Public Comment

Commentary: Is There a Better Way?

By Vincent Casalaina
Friday May 19, 2006

Berkeley has a real problem with property crime and no part of Berkeley has been untouched by this rising tide of crime. Our City needs to make a clear statement that the rate of property crimes must be reduced and that there are concrete steps that will be taken to achieve that goal. 

Berkeley’s auto theft rate in 2003 was 50 percent greater than Oakland’s and 100 percent greater than the state of California’s. Between 2000 and 2003 the auto theft rate in Berkeley increased 11 percent each year. To lower this rate we need to look for innovative solutions, solutions that leverage our tax dollars to achieve the most reduction possible.  

Auto theft hits hardest at working people. In 2004, California’s top 10 stolen vehicles averaged 12 years old and were worth $2,750. These cars often represent people’s primary means of getting to work and they are probably not covered by insurance against theft. When these cars are stolen, the theft severely disrupts the lives of those who depend on them. 

I have proposed a community-based plan that has the potential to both reduce auto theft and to directly aid those residents who have suffered from this crime. The proposal asks the city to adopt as policy the installation of unobservable vehicle protection systems in cars in Berkeley.  

Research in other communities by Ayers and Levitt on Lojack (the most widely used GPS based unobservable vehicle protection system) show a clear correlation between the rate of penetration of these systems and the reduction of auto thefts. This was particularly striking in Boston where a 5 percent penetration rate led to a 50 percent reduction in auto thefts. Over 90 percent of the cars with Lojack installed were returned within 24 hours. Boston is not Berkeley, but such strong data deserves to be looked at and evaluated in terms of its impact on our problem.  

My proposal applies the strengths that this research identifies to the issues surrounding auto theft in Berkeley. It has five major components. 

1) The City of Berkeley should establish as city policy, and widely publicize, the installation of unobservable vehicle protection systems in existing vehicles in Berkeley.  

2) City of Berkeley policy should also encourage the purchase of an unobservable vehicle protection systems as an option when a new vehicle is purchased.  

3) For those residents of Berkeley who have had their vehicle stolen, the City of Berkeley should offer a substantial subsidy toward the installation of a Lojack style system.  

Its important to offer those who’s vehicles have been stolen a way to quickly recover their vehicle if it were stolen a second time. It is also a way for the city to do something concrete to make sure the lives of those affected are not similarly disrupted in the future. 

Other benefits of this approach include putting unobservable vehicle protection systems directly into the communities that are most affected by auto theft. If auto thefts move to another area of town the installation of Lojack style systems follows immediately. 

4) Berkeley should offer a smaller subsidy to all other residents of who chooses to install a Lojack style system by means of a lottery.  

5) Once the funding for the subsidies of this proposal are exhausted, Berkeley should install LoJack style systems in any resident’s vehicle for $450. This one time only fee covers both hardware and installation.  

This cost is still a $250 discount off the $700 list price of the system and is possible through the city’s discount for mass purchasing. 

The cost for the proposal is $250,000 per year for three years. You can see a complete copy of the proposal under item 37 on the 04/18 Council agenda. 

Installing unobservable vehicle protection systems will help to deter auto theft by providing the police with timely information to apprehend the criminals. It will also aid in the speedy return of vehicles that are stolen. The proposal, sponsored by Gordon Wozniak, went before the City Council on April 18 and was referred to the budget process. It will return for further discussion in the city manager’s budget presentation May 16th.  

What’s unique about the unobservable vehicle protection systems is that it leverages individual action by citizens (the purchase and installation of Lojack) to achieve a greater good of the community (a community wide decrease in auto theft). Such community-based initiatives don’t look at solving the problem by moving it down the block to your neighbor’s car. They look for ways that an individual’s actions can make the entire community safer.  

If you’d like to voice your opinion on the implementation of this system, you will be able to do that shortly on Berkeley’s newest participatory forum, Kitchen Democracy. Their goal is to strengthen democracy by engaging citizens in local issues. Your comments will be forwarded to the City Council. 


Vincent Casalaina is a Berkeley resident.