Scroll to the bottom of this story for a statement from the Oakland Police Department about Thursday’s investigation.
Local police officers made at least three arrests at undisclosed locations around Berkeley on Thursday morning. Those operations were reportedly part of a broader sweep by the Oakland Police Department to crack down on gang activities tied to East Oakland.
Police have not released the names of the people who were arrested, where the arrests took place, or the potential charges faced by those taken into custody.
But, beginning in the early morning hours Thursday, residents around the city took to Twitter to ask Berkeleyside to find out about police actions that included what appeared to be SWAT teams, officers who looked to be heavily armed and hovering helicopters.
Residents described police activity near San Pablo Park in West Berkeley, at Acton and Derby streets, and at Cedar and Sixth Streets.
Reports about helicopters circling over West Berkeley began coming in around 5:20 a.m., according to one resident. Some said the early morning action and helicopter activity, which lasted at least 45 minutes, appeared to be focused near San Pablo Park, at 2800 Park St. One local reader wrote just before 7 a.m. that she “just saw armored Special Response Vehicle full of men wearing (what looked like) camouflage return to BPD station.”
Another reader said officers were in the 2700 block of Acton Street, near Derby Street, sometime before 8:30 a.m.: “A neighbor reports that there was a great deal of police activity,” he wrote on Twitter, where another neighborhood resident said she saw an armored car. Added another at 9:10 a.m.: “Armored cars and Special Response Vehicles on Acton, cuffed civilians on street. What is up @berkeleyside”
A third incident was reported on Cedar and Sixth. Wrote one local resident by email: “There were several police cars, including at least two from Oakland, a military style transport vehicle, and 8-12 ‘Police’ wearing camouflage, several carrying rifles. At least two people were arrested outside an apartment building just south of Cedar. I asked what was going on and all they’d say is ‘search warrant.’ They took at least those two people away in a white van.”
He said police were done with their business on the block by about 8:30 a.m.
A woman in that neighborhood said she saw “a full on swat team with guns wearing camo outside of the apartment building on the 1600 block of 6th. I am a neighbor … There was a officer in our back yard ‘keeping us safe.'”
Officer Ethell Wilson, a Berkeley Police spokesman, confirmed by email at 11:40 a.m. that police activity did take place in Berkeley on Thursday. But he said he could not release any details about the locations where that activity took place because it pertained to an Oakland Police Department investigation.
“BPD assisted OPD with three search and arrest warrants in our city,” he wrote. “The search warrant yielded at least three arrests from the target locations. Armored vehicles were used as protection for the search warrant teams. Support Agencies provided the armored vehicles. The City of Berkeley does not own armored vehicles nor helicopters.”
Wilson said he did not have any information about the helicopters reported by residents: “It is unclear to what extent helicopters were used for the operations since BPD did not request helicopter support.”
He referred further questions about the incidents to the Oakland Police Department: “OPD can provide any other details regarding this morning’s police activities since this matter is still under investigation.”
Shortly before 10 a.m., the Oakland Police Department released the following statement on Nixle about Thursday’s operations, but did not mention activity in Berkeley: “This morning, March 5, 2015, the Oakland Police Department and partnering law enforcement agencies served search and arrest warrants within our city. The search and arrest warrants were safely conducted.
“Our outreach and explanation on social media is to advise and inform our community of this morning’s events. Our goal is to inform the community as we work together making our city safer.
“The circumstances surrounding these warrants pertain to open and active investigations, and only limited information can be shared at this time.”
At 10 a.m., the Oakland Police Department also sent out a notice to reporters by email about a press conference scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in East Oakland, at the Acts Full Gospel Church. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, “and allied agencies will be available to discuss the culmination of a long-term criminal investigation.”
Berkeleyside does not plan to attend the press conference, as it was an Oakland operation, but will monitor other outlets for updates later this afternoon.
Update, 3 p.m. The Oakland Police Department said in a statement to the media — as reported by the Oakland Tribune — that Thursday morning’s operations were the culmination of a lengthy investigation that resulted in the arrests of 16 suspected gang members in Berkeley, Oakland and Stockton. The operation was an effort to crack down on a feud between rival East Oakland gang members from the 65th Avenue and 69th Village gangs, authorities said. Police served 22 search warrants as part of the crackdown. Read more from the Oakland Tribune.
Update, 5 p.m. The Oakland Police Department released the following statement on Nixle just after 4:30 p.m. It appears below in full.
Community: Long-Term Criminal Investigation Culminates with Arrests
Dear Nixle User,
Today Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent were joined by representatives from the community; the California Department of Justice; the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office; the Alameda County Probation Department; the Oakland Housing Authority; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Marshals; City of Oakland councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid; Bishop Bob Jackson, Pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church; and the California Highway Patrol at a press conference discussing the culmination of a long-term criminal investigation.
The investigation focused on two of the most active and violent street gangs in the City of Oakland, 65th Ave Gang and 69th Ave Village Gang. The 65th Ave and 69th Ave Village gangs have a long history of violence and feuding that goes back decades. The 2014 murder of a high ranking 69th Ave Village gang member prompted increased tension between the groups.
Recognizing the serious potential for retaliation and continued violence, we utilized the Ceasefire Strategy to focus our attention on the groups. We communicated directly with several members of each gang warning them to stop the violence and advising them that alternatives existed. Some of the individuals we communicated with chose not to engage in violence. We focused our collective resources on those individuals who chose to continue their involvement in violent crime.
Together with our partner agencies, we worked diligently to gather the information and intelligence needed to put together these criminal cases. The suspects identified are responsible for numerous violent crimes, including shootings, assaults, burglaries, and street robberies.
Chief Whent said, “We are relieved to have built cases on these violent individuals. This extensive investigation was made possible because of the continued commitment of our partner agencies. We understand we have much more work to do and we are dedicated to our role in creating a safer Oakland.”
“This community has made it clear that stopping gun violence is our number one priority. That is why we are using the proven strength of the Ceasefire partnership to help end this plague in our city,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “This partnership is about giving people the opportunity to make better choices, but also being extremely clear that we will make good on our promise of harsh consequences if you continue on a path of violence. The individuals that were arrested today were not only guilty of gang violence, but also of terrorizing Oaklanders with carjackings, home invasions and street robberies. Taking them off our streets is an important step toward helping Oakland realize its amazing potential and giving residents back their right to live without fear.”
“We are committed to dismantling violent street gangs terrorizing our communities,” said Attorney General Kamala Harris. “I want to thank our Department of Justice agents and the Oakland Police Department for their work to keep our communities safe.”
Some of the firearms recovered during the course of this long-term investigation are pictured below. [Editor’s note: The photographs appear on Berkeleyside to the upper right.]
Berkeleyside updated this story after publication but made no factual changes other than the 3 p.m. update, which included a short note about the press conference in Oakland, and the 5 p.m. statement from the Oakland Police Department.
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