device without any problem so far.)

  • GeorgeDorn

    I’m not an expert but I’ve heard the claim before. Just a superficial web search (“crime poverty inequality) turned up two examples of reputable discussion, if not strong conclusions.

    The hypothesis of ethnic diversity as a driver of crime, though, I’m not sure. It certainly has a steeper hill to climb, for obvious reasons.

  • Truth Sayer

    Well said.

  • guest

    oh please stop it with the “moderating”. stop!

  • bgal4
    @27.30 Anderson mentions a news story about a fencing operation asking the chief if they have located any fencing operations which buy stolen cell phones. Remember Anderson’s office went on record saying the city would NOT review the use permit of M&H liquors following the BPD bust of the store clerk for fencing stolen phones. The chief did not mention the M&H matter, he also blew off the gang issue with some vague statements.