Data show increasing safety on city streets

Wook Lee/Staff

Over the past few years, Berkeley streets have become increasingly safe to walk on during the summer.

Since 2009, Part I crimes  — which include both violent crimes such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault and property crimes — in Berkeley have had an overall decreasing trend in the summer months of May and June, according to information provided by Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. Data for the rest of this summer have yet to be determined.

In comparing June 2009 and June 2010, Part I crimes have decreased by 21.55 percent and another 3.23 percent in June 2011, according to the data.

However, the exact cause of such a downward trend is often difficult to pinpoint, Kusmiss said in an email.

“There are times in which Crime Analysts, Leaders of police departments, criminology or social anthropologists (to name a few) can assert theories as to what accounts for certain crime trends,” she said in the email. “Sometimes there are direct impacts — while at other times, it is a challenge to determine a viable explanation for a trend.”

Councilmember Darryl Moore said he attributes this decrease in Part I crimes to the Berkeley Police Department’s perseverance to reduce crime, specifically under Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan, who was appointed in December 2009.

“I think Berkeley has done a tremendous job with providing public safety throughout the city, and this is just a product of their hard work,” Moore said. “(Meehan) did promise to reduce crime by 10 percent, and he has been very true to that goal.”

When Meehan was sworn in as the new police chief in January 2010, he said the Berkeley crime rate for violent and property crimes was 50 percent higher than the average of comparably sized cities in California.

To combat Berkeley’s high crime rate, Meehan set a department goal of reducing property and violent crime by 10 percent every year, according to the Chief’s Report in a June 2010 Police Review Commission meeting.

Similarly, violent crimes on the UC Berkeley campus have been down the last six to eight weeks this summer, said UCPD spokesperson Lt. Marc DeCoulode.

“In the summer months, crime is often down because there are less students on campus, meaning there is less of a target population,” DeCoulode said.

According to DeCoulode, another factor this downward trend on and near the campus in the summer could be attributed to is a collaboration that started several months ago between UCPD and BPD.

Under this collaboration, UCPD and BPD implemented a joint patrol system in the area south of the campus, specifically focusing on Telegraph Avenue, DeCoulode said.

When walking around the city, being aware of one’s surroundings can help avoid being the subject of crime at any point during the year, DeCoulode said.

“The biggest thing, especially when students are out in groups and walking around, is to be paying close attention to your surroundings,” he said.

Overall, Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she would attribute the city’s downward trend in Part I crimes to the police department’s success in catching the perpetrators of crime. She added that she hoped the trend would continue.

“When you come to Berkeley and commit a crime, you are going to get caught,” Wengraf said.