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Neighborhood cleanup

Matthew Artz
Thursday September 19, 2002

Last spring residents at 10th Street and Allston Way in west Berkeley demanded help. Their corner had been invaded by out-of-town drug dealers, they said, who intimidated neighbors and forced parents to keep their kids indoors. 

“It was the worst I had ever seen,” said Rebecca Falzone, a 13-year resident whose husband was attacked by a street dealer last spring. 

Since then things have changed. 

At a community meeting May 29, residents told police and city officials that they were under siege, and the city responded.  

What neighbor Barbara Gregory called “a nightmare living there” started to end the very next day. 

On May 30, the Berkeley Police Department started a drug crackdown, arresting 20 people for narcotic sales, several of whom had sold at 10th and Allston.  

Following the sting, residents didn’t expect significant changes. But since the May 30 arrests, 20 more people have been arrested for narcotic sales, police said. 

Neighbors have noticed a difference. 

“It’s been so much better,” said Falzone, who said some drug dealing persists but that the neighborhood “might be the quietest it has ever been.” 

Falzone and her neighbors attribute their relatively tranquil streets to a citywide strategy in which the police department and the city manager’s office work with neighbors to solve problems. 

In March, west Berkeley neighbors reported the drug activity to Sgt. Erik Upson, a community services officer. Upson sent beat officers and the police’s Special Enforcement Unit (SEU), an elite undercover team, to hit the streets. 

The SEU began a sting operation to arrest not only street level dealers but their suppliers.  

Rachel Crossman, a 15-year resident, pulled together neighborhood watch groups to help police investigators close in on their targets. 

“The neighborhood watch provides immeasurable help,” Upson said. “They see things 24/7 so they can tell us which house is a problem at which time of the day.”  

Although many neighbors were hoping that police would immediately arrest the drug dealers, Upson said that quick arrests would have been a temporary fix. “When we target for the long term, we get good cases on people so they don’t move down to other neighborhoods,” he said.  

Still, Upson acknowledged that the reduction of drug activity at 10th and Allston has been accompanied by increased activity elsewhere. But city officials are using their strategy in other blighted areas. Upson said that as the program matures results will come more quickly. 

Meanwhile, west Berkeley neighbors are pleased with the results. “The police were right on it,” said Rob Crossman. “It’s nice to see the city and the community work together.”