For the first eight months of the year, Berkeley proved the East Bay’s hot spot for thefts, burglaries and other forms of property crime—topping the rates for Richmond and Oakland—while the city’s crimes of violence ranked in the mid-range.
That’s the word from Police Chief Douglas N. Hambleton, who gave the City Council a detailed crime briefing Tuesday. He said his department would begin presenting the council with quarterly updates.
Tuesday’s presentation, prepared with the help of city Information Technology mapping specialist Patrick DeTemple and Sgt. Steve Odom of BPD’s Community Services Bureau, also included the unveiling of a new Internet tool for the public.
Incorporating many of the features currently used in a similar site operated by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the webpage will allow the public to see crime maps created by selecting an area and one or more types of crime.
Among the crime statisics reported by Hambleton:
• Violent crimes in the first eight months of 2005 dropped by 2.8 percent from the same period last year.
• Robberies, of which there were 223, accounted for 63 percent of all violent crimes, a decrease of 9 percent from last year, while aggravated assaults (116) increased by 6 percent from 109 in 2004; homicides dropped from 3 to 2.
• Thefts accounted for the lion’s share of property crimes (3,650 of 5,390), followed by car thefts (892), burglaries (829) and arsons (19).
• Berkeley’s homicide rate was 3.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, compared with 36.4 in Richmond and 22.5 in Oakland.
• The rate of rapes in Berkeley was 14.5 per 100,000, compared to 37.4 in Richmond and 70.2 in Oakland.
• The robbery rate was 318 per 100,000, compared to 520 in Richmond and 586.8 in Oakland.
• Berkeley’s property crime rate was 8,007.7 per 100,000, compared to 6,476.5 in Richmond and 6,015.8 in Oakland.
Councilmembers praised the mapping project.
“I’m very grateful to see objective information” made available, said Max Anderson. “It will be very helpful not only for us as policy-makers and for you, but for the community.”
Kriss Worthington, whose Southside district includes the highest concentrations of both property crimes and violent crimes, said he liked the idea, but added that he would like to see an additional factor included in the data—population density.
Noting that a two-block area of his district houses about 2,000 students, he said it’s no wonder there is a concentration of crime. Perhaps, he suggested, another tool that could be added to the mapping program would display information in a way that reflected density as well as geographic areas.
“The caveats you’re raising should be addressed,” DeTemple said.
“Density maps are very interesting,” Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said. “We need a description of a general policy where the goal is that the rates should be the same for all parts of the city. I would like to see options for what can be done within the department and other city departments to lower (the rates) within the hotspots.”
De Temple said Berkeley’s crime mapping site will include design features suggested in meetings between Odom’s bureau and members of neighborhood watch and other community groups.
“The big point to me is that for crime prevention, the better picture we have, the better outreach we can do,” Chief Hambleton said.
Included in the presentation to the council were detailed color maps pinpointing the distribution of different kinds of crimes in the city. But the bulk of the discussion focused on the current crime data in the chief’s report.
Hambleton said violent crime has been dropping throughout the country. “Now, in Berkeley, it’s lower than during the 1970s,” he said.
Violent crime figures listed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national crime report showed a larger-than-usual drop for Berkeley because of change in the city’s own reporting methods for aggravated assault, said the chief.
In previous years the city had been including crimes not reported by other cities, including robberies, assaults, kidnaps and other crimes that could have resulted in great bodily injuries but didn’t. The FBI figures specify that only those crimes that result in such injuries be included in the category.
“We corrected the figures internally in 2003, but now in time for the report to the Department of Justice,” said Hambleton, “the 2004 figures are correct.”
Worthington asked if open doors and windows accounted for part of the city’s high property crime rate, noting that college students often left dorm rooms unlocked. He also wondered if the same thing was true with auto burglaries.
“Sometimes,” said the chief, adding that “30 to 40 percent of residential burglaries are via unlocked doors and windows.”
The high rate of auto burglaries may stem in part from the large numbers of out-of-city residents who commute to Berkeley for their jobs and studies at the university. Another factor, he said, was the relatively high percentage of cars which are parked on streets overnight.
Car burglars won’t hesitate to smash windows when something of value is left in a locked car, he said. “They will break the windows if they see a handful of change, and that drives a lot of this,” he said.
In addition, most of the car thefts in Berkeley are simply the result of someone wanting wheels to drive to home to places like Oakland and Richmond, which accounts for the 88 percent recovery rate of cars stolen in the city,” Hambleton said.
Councilmember Laurie Capitelli asked the chief what percent of Berkeley crimes were committed by people who live outside the city, adding, “Where could you find more laptop computers than in the South Campus area?”
Hambleton said that the department’s last look at the issue was done a few years ago, and revealed that more than half of Berkeley’s robbery suspects came from outside city limits.
Hambleton said that the new crime displays provide a way for his department to offer better outreach to the community.
“We have concentrated a great deal of our efforts on violent crimes, and we haven’t spent as much on property crimes,” he said. With the new system, “there are opportunities for us with better analysis and coordination within the department, to do that.”
And to do that best, Hambleton said, the department needs a full-time crime analyst, a point he raised several times during Tuesday’s session.
Capitelli, who heads a real estate firm, said he was concerned that the maps might discourage people looking into renting an apartment or buying a residence in Berkeley. Similarly, he said, current residents might be discouraged by discovering they live in high crime areas.
“Rather than seeing them vote with their feet, we’d like to see them vote with their locks,” said the chief, “because a lot of the crimes are easily avoided.”