Neighbors talk surveillance, robberies, code enforcement at community crime watch meeting

Thefts and burglaries from vehicles from Jan. 29 to Feb. 25. The blue hexagons show unlocked vehicles. Source: BPD
Thefts and burglaries from vehicles from Jan. 29 to Feb. 25. The blue hexagons show unlocked vehicles. Source: BPD

Berkeley residents who participate in community crime prevention efforts met with police this week to share concerns and learn about recent crime trends.

Block captains and members of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee shared updates on everything from break-ins and vehicle thefts to thoughts about a recent homicide.

Aggressive door knockers, a new approach underway by police to deal with residential alarms, recurring auto burglaries and tips about surveillance cameras were among the issues discussed by neighbors Monday night.

About 20 people attended the meeting, along with Berkeley Police officer Byron White and Berkeley Police Capt. Erik Upson. BART’s police department sent a representative to the session.


Some attendees discussed the issue of how to deal with safety problems in public housing projects, as well as how to work with local landlords to clean up nuisance properties.

One community member described an extensive video surveillance set-up he has at home, which he uses to share information regularly with police. After a variety of questions about the system from those in attendance, Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee leader Barbara Allen said that topic could be one to revisit in more depth at a future meeting.

Officer Byron White, the area coordinator in North Berkeley’s Area 1, gave a formal presentation to participants that included everything from recent crime trends to projects underway by the police department and safety tips for neighbors. (See the presentation here.)

White described recent issues that have come up across the city in its four main police areas.

In North Berkeley, Area 1, auto burglaries and vehicle thefts, residential burglaries and a perceived influx of the homeless have been issues of late.


Southside, in Area 2, pedestrian robberies, noise complaints and loud parties, petty theft and auto burglaries have been noted.

Downtown and into South Berkeley, in Area 3, community members have reported pedestrian robberies, commercial burglaries and various quality of life issues related to drug dealing and belligerent behavior.

Over in South and West Berkeley, in Area 4, reported issues have been related to street gang activity, auto burglaries at the marina and on Gilman near the freeway, problematic properties on Sacramento Street and at the Gilman underpass, and gang activity at Strawberry Creek Park, as well other area issues with homelessness.

Capt. Upson, from the Police Department, noted that there has been a recent regional trend of auto burglaries near highway off-ramps, which has been tied to methamphetamine use.

The Police Department is working on an effort to restructure its beat map to better reflect current resources and calls for service across Berkeley. White said Berkeley residents should expect surveys, town hall meetings and more later in the year. The annual crime report from the police chief is expected in March or April, White added.


Officers in attendance said there has been increased collaboration with local probation authorities to deal with the return of repeat offenders into communities following a statewide effort to reduce prison overcrowding and costs.

“It’s a challenge for us,” said White, “not to take anything away from the courts, which are inundated but, given the situation and the realities, to try and focus our resources and our energies on the worst offenders and biggest recidivists.”

White said there’s been a trend this year related to commercial burglaries from restaurant registers. Nine burglaries were reported between Jan. 7 and Feb. 27 from businesses on Shattuck Avenue, University Avenue and nearby. He said business owners would be wise to empty the cash drawer at the end of the day, and leave the drawer open as a signal to would-be burglars. Allen Cain, of the Solano Avenue Association, said merchants on the avenue often leave the empty drawer in plain view of the front door to dissuade thieves.

White said that, so far this year, robberies are down by more than half compared to the same period last year, and down significantly, from an average of eight per week, compared to the end of 2013.

So far this year, robberies have been down significantly from the same period last year. Source: BPD
So far this year, robberies have been down significantly from the same period last year. Click the chart to see White’s presentation. Source: BPD

Upson mentioned a current effort underway in the department to investigate how putting surveillance cameras on problematic liquor stores might improve safety. He said council had directed the police department to look into the matter.


Meeting attendees, including former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, pushed the Police Department to make it easier for residents to see crime statistics for both the city and the university in a combined map and data set, “just to get a better picture of what’s going on.” Added Dean: “We need the numbers…. The total picture gets very fuzzy and blurred for people.”

One meeting attendee, longtime South Berkeley crime and safety activist Laura Menard, said there needs to be more information flowing between residents and the Police Department for real improvements to be made. She said neighborhood groups get less information than in the past from police, and that certain tactics groups used to use, and have been shown to be effective, are no longer supported by the city.

In the past, police would give neighborhood groups easy access to arrest docket reports, books of mugshots, and better alerts when violent offenders would move back into neighborhoods, said Menard. And, with those tools, community members learned how to submit “neighborhood impact letters” to the courts to help affect sentencing outcomes and advocate for stiffer penalties.

“We had all that information flowing between the police and the community,” she said. “We already invented the wheel and the city dismantled it. But that’s how problem solving actually works at the community level.”

White said he understood the frustration, and asked everyone in attendance to share suggestions about what they’d like to see from police, and what their neighborhood problems are. He said police are listening, and want to hear directly from the community. Officers are always available to meet with resident or business groups about issues of concern, he added.

The Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee’s largest meeting of the year, the annual block captains meeting, is coming up April 7. The session is for block captains only, but community members who are interested to participate in BSNC can email Barbara Allen for information. Have other questions about crime in your neighborhood? Find local police contacts here.

Related:
Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety (04.18.13)
Police newsletter: Thieves sought, burglars caught (03.13.13)

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