Outgoing Berkeley Police Chief Douglas Hambleton told the City Council Tuesday night that the number of violent crimes in Berkeley had a small drop in the first quarter of 2009 and serious property crimes an even larger drop, something the chief called “a hopeful sign.”
Violent crimes (including homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults) are down 5.4 percent this quarter as compared to the first quarter of 2008, while serious property crimes (burglary, theft, auto theft and arson) are down 14.5 percent.
The violent crime decrease in the first quarter is a change from 2008, when year-long totals were up 5.1 percent from 2007.
Hambleton said one of the major sources of Berkeley’s violent crime continues to be the Bay Area’s narcotics-dealing residents. “Often the gangs who are out engaging in more violent behavior are also tied to drug trafficking,” he said. The chief added that drug trafficking “was not the sum total of their lives. It’s not the sum total of their motivations. But while they are involved in that criminal enterprise, at the same time they may have a dispute that is totally unrelated to their narcotics trafficking, but because they are such violent people that’s the way they go about resolving their disputes, so they end up going out shooting somebody.”
The chief also said that the ongoing disputes between West Berkeley, South Berkeley, and North Oakland continue to be one of the sources of violent conflicts in the city. Hambleton said that Berkeley police have been meeting with North Oakland residents and with Oakland police officials to coordinate crime prevention efforts between the two cities.
While praising the work of city police, several councilmembers suggested further ways to lower the city’s violent crime rate.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak suggested that the city might set up a citizen violence taskforce to explore the causes of the city’s violence and to make recommendations, while Councilmember Darryl Moore suggested that Berkeley create a police gang taskforce similar to the one currently operating in Oakland. Noting that approximately one-half of the persons arrested in Berkeley live outside the city, Councilmember Max Anderson said that there was “no way we can put up checkpoints and gun towers to keep people out of our city,” but suggested instead that the city come up with “a good plan for getting guns off the street. A common thread in many of these violent crimes is the use of firearms.”
Tuesday’s report was an information session only, and none of these suggestions was formally presented to the council for action.
Hambleton, who has served as Berkeley police chief since 2005, is retiring in mid-summer. The city is currently searching for a replacement.