Residents of the Halcyon/Bateman neighborhood are breathing a bit easier since police arrested Marvin M. Johnson last week and charged him with a string of robberies targeting women walking alone during daylight hours in the neighborhood.
Police arrested Johnson, 21, on June 29 as he walked to his car outside his home on the 1100 block of 8th Street in West Oakland.
“The police department recognizes that the community has been challenged with a significant number of robberies in recent months,” said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley Police Department (BPD) Public Information Officer. “We want to assure everyone that we will be working rigorously to make these arrests.”
Police say that the robberies that Johnson confessed to took place at 2512 Parker St. on June 8 at 10:48 a.m., the corner of Woolsey and Bateman streets on June 11 at 2 p.m., and at Woolsey and Benvenue on June 23 at 10:56 a.m.
According to police, Johnson said he had performed all of the robberies alone, except the one on June 23. Police arrested 21-year-old Ronald Chastang shortly after the crime was committed, while his partner, now believed to be Johnson, evaded arrest.
According to police, Johnson typically targeted women, usually between 30 and 60, who were walking alone in the morning or early evening.
“He would approach them from behind, put a gun to their heads and take their purses,” said Oakland Sgt. Drennon Lindsey. “He would sometimes threaten to kill them if they resisted.”
Johnson has been identified as a suspect in 25 cases in Oakland and five in Alameda. The Alameda County District Attorney has charged Johnson with nine counts of robbery. If convicted, he faces up to 27 years in prison.
Over the past six months there have been 74 robberies in the Halcyon/Bateman neighborhood, according to Berkeley police. It is unclear how many of those cases have been closed.
The Halcyon/Bateman neighborhood is bordered by College Avenue to the east, Shattuck Avenue to the west, Ashby Avenue to the north and the Oakland border to the south. Bateman is east of Telegraph Avenue and Halcyon is west of Telegraph.
The Halcyon Neighborhood Association has met regularly over the last few months to address crime in the area. At the most recent meeting on June 21, Stephen Burcham, Berkeley Police Department coordinator for the area, offered several recommendations, including keeping cars locked and windows up, not leaving valuables in the open, getting to know your neighbors, and calling the police department for extra police surveillance while you’re on vacation.
Kusmiss reported that the police are beefing up patrols in South Berkeley.
“The police chief has allocated an additional two officers for the South Berkeley area,” she said. “The significant thing is that these officers will not be responding to calls, but rather will be looking out for wanted individuals and otherwise suspicious people.”
Meanwhile, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents the district, is trying to allocate money from the city’s budget to go towards response and violence prevention.
“The budget adopted did not specify any money specifically for violence prevention and response,” said Worthington. “We are bringing this item back to the council. In the meantime, we should be actively supporting and encouraging Neighborhood Watch throughout the city. We can see what Richmond, San Francisco and Oakland are doing and build on that.”
According to Worthington, Oakland has set up an escort program, where the city hires young people to escort citizens to their cars.
“We could have escorts at BART and at bus stops,” added Worthington.
Kusmiss stressed that while the BPD will be taking additional measures to combat crime, citizens should take some additional precautions themselves.
“Awareness is key,” said Kusmiss. “We don’t want people to walk around in fear, but we want them to be aware of what’s going on. We want people to help one another.”