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City’s crime rate jumps dramatically

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Wednesday March 27, 2002

Crime in Berkeley rose 16.5 percent between 2000 and 2001, well above the statewide average of 5.8 percent, according to statistics released Monday by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. 

The city saw a small reduction in violent crime, such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault, but there were significant jumps in property crime. The burglary rate surged 29 percent, and motor vehicle theft increased by 15 percent. 

Politicians and neighborhood activists suggested that the surge in crime may be related to last year’s dip in the economy, but the Berkeley Police Department warned against jumping to conclusions. 

“I don’t have an explanation for the increase in crime,” said BPD spokesperson Lt. Cynthia Harris. 

Harris said the department is examining the increase in property crime and will develop appropriate responses. Increased surveillance, extra officers on the street and an expanded undercover operation are all possibilities, she said. 

“I’m very distressed,” said Mayor Shirley Dean, reacting to the statistics. “We really need to find out how we can more effectively use our resources so that these numbers go down.” 

Dean said there are no easy answers.  

“I feel sort of frustrated in how we approach this,” she said. The mayor said she will confer with City Manager Weldon Rucker and Police Chief Dash Butler about the best response, but suggested that greater attention to small, quality of life issues, like speeding, might have an effect on larger crime concerns. 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the city has already focused on quality of life concerns in the downtown area. 

Worthington said his chief concern is beefing up the police presence in the most dangerous neighborhoods. 

“We have focused on making businesspeople happy more than making neighborhoods happy,” he said. “Are we putting enough police hours into south and west Berkeley?” 

Councilmember Dona Spring urged residents to make use of police department resources in safeguarding their cars and homes. She said the department will conduct safety checks on homes upon request and provide assistance in developing neighborhood watch groups. 

Neighborhood activists said they were caught off guard by the statistical jump. 

“I was surprised,” said Zelda Bronstein, president of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association in North Berkeley. Bronstein said her neighborhood saw a wave of burglaries in January and February of this year, but that police action had apparently put a stop to them. 

Charles Robinson, a South Berkeley activist, said the figures reinforce the importance of neighbors looking out for neighbors. 

“It puts us on the alert,” Robinson said, “particularly for our seniors.” 

Lockyer’s report includes crime statistics for 75 California jurisdictions with populations of 100,000 or more. The state combined homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft figures into a California Crime Index, yielding the 16.5 percent figure for Berkeley. 

The FBI Crime Index, also cited in the report, adds larceny theft and arson to the equation. According to the FBI index, crime in Berkeley rose 21 percent between 2000 and 2001.