By Doug Oakley
Violent crime and theft were down 28 percent from 2007 to 2011 in Berkeley, police reported March 6 to the City Council.
But judging by recent events here and in neighboring cities, 2012 could be "challenging" according to Police Chief Michael Meehan.
Violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery, assault and theft, dropped from 7,755 in 2007 to 5,553 in 2011, police said.
"This year could be a challenging year to meet goals based on preliminary information coming in from other cities," Meehan said.
In 2011, there was just one murder, something that had not happened in "20 or 30 years" Meehan said.
By contrast there have already been two murders in Berkeley this year. One of those, the beating death of a Berkeley hills man Feb. 18, was the subject of another meeting March 8 night called by City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, where Meehan fielded questions.
Murders in Berkeley over the last five years have gone from a high of eight in 2008 to just one last year. Rape was down by 16 percent over the five-year period, with 24 rapes reported in 2007 and 20 in 2011.
Robberies in Berkeley, in which UC Berkeley students new to urban areas often are the victims, were down 21 percent, with 431 in 2007 and 340 in 2011, police said.
Meehan said there is no way to "quantify exactly" the overall downward trend in crime over the last five years "but two things that cannot be discounted are policing resources and focused strategies."
Citing the decline in robberies, he said the department has patrols in the south campus area and other hot spots, is using technology to recover electronics and identify suspects, and "we're working with the juvenile district attorney to try and reduce robbery recidivism."
The theft category includes residential burglaries and auto theft, among others.
Auto theft is down by some 36 percent over the last five years, Meehan said, which can be attributed mostly to better anti-theft devices. Meehan said most auto thefts these days are done with the intent to use the car in a separate crime.
Burglaries are down too, by 16 percent. Historically about half are due to careless residents leaving their cars or homes unlocked, police say.
The number of burglaries can come down further, said City Councilman Gordon Wozniak, if the city does more outreach to residents.
"There is an educational component here," Wozniak said. "A large fraction of break-ins and thefts are due to unlocked cars and houses. We need to communicate that to our residents. It's very simple, lock your vehicle and lock your house."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.