Stepped-up police patrolling in Southwest Berkeley following two recent shootings has led to the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Ronald Easiley, a 19-year-old who was shot to death on Jan. 14 on Harmon Street in Berkeley. Desmen Lankford, 19, was arrested Tuesday evening after leading police on a foot chase to the 1400 block of Alcatraz Avenue in Oakland.
Since the June 17 and 18 shootings of two men—one on Alcatraz Street near California Street and another on the 1600 block of Russell—the Berkeley Police Department has added six officers to patrol Southwest Berkeley neighborhoods exclusively. Department spokesperson Mary Kusmiss said police are using “proactive” tactics to avert future violence, including pulling people over for traffic violations and detaining and searching known parolees and probationers. The increased activity, most of it carried out by the department’s nine-person violence suppression unit, has led to the arrest of several parole and probation violators, the retrieval of crack cocaine and the confiscation of eight guns, including two assault rifles.
In another incident, Berkeley police on June 21 at 11:55 a.m. attempted to pull over a 1992 blue Buick, believing that one of the riders was Lankford. A short pursuit ended up on 60th street near Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Three of the four people in the car escaped. Police confiscated a Mac 10 firearm.
Oakland police have also stepped up patrols, both in response to the Berkeley shootings and to the increased gunfire in areas near Oakland’s border with South Berkeley. One Oakland incident stands out: On June 19 at 11:30 a.m., a man opened fire at Aileen and Dover, spraying five houses with gunfire and almost hitting a woman holding a baby.
There were also two shootings in Oakland on June 17: one at 11:35 a.m. in front of 6106 Shattuck Ave., and a second at 10 p.m. on the corner of Genoa and 53rd streets.
Oakland Lt. Lawrence Green, who oversees community policing for North Oakland, is warning residents to stay out of certain areas along the border of Oakland and Berkeley, saying the recent wave of violence is a result of a feud between rival factions battling over drug trade territory. In an e-mail to a listserv that includes dozens of North Oakland residents, Green wrote, “It appears inevitable that there will be continued violence in North Oakland and South Berkeley,” adding that “the bottom line is that North Oakland drug dealers are responsible for multiple murders and shootings in Berkeley, and Berkeley drug dealers are banding together to ‘take out’ the North Oakland dealers.”
In that same e-mail, Green identified seven spots that may be vulnerable to drug-related crime. In Berkeley, those hot spots are Prince and California streets, Russell and Sacramento streets, San Pablo Park and the 1600 block of 62nd street. In Oakland, the areas include the Alcatraz Street corridor, Shattuck Avenue and 62nd street near the Berkeley border.
Green said he got the information about a possible link to a drug turf war from Berkeley police. But Kusmiss declined to confirm that theory. “Clearly if there’s violence going on there has to be some kind of catalyst,” she said. “But absent having people in custody to interview in order to confirm that, we can’t say for certain. It could be a feud over a relationship or some other reason. We just can’t be 100 percent sure.”
Kusmiss also said the Berkeley Police Department is not issuing such “stay-away” warnings. “Certainly we think that you should put out crime information to protect people, but the [Berkeley Police] Department would never tell people to avoid an area. We don’t want to incite panic or fear,” she said.
Some Southwest Berkeley residents say they are fearful anyway. Laura Menard is a retired massage therapist and mother of two who has lived in Southwest Berkeley for 25 years. She was at her Russell Street home having dinner with a friend on the evening of June 18 when she heard gunshots. She later learned that a 31-year-old Oakland man had been shot on the 1600 block of Russell, two blocks from her house.
“This is not unusual,” she said, adding that she sees drug dealing and hears gunfire on a regular basis, and has witnessed shootings of people on at least two occasions, including once with her child. “It’s unnerving. The threat of assault weapons in the neighborhood has me constantly concerned about my kids’ safety,” she said. “People in the rest of Berkeley don’t understand how different it is in this neighborhood than the rest of Berkeley.”
Menard said she and her neighbors are planning to develop a proposal to revamp the city’s community policing model to look more like Oakland’s and will present it at the July 17 South Berkeley Police town hall meeting. Those changes include looking at trends over a broader area rather than just block by block, meeting with neighbors more often to discuss solutions and establishing a Web site and hotline to increase communication between police and residents.
Ozzie Vincent is a longtime Berkeley resident who lives on Alcatraz between Martin Luther King Blvd. and Shattuck Avenue. Living on the border, Vincent has worked with both Berkeley police and Oakland police in getting crime problems addressed in his neighborhood. He said Berkeley police could learn from Oakland’s community policing system. “With Oakland, it’s a real problem solving give-and-take. You never see anything like that in Berkeley,” he said.
Another resident, who didn’t want her name published, said one of the problems is that many neighbors are afraid to report crime to police. She said a particularly useful tool is the court-ordered, stay-away order, which bans parolees from being in certain drug trafficking areas. “A lot of people won’t talk to police, and they pretend they don’t care when they see drug dealing on the street, even when in private they admit it does bother them,” she said. “They think I’m crazy for making it known.”