Thursday, March 3, 2011

Berkeley's Falling Crime Rate Mirrors National Trend, Expert Says

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Crime is down in Berkeley, a trend that is a mirror to the nation as a whole despite a bad economy, according to a report from the Berkeley Police Department and a criminal justice expert from San Francisco State University.
The Berkeley police report, which is sent on to the federal Department of Justice as part of a nationwide measure of crime, charts incidents in several categories including rape, robberies, auto theft and arson.
Berkeley police said rape was down 13 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, from 24 to 21; robberies were down 18 percent, from 444 to 364; car thefts were down 19 percent, from 743 to 605; and arson was down 8 percent, from 25 fires set to 23.
Crime is going down all across the country and has been going down for several years for a variety of reasons including better computer aided policing which allows police to target crime ridden areas, video surveillance cameras police can use to identify suspects near a crime scene, technology such as digital cameras and cell phones that victims can use to identify suspects and longer prison sentences, said Ken Walsh, who is a professor of criminal justice at San Francisco State University and a private investigator.
"Even during the bad economic times crime is going down and during the worst of times it's going down even faster," Walsh said. "One of the biggest reasons is much better policing going  on in the last five or six years. Police can use statistics to identify hot areas and go after the criminals there, and not waste their resources when things cool down."
Policing comes down to isolating, managing and controlling the criminal element, Walsh said, "and the management has gotten so good it's practically animal husbandry."
"There is a small number of people who commit crimes, and on the African American side, parolees are responsible for nine out of 10 murders, so if they stay in prison longer, they are not making it into the numbers," Walsh said.
Aggravated assault in Berkeley was up 2 percent from 137 incidents in 2009 to 140 in 2010, and burglaries were up 1 percent from 1,072 to 1,085, according the report.
Berkeley had six homicides in 2010, the same number as in 2009.
Over a five year period in Berkley from 2005 to 2009, slayings went from three in 2005 and peaked at eight in 2008, according to a police report that went to the City Council last fall.
Violent crimes, including rapes, killings, robberies and aggravated assaults, during that time also peaked in 2008 with a total of 652. In 2010 that number was down to 531, the lowest since 2005 when there were 570 violent crimes, police said.
Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said increased communication within the department in the last year is part of the reason crime has declined.
"We share information more with each other than we have in the past," Kusmiss said, pointing to new policies implemented by the new police Chief Michael Meehan who succeeded Douglas Hambleton in December of 2009.
"We now have a team of two who just do crime analysis and they are constantly looking at trends. And detectives, maybe three to eight times a day, are sending out e-mails about individuals who are wanted by us or one of the nearby agencies who have relationships with us."
Kusmiss said the Berkeley Police Department also has increased its communications with other police agencies in the area, which has contributed to the drop in crime as well.

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