Council highlights gangs, staffing during crime report

Pedestrian robberies in Berkeley from January to June 2013 mapped by location. Source: Berkeley Police Department
Pedestrian robberies in Berkeley from January to June 2013 mapped by location. (Click to see the full report.) Source: Berkeley Police Department

The Berkeley Police Department’s mid-year crime report drew compliments from city officials regarding the city’s approach to crime fighting, as well as requests for more information in the future about case closure rates, crime concentrations and response times across a range of offenses.

Police Chief Michael Meehan presented the report along with two police captains, Erik Upson and Andy Greenwood, Tuesday night in a special session before the city council. They said serious crime reports for the first six months of the year remained nearly flat compared to the same period last year.

Berkeley did experience a 24% jump in robberies overall, which included a 35% increase in pedestrian robberies. But police said the region has seen a 26% percent in overall robberies, and that Berkeley is not immune to those trends. Police also noted a 49% increase in robbery-related arrests in 2013.

The largest category of stolen property in robberies for the first half of the year included iPhones, iPods and other smartphones. Losses in that category increased 67% from 2012 to 2013, said police. Sixty-eight percent of victims were walking alone, and 57% had their phone in hand.


Click to see the full report presented Tuesday. Source: Berkeley Police
Click to see the full report presented Tuesday. Source: Berkeley Police

Police did not include time of day or detailed location information in the report for any of the crimes, though one map in the presentation provided some degree of insight about pedestrian robberies.

Police noted a large increase in forced-entry home burglaries in the first part of the year, from 183 in 2012 to 212 in 2013. In 41% of the 477 residential and commercial burglaries reported, properties were left unlocked or otherwise open to thieves.

(Read Berkeleyside’s analysis of the mid-year crime report.)

Officers also discussed proactive work the department has done with several Berkeley businesses that have large parking lots where they were seeing numerous auto burglaries. The department gave business owners information on the type of thefts and trends related to time of day, and advised them on possibilities for signage, video monitoring and when it might be wise to hire visible security guards.

Police said partnerships with the University of California Police Department, as well as a monthly public newsletter and other public safety outreach, were part of their crime prevention efforts.


Following the presentation, council members shared concerns and asked questions about about cell phone security measures, gangs in Berkeley and the beat reorganization the department is undertaking to reallocate officers and resources around the city.

Gangs in Berkeley?

In response to the homicide of Jermaine Davis over the summer, Councilwoman Linda Maio asked police to talk about gang activity and how the city can “actually try to penetrate or deal with” it.

Meehan said that, though the department does “see gang activity,” that it can be difficult to define what, or who, a gang member actually is.

“Is it somebody who says they are but takes no action? Is it somebody who takes action but denies it? Is it somebody who simply hangs around with other people who are gang members?” he said. “So it is a little bit of a challenge for us to decide what is, and what is not, a gang member.”

He said officers do see “some indicators” of gang activity in Berkeley, such as gang graffiti, and that the department is doing a “much better job” of both analyzing crimes and “understanding linkages between … individuals” involved in gang-related crimes. He also noted that officers are doing more outreach in the schools, particularly at the middle school level, to try to spread the gang prevention message.


More details requested on crime stats; questions on beat realignment, staffing

Another topic that came up during the council member question-and-answer period was related to efforts underway to look at the city’s existing beat map, which is several decades old, to update it and reallocate resources accordingly. Meehan said public meetings over the next few months will be part of that process.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak said he’d like to see more data showing how different crimes, such as burglaries and auto thefts, are distributed across the city. He also asked about response times for different types of incidents, which police said they could provide in future reports. Mayor Tom Bates asked for more information, next time around, on arrest breakdowns per crime category, and Councilwoman Susan Wengraf asked for information on victim demographics.

Wengraf suggested the possibility of posting signs in the south campus area to remind people of the risks posed by robbers. Meehan replied that the city had done something similar on Marin Avenue related to auto burglaries, and that the department could certainly look into it.

Several council members asked about Police Department staffing, and whether the agency could take any steps to fill vacant positions faster. The department is authorized for up to 176 officers, and currently has 167 hired. However, 9-10 officers are also out on various types of family or medical leave.

Meehan said the department is not able to hire anyone until positions actually become vacant. While the assessment process can be started in advance, it can still take up to a year to get an officer on the street from the time of hire, he added.

Council members thanked the department for their efforts to keep Berkeley streets safe.

“A lot of these things we don’t have any control over,” said Mayor Tom Bates, “but we appreciate the way you’re approaching this and are really pleased with the way the force is conducting itself.”

See a video of the full crime report and council session here. Community members interested in crime in their neighborhood can learn more via CrimeView Community.

Related:
Berkeley pedestrian robberies up 35%, burglaries up too (09.17.13)
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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