Violent crime was down in Berkeley in 2018 for the first time in recent years, Berkeley police reported Tuesday night, and property crime was down, too.
Police Chief Andrew Greenwood and Capt. Ed Spiller presented the annual crime report to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night, providing updates on crime statistics, cases of interest, staffing and other enforcement campaigns.
The annual crime report primarily tracks what the FBI calls “Part 1” crimes, most of which are serious felonies: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft and larceny, which consists of grand and petty theft and auto burglary. The FBI collects this data from local agencies as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting program to monitor national crime trends.
In 2018, Berkeley saw a 12% reduction in violent crime, with 80 fewer reports than 2017, and a 10% reduction in property crime, with 630 fewer reports than the prior year, police said. Because the number of violent crimes in Berkeley is relatively small, it doesn’t take much to produce double-digit changes. Numbers were down in all eight categories except arson, police said, which was flat.
Council members said they were pleased to see the lower numbers. One common theme they noted was that, despite upticks in recent years, Berkeley is much safer overall than it was decades ago. But many people feel less safe, Councilwoman Sophie Hahn pointed out, because it’s now much easier to learn about crime reports from social media and other sources.
In Berkeley, the biggest decreases in 2018 came in the aggravated assault and rape categories. Aggravated assaults were down 22%, from 218 reports in 2017 to 170 last year. Police said they believe ongoing political clashes in 2017, which for the most part did not recur in 2018, had driven up those numbers. Rape reports were down 25%, from 87 reports in 2017 to 65 last year.
Home burglaries were down 6% and auto burglaries dropped 18%, according to police data. Auto thefts dropped 12%.
Capt. Spiller noted that, while there were no homicides in 2018, the number of confirmed shootings increased from 15 in 2017 to 20 last year.
“We believe that at least 12 of the 20 shooting incidents were gang-related,” he told council. “Arrests were made in seven cases and suspects have been identified in several others. With each shooting, our officers and detectives go to great lengths to identify and arrest the responsible parties, take guns off the streets and prevent further incidents.”
He also highlighted arrests detectives had made in connection with two back-to-back gang-related shootings in South Berkeley on the same April night last year. The shootings, which occurred within 10 minutes of each other, took place in the 1600 block of Russell Street and the 2900 block of Mabel Street: “Detectives wrote 25 search warrants, and served many of them with the help of our Special Response Team. Four guns were recovered and four people subsequently arrested in relation to the two shootings on April 12. Investigators were able to link several other shooting incidents to these suspects,” Spiller said.
Robberies were essentially flat for the third year in a row, he said. The city averages about a robbery a day. While 2018 saw fewer pedestrian robberies than the prior year, thefts and robberies of laptop computers rose slightly, he said. Spiller said a “prolific group” of people from Vallejo that was “committing laptop thefts and robberies from Sacramento to Monterey” had been linked to 12 cases in Berkeley last year.
One break in the case came when an off-duty BPD officer driving home happened to notice that the CHP had pulled over a black Volkswagen in Hercules that matched the description of a getaway car linked to that series: “Robbery detectives were notified and the suspects were placed under arrest. During the follow-up interview, one of the suspects stated that they had, ‘focused their efforts on the area near UC Berkeley because a lot of people there had laptops.'”
Spiller said BPD had also made strides in addressing bike theft in the city by focusing on hot spots and keeping a closer eye on repeat offenders. In 2015, Berkeley had 774 bike theft reports. Since the city stepped up its enforcement, those numbers have dropped each year, to a low of 483 in 2018. BPD has made nearly 100 bike theft arrests since 2016, Spiller said.
Chief Greenwood told city officials how he has tried to address chronically low staffing at the department in recent years. Numbers appear to be looking up in 2019, he said. Last fall, Greenwood created a recruitment team to increase the number of applicants who hope to become Berkeley police officers. He said he’s optimistic about how the team has tackled the problem, going to job fairs and using social media to spread the word.
“While we are on the path to recovery, it required hundreds of mandatory overtime shifts to keep our patrol teams staffed through the summer,” he told officials. He said BPD had also struggled to meet “baseline service needs,” and that he’d had to “drastically reduce the number of motor officers” as well as resources in the Special Enforcement Unit, which handles narcotics and weapons investigations.
Greenwood said he currently has 164 officers and would still need to hire more than 30 people to get to the department’s authorized level. (He did not say how many of the 164 are injured, in training or on leave.)
Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani said she was glad to see that serious crime had dropped: “I think we need to celebrate that. But I know we have had very serious shootings.” She said the city needs to “remain vigilant” in its crime prevention efforts going forward.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he was impressed by the investigative work that led to arrests in some of the city’s shootings last year, as well as Greenwood’s attempts to address the staffing crunch.
Council members also brought up the issue of how to help people on the street who may be in crisis. Some said they’d like to see more city resources providing mental health and homeless outreach services, saying that people don’t always want to call police. Greenwood said officers who are called to address immediate safety concerns also work to put community members in touch with other available resources and services they may need.
Councilwoman Lori Droste told Greenwood she’s concerned about “car violence” and the number of pedestrian injuries in Berkeley. She said she would like police to ensure that more “dangerous drivers are ticketed.”
BPD said it currently has two motorcycle officers and is working on training two more, among other steps to increase traffic enforcement: “Our traffic collisions were up last year compared to the year before,” Spiller told her.
How do Berkeley crime levels compare?
Statewide numbers and statistics for other cities from 2018 will not be published by the FBI until later this year, making broader comparisons tough to glean at this time. But historic numbers provide some context.
As of 2017, the most recent year available, California overall had 451 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In Berkeley that year, the rate per 100,000 people was 555. That number dropped to 484 in Berkeley last year.
The Bay Area has the highest property crime rate in the state, according to the PPIC, with a rate of 3,049 property crimes per 100,000 people as of 2017, compared to 2,491 statewide. Berkeley’s property crime numbers were significantly higher that year, with a rate of 4,984 per 100,000 people. In 2018, Berkeley had a rate of 4,419.
According to the PPIC, property crime decreased in most counties in 2017. Alameda County was one of just five large counties in the state that saw increases that year.
Want to dig deeper into the numbers? The California attorney general’s office collects statewide crime statistics and the FBI collects numbers nationwide. To calculate crime rates, the state Department of Finance publishes the most reliable population estimates on an annual basis.