By Doug Oakley
Burglars are committing an "unusually high" number of crimes in a west Berkeley neighborhood, kicking down doors, prying open windows and taking laptops and other valuables, police told anxious residents Monday night.
About 70 people packed a meeting hall at the city's corporation yard to learn about the crimes and what they can do to prevent them.
The area experiencing a spike in burglaries is bounded by San Pablo Avenue on the west side, Sacramento Street on the east, Ashby Avenue on the south and University Avenue on the north, said Berkeley police officer Cesar Melero, who hosted the meeting.
|Berkeley police search for a burglar who neighbors said kicked down the back door of an Acton Street home and came out carrying a computer on Feb. 3. Police were unable to find him. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
Home burglaries last year occurred an average of 67 times a month citywide, but west Berkeley is getting hit especially hard at the moment, police said.
"Since Jan. 15, we've had 20 burglaries in that area," Melero told residents. "It's unusually high. We have arrested several people, but the burglaries continue to occur, so we have more (than just one group) doing this."
Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said police arrested a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy from Richmond last week, and have arrested eight juveniles for burglaries in the area since August, but that didn't seem to slow things down.
Melero said the burglars, probably working independently of one another, are especially committed. In some instances, burglar alarms and having a dog in the backyard have not slowed them down. They also have entered homes when residents are there, but in all instances they have run away when confronted.
"The things I normally would tell you to do, (like getting a dog or an alarm) are not necessarily going to be the one thing that prevents this," Melero said.
Historically in Berkeley about half of all home burglaries are committed when a door or window is left open, police said.
Melero said the best thing residents can do is "be good neighbors" by calling police when they see anything suspicious such as people lingering, unfamiliar people ringing doorbells, or people jumping over fences.
"Close your windows, close your doors, if you see something suspicious, please call us," Melero said. "Leave your lights on. Leave a radio on. If you don't know who it is at the door, don't open it."
Kathy Karr, a neighborhood watch member who organized the meeting, encouraged residents to at least talk or form a group.
"Knowing who we are is one of the most important things," Karr said. "What really upset me is more than one person saw something happening, and they didn't call police. When I lived in the Mission District in San Francisco, we formed a group and it made a world of difference. You only have to meet three or four times a year, and you have a phone list of everyone in the neighborhood."
Police say most of the burglaries are occurring between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. In many instances burglars, mostly teenagers, ring the doorbell of a home first, and if they get no answer go around the back and break in.
Steven Walstead, who lives on Parker Street, explained to the group what happened at his house on Sunday.
"My wife had just left and I was home in the back of the house," Walstead said. "The house looked empty. The doorbell rang and I opened the door and asked the kid what he wanted and he said 'uh, I got the wrong house,' so I called the police and he got arrested. I'm going to call because I'm tired of giving people the benefit of the doubt."
Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore, whose district includes the area, told residents Berkeley does not have enough police officers to go around, so they need to stick together.
"It's critical you get to know your neighbors," Moore said. "Work with the people who are organizing in your neighborhood. We can't put a patrol officer on every corner, and we need more, so working together is what you can do."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.