Crime

South Berkeley robberies on the rise near Ashby BART

There have been at least 14 reported robberies around the Ashby BART station in the past 60 days, with several others also in the vicinity. At least seven of the robberies near the BART station involved firearms. Image: CrimeMapping

There have been at least 15 reported robberies near the Ashby BART station in the past 60 days, with several others also nearby. At least eight of the robberies near BART involved firearms. One incident, at Woolsey and Tremont, is too recent to appear on the map. Image: CrimeMapping

Armed robbers have been targeting the South Berkeley neighborhood east of the Ashby BART station in recent months, with a spike in robbery reports since mid-November.

Over the past 60 days, there have been at least 28 robberies reported in the area between Adeline Street and Telegraph Avenue — between Ashby and Alcatraz avenues — in South Berkeley and North Oakland. (That number includes several reports just outside those borders.)

From mid-July to mid-September, there were six reports in that area, according to crime statistics posted online by local police agencies. During the next two months there were seven robberies reported in the vicinity. Most of those incidents, from both periods, took place in Berkeley. Then, from mid-November through mid-January, there were 15 reports, split nearly equally between Berkeley and Oakland. At least eight of those involved firearms. (One of those incidents happened Tuesday and does not yet appear as part of the available data set.) 

The Berkeley Police Department began a joint patrol with BART Police officers in early December, and is collaborating with the Oakland Police Department to investigate a rash of armed robberies involving stolen cars that had been concentrated within a few blocks of each other on the North Oakland-South Berkeley border near Ashby BART station. There have been at least five reported incidents in the area since then.

Earlier this week, a man was robbed at gunpoint while walking home from Ashby BART at the same intersection, at Woolsey and Tremont streets, where a pregnant woman was robbed by men with a gun in December. At least six of the 28 incidents reported over the past six months have been listed as having occurred in that same intersection. (As of publication time, this most recent incident had not year appeared on the list.)

The man who was robbed this week said he was walking home from BART at 8 p.m. Tuesday when three men surrounded him, held him at gunpoint, and took his backpack, wallet, cellphone and wedding ring. (Berkeleyside has agreed to identify him only by his first name, Adam, because he was the victim of a crime.)

He said he was walking east along Woolsey near Tremont and noticed three men who were huddled together, looking down and whispering.

“They looked like they were up to no good. My instinct was to run,” Adam said. “But I thought to myself, ‘You can’t just run every time you see people huddled together.’”

He quickened his pace and continued up the street. Moments later, Adam said he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling, so he started to turn around. Two of the men he’d seen earlier were right there. They each grabbed one of his arms, and pulled him toward a nearby fence. The third man was holding a gun on him.

“He put his hands in my pockets and started taking stuff,” said Adam, adding that the men were mostly silent during the incident. “The guy behind me took the backpack off me. Then they casually walked away. They didn’t run. It was like it was no big deal.”

There were seven robberies reported in the area over 60 days between September and November. (Click the map for a list.)

There were seven robberies reported in the area over 60 days between September and November. (Click the map for a list.)

They told him to walk the other way. But it wasn’t over.

“One of them said, ‘The ring, too. Don’t forget his ring,’” said Adam. The man with the gun ran up to him and took his wedding ring off his finger.

Adam said he then took a chance, realizing he’d have no way to get inside his home, and asked the robbers to give him back his keys. Before leaving, they threw the keys his way and headed off down the road into an alley.

Immediately, Adam began asking passers-by for help. He said he hadn’t been the only one walking home at the time of the robbery, but that no one else was especially close. A man gave Adam his phone so he could call police.

Berkeley officers arrived within what seemed like only a minute, said Adam. He made the report and, a short time later, was joined by his wife. She hadn’t known about the robbery but was walking home herself when she saw her husband surrounded by police. An officer drove them home after the report was complete.

At 11 p.m., Adam said he was checking email when he received a message from a woman who said she had found a backpack with his email address on it as she was cycling home on San Pablo Avenue near 54th Street, about two miles away.

Adam said, right around that time, he got a call from the patrol officer he’d spoken with earlier, Jitendra Singh, who said he wanted to go pick up the bag himself.

Throughout the night, Adam said he’d been checking the Find my iPhone app to see if his phone’s signal might appear. The robbers had turned off the phone immediately after the robbery, and there had been no sign of it. Around 11:30 p.m., the phone suddenly showed up in East Oakland near 85th Avenue and San Leandro Street.

He said he called Berkeley Police dispatch immediately to report the discovery. A dispatcher told him, however, that since the phone was in Oakland, he’d have to call the Oakland police. After 10 minutes spent navigating different menus and trying to get through to someone in Oakland, however, he gave up.

There were six robberies reported in the area over 60 days between September and November. (Click the map for a list.)

There were six robberies reported in the area over 60 days between July and September. (Click the map for a list.)

“Right at that time, officer Singh came by our house with the backpack,” said Adam. “I said, ‘Look, I’ve got this signal on here.’ He was definitely interested.” Singh rallied up three other Berkeley Police officers, and headed over to Oakland.

Adam and his wife stayed up watching the screen to see what would happen with the phone signal, which never seemed to move. At around 2 a.m., the signal went off. Then, at 2:30 a.m., Singh arrived back at their house with the phone.

From what Adam understood, Singh told him that the men had apparently robbed at least one other person, then gotten into a car and been chased. They had crashed the car in East Oakland, and taken off on foot, leaving much of their loot in the car. An Oakland police officer had turned on the phone when he found it in the car. The ring, however, was still missing.

“The officer [Singh] said he just tore the car apart hoping to find it,” said Adam on Thursday night. “He really seemed like he cared. And today we saw him patrolling the area.”

(The couple is still hoping the ring turns up. It’s described as hammered metal with an inscription of “My Podmate” on it. They have posted a notice on Craigslist to try to track it down.)

All in all, Adam said he felt lucky that nothing worse had happened, and that he had gotten back most of his belongings.

“My wife keeps saying I seem just remarkably calm about the whole thing,” he said. “I just feel sad that they feel that this is their only option… that that’s what they think they have to do.”

Better lighting may make a difference, some say

Neighbors and officials have said they believe a lack of adequate lighting in the area may be contributing to the danger.

Nancy Carleton, co-chair of the Halcyon neighborhood group, said neighbors have been asking for help from the city to improve what she described as “subpar” lighting. She noted that Jim Hynes, from the Berkeley city manager’s office, had visited the neighborhood Friday morning to get a better sense of the problem.

Carleton said she’s seen better lighting make a difference to improve safety.

“When we were having a series of robberies on Prince Street some years back, addressing the lighting issues seemed to have a positive effect,” she said, via email. “We hope and trust the City of Berkeley will act quickly to address the subpar lighting on Woolsey Street near the Ed Roberts Campus.”

She said the president of a nearby neighborhood group, the LeConte Neighborhood Association, encourages residents to walk with flashlights after dark “both to add light and also as a clear signal to potential robbers that you’re paying attention and alert and they won’t be able to escape without being seen and described.”

Added Carleton, “We also do our best to encourage neighbors to leave on porch lights.”

Local council members are also getting involved with the effort.

Councilman Kriss Worthington said Thursday that he is working together with Councilman Max Anderson’s office to refer the lighting issue to the city manager’s office and the public works department.

“It’s a heavily trafficked area with all the people getting off of BART and walking home,” said Worthington. “I’ve gone and walked and ridden my bike around there. It definitely is not very brightly lit.”

He said the city has struggled to keep up with lighting needs because its streetlight fund “is very limited” and “not in very good shape.” Worthington said he has pushed for LED lighting because it’s cheaper in the long term and could make a big difference.

(The city has applied for a loan to install LED lighting throughout Berkeley. According to city spokesman Matthai Chakko, the city has received a “preliminary award,” and is still discussing the terms of that offer, but “should know more by the end of the month.”)

In the meantime, said Worthington, the city needs to take a closer look at whether overgrown trees may be blocking existing lighting, and redouble trimming efforts. He said that, though the city’s resources are limited, firm steps must be taken if there’s an obvious problem.

“We need to look carefully,” he said. “Anywhere there’s a pattern of negative behavior in terms of robberies, we need to prioritize it.”

Berkeleyside provides exclusive coverage of many of Berkeley’s most serious crimes. Read more here.

Related:
Police join forces on Berkeley-Oakland robbery series (12.11.13)
Pregnant woman robbed at gunpoint in South Berkeley (12.10.13)
Berkeley man shot Sunday night at Ashby Flea Market (12.02.13)
4 Oakland teens arrested after Berkeley robbery attempt (11.07.13)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Berkeleyborn123

    I never said anything about banning guns-pointing them at someone is a form of using them, and I do think the police should confiscate weapons from known criminals who illegally own them

  • Guest

    I don’t think that’s accurate. I think she is just tired of providing evidence to someone who refuses to listen.

  • Guest

    Much more information about Max Anderson’s history of obstructionism and taking credit for the work of others in the community:

    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/10/18/anderson-and-belser-vie-for-district-3-council-seat/

  • Tizzielish

    I occasionally walk from the Ashby BART — I exit from the elevator on Shattuck. I am headed to Smokey J’s awesomely good BBQ place on Telegraph. Woolsey is the only street east of the Ashby BART that goes all the way through from Shattuck to Telegraph.

    I’m usually tired, esp. if I am picking up dinner on my way home cause I’m tired so I have made a point of identifying the through streets over to Telegraph. Make a wrong choice and I might have to walk several extra blocks.

    Maybe the city should block Woolsey at some point so it is not possible to walk through from Shattuck to Telegraph — a pain for the tired folks walking home from BART after a day’s work but maybe a safety improvement.

    it seems obvious that would-be street robbers stalk walkers on Woolsey because most folks walk on Woolsey because it is the shortest route if they have to get to Telegraph or further east.

    Lights would be a benefit, of course, but I think the main reason many folks walk along Woolsey is because it goes through. Robbers scope out the best places to rob, seeking cover of darkness and as much potential walking traffic as possible: Woolsey gives them that. Change the street format.

  • Tizzielish

    Would it be possible to add alarm buttons along Woolsey, the only street that goes through from Shattuck to Telegraph in that part of Berkeley?

    Can people carry personal alarms and set them off when they see three guys huddled? Making noise is not going to upset honest people and it might cause people bent on robbery to depart.

    Would being able to make noise be a deterrent? I don’t know.

    I do know that I stopped going to Smokey J’s because of all the street crime in that area.

    I know Oakland police have had lots of cut backs but the Oakland cop had the smarts to turn on that phone so the owner could track it, the Oakland police helped recover belongings. If the problem really were inadequate Oakland cops, wouldn’t there be more street crime in Oakland, with criminals knowing the odds of getting caught were slimmer?

    How about pedestrians wearing flashing lights — just attach flashing bicycle lights to your backpack, draw attention to yourself and have a noise alarm in your hand, ready to set it off.

    I don’t know if my suggestions are viable and I think better lighting is really needed.

    Also, why not patrol Woolsey during the hours when most of these crimes are committed? NOt in a police car, in a plain car. How about cops walking along Woolsey with a backpack, earbuds, maybe using an iphone to attract robbers? If word got out that it is hard to rob folks on Woolsey, wouldn’t that reduce crime?

    This is a significant quality of life issue. I am afraid to go out after dark. I won’t walk south of the U anymore because the streets are very dark, the sidewalks in disrepair and you can’t see the holes cause it’s so dark and robbers lurk waiting for students leaving libraries after studying. They know most students have a laptop and cell phone, at least, plus money, credit cards, maybe more tech toys. So I never walk there after dark.

    And when I do go out after dark, cause sometimes I just have to, I take nothing with me. I usually have a messenger bag with me at all times, cause w/o a car it is handy to have stuff, like a sweater, hat, gloves, wallet but now, if it is dark out, I take nothing but the clothtes I wear and I put $20 in a secret pocket of my Marmot. I am hoping that without a backpack or messenger bag, carrying nothing, potential robbers will look elsewhere.

    As far as a comment that observed that the thieves in the article seemed to act like ‘business as usual’, since they returned the keys. Duh. Most criminals do get into a state of mind where they are ‘working’ when they commit crimes, they do treat it like business as usual because it is for them.

    And let’s not overlook the criminals in office towers who raped the whole country with the real estate run-up, then junk mortgages turned into junk securities. No banker criminals have ever been charged with a crime, not so far, and yet it is likely street robberies have increased because of banker crimes. Let’s blame all the criminals, not just the low hanging robbery types.

  • ekoontz

    Take a pedestrian unfriendly station like Ashby and make it even less pedestrian friendly. Sounds like a plan, TIzzielish.

  • John Freeman

    are you pretending that a long-time city council rep has no power beyond what happens at council meetings?

    Nope.

    The question confronting us here is not whether or not council members ever exercise potentially extra-legal influence over city staff.

    The question before us here is the credibility of a specific claim, not a general one.

    The specific claim before us is that Anderson “blocked city action” against a liquor store near the BART station.

    The claim is a bit implausible on its face. City staff don’t show such deference to other long-seated council members (e.g., staff vs. the tenants of the city-owned mall just off Telegraph). No motive is apparent or has been suggested for Max to protect the owner of the liquor store. We’ve heard of no leverage that Max might yield against staff to block enforcement actions that way — his vote on council certainly doesn’t swing many votes.

    So in the end we have no apparent motive or opportunity — just a nasty rumor asserted angrily by a long-time political opponent of Anderson. Having some meaningful evidence, even if it fell short of proof, would have been interesting. Apparently no such evidence is coming.

    Do you think many would defy a city council rep who asked a cop a business owner, a social worker or anyone to ‘go easy’ on that liquor store?

    Yes, I do. Generally speaking it is city staff who hold the cards against individual city council members in this town. Staff endorsements are important in (some) elections. Staff cooperation (or heal-dragging) can make or break a member’s legislative efforts. Staff enjoy essentially absolute formal protection from council member influence in the charter. (The “go easy” communication you hypothesize would be actionable in and of itself.)

    Meanwhile, individual council members have no sweeping power over individual staff advancement or compensation. The city manager has incentive to actively, jealously guard her power over staff from council interference. The police chief as well.

    There is a lot of horse trading in Berkeley politics — of that I’m sure. This charge against Anderson, though, about the liquor store … it rings hollow.

    So here is a much simpler hypothesis:

    Regarding the liquor store — there really isn’t enough there. Neither in the employee busted for fencing phones or elsewhere is there really enough to warrant much “action” against the liquor store itself. A small number of people in the community complain very loudly about it but they are an exception. Some of the loudest voices in that group complain very loudly about a lot of things. The store is plausibly in technical violation of some minor issues but the cost / benefit of urgently chasing those down is questionable. Bgal4 is overinterpreting or has perhaps been misled by her anonymous sources to harbor untrue beliefs about a council member she already dislikes. And that’s about it.

    Yes, politics is dirty. But not every accusation levied at a politician is automatically true, even coming from bgal4.

    An irony in all of this is that if the store really is seen upon scrutiny to be a problem related to the current crime wave, I expect we’ll be seeing some Meehan-intitiated “action” before long. His incentives (and powers) are fully aligned against “going easy” on real problems in a situation like this.

    A city council rep, esp. in Berkeley, has great power and Max Anderson in particular flaunts his use of it. It enhances his power to make sure everyone knows he will flex his muscles if you defy his preferences.

    That’s rich.

  • guest

    Glad to see you back at true form. Good comments. Dissapointing to put it mildly when folks do not po up the evidence they claim to have. Will you be updating the Native Sun any time soon?

  • JuiceWeasel

    South Berkeley needs our prayers more than ever.

    Let’s send positive thoughts to all robbery victims.

    This has got to stop!

  • ekoontz

    Only your tears can save us, JuiceWeasel!

  • Guest

    For someone in Anderson’s position, a refusal to follow through on neighborhood complaints or assist citizens in their efforts to clean up the district is the same as blocking their attempts.

    As for motives, who can say. But Anderson has a long history of refusing to help constituent groups tackle the problems of crime and blight in his district.

    Russell, Oregon and California St ROC neighborhood group met for 10
    years at the Young Adult Program on a regular basis with city officials.
    ROC joined with other south Berkeley neighborhood groups to form the
    South Berkeley Crime Prevention Council. Max did not participate in any
    of the 4 years of meetings between SBCPC and the city on policy and
    practice. We were so effective that certain politicians focused on
    obstruction. According to city hall staff it was Max Anderson who
    initiated a NEW fee schedule to charge residents $62 hr to use our
    recreation center for neighborhood crime prevention meetings.

    Max was against shutting down B-Town. His appointee to ZAB Toya
    Groves was the strongest supporter of B-Town Dollar Store, with her
    partner Chris Smith they mounted a racist attack on residents. Only
    after another shooting involving the dealers hanging out at B-Town did
    residents publicly confront Anderson and he was forced to accept the
    nuisance abatement solution.

    Talk to retired Capt Ahearn about who is responsible for the 5 years
    of focused effort to get the city to take action on B-Town. It was NOT
    MAX. Again the true story is a tale of enormous waste of financial
    resources, and the city slogging through years only to be forced to
    abate the nuisance when the shootings couldn’t be ignored.

    All the important lessons the city learned in the B-Town abatement
    process have been forgotten. We are back to square 1 in our current
    fight to get the city to shut down the illegal pot club 3PG. They supply
    street level drug sales which of course supports the return of turf
    battles to Sacramento St.

  • Tizzielish

    Have you ever tried to have any conversation with BPD dispatchers? They always rush you off, have no interest in listening to any details you think are relevant to what you are reporting. They cut you off and often hang up on you.

    Seems to me the BPD dispatchers have been trained to keep calls as short as possible and they are not paid to think at all, so they can’t exercise any judgment. Police dispatchers have a lot of power and influence over how crimes are dealt with but they are often rude to the public. I have had many hang up on me just because I said “would you please just listen to what I want to tell you before you cut me off?” and then they hang up, without listening.

  • Tizzielish

    I believe our current worthless city manager is a chick, but overpaid like her predescessor, a male, was, to be sure.

    Tsk tsk on the sexism.

  • bgal4

    guest (TL) and Freeman (Ted) review recent comments on Next door south Berkeley which include multiple emails cc’d to Max about the street lighting problems on Woolsey, the site of the current robberies. The emails are dated 2010, Anderson office never bothered to reply much less provide constituent services.

  • emraguso

    Via the Berkeley Police Department: The initial description provided was of a black male, 20 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall and 180 pounds, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.
    I’m not sure that’s really much to go on. Generally we do not include race unless there is more specific information about the description — such as more specific skin color, clothing, vehicle information, etc.
    Personally, it seems a safer bet to look out for suspicious behavior and activity. Providing this kind of description really doesn’t help in my opinion, but there it is, since you asked.

  • Guest

    Hard to do legally. Berkeley has some stupid laws regarding outdoor lighting.

  • fourgencali

    When the ERC was BART station access, there were lights that later were removed when ERC went up. I have lived directly across the street from ERC (on Woolsey) and reported this situation twice directly to Councilmember Anderson. It has not improved.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe people are being robbed because Berkeley police are always seen driving around in north oakland. “If they’re here they’re not there” lol