West Berkeley sees rise in number of daytime burglaries

At least 20 daytime burglaries have rattled West Berkeley already this year, leading worried residents to gather at an emergency neighborhood meeting Monday night.

The burglaries were reported between Ashby Avenue to the south, University Avenue to the north, San Pablo Avenue to the west and Sacramento Street to the east.  The majority of the incidents — which occurred between Jan. 15 to Feb. 5. — took place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when suspects apparently believed the victimized residents were not home, according to Berkeley Police Department Officer Cesar Melero.

Melero said a definite pattern has emerged in the “unusually high” number of burglaries — which are defined as illegal entry into a building for the purpose of committing a crime.

The burglars typically took electronics such as laptops and other easily accessible valuables but did not seem to linger long enough to ransack homes in search of hidden items, Melero said.

“Clearly they know what they are doing,” he said. “They are able to find things of value and leave very quickly.”

The majority of the burglarized residences were single-family homes, though a few West Berkeley apartments were also hit. Based on residents’ accounts, police believe the burglars check to see if residents are home by knocking on the door before they enter.

Several residents who attended Monday’s meeting reported seeing a juvenile knocking on their neighbor’s door and lingering near the threshold before later finding out the house had been burglarized.

Parker Street resident Steven Walstead said he was at home Sunday when a teenage boy rang his doorbell in the early afternoon.

“He was surprised when he saw me,” said Walstead, who became suspicious when the unknown teenager told him he was looking for a friend’s house. “I told him to get lost.”

Walstead called the police and the man was arrested in connection with an earlier burglary.

A total of four juveniles have been arrested so far, according to Melero, though police do not believe the crimes are related to gang activity or are the work of one particular group.

Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes the area experiencing the rash of crime, was present at the meeting and said the city should make noise complaints a lower priority to allow police to focus on preventing and responding to burglaries.

“When you move patrols to another part of the city, another part goes without,” he said.

In one instance, a homeowner was upstairs when the burglars entered the home. The homeowner confronted the burglars, and they ran away.

Although Melero cautioned residents not to open the door for suspicious people, he said homeowners have the right to take photos of whoever comes to their door.

“If your spidey senses are going off, give us a call,” he said.

Kathy Harr, who organized the meeting, lives on a street where four homes have been burglarized in the past several weeks.

“My hope is that people get organized,” she said. “It’s not just about calling the police, but getting to know each other.”

Toward that end, Harr said she plans to compile a directory so residents can notify each other easily if they notice trouble.

Due to the brazen nature of the burglaries, Melero said there is no guaranteed way to keep homes safe. He suggested storing laptops in a safe and recording their serial numbers for a higher chance of recovery.

“The best crime prevention tip I can give you is to be a good neighbor,”  Melero said.

Berkeley Police Department suggests cell phone users should call 510-981-5911 in an emergency instead of dialing 911.