Berkeley police report shows decreased crime rates in last year

Bar graph showing distribution of crimes in Berkeley
Shaun Lien/Staff

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Crime rates in Berkeley went down in 2018, according to a crime report Berkeley Police Department presented at the Berkeley City Council meeting March 19 by BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood and Investigations Division Captain Ed Spiller.

According to the 2018 crime report, the year showed a 12 percent decrease in violent crimes — homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — and a 10 percent decrease in property crimes such as burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.

Regarding percentages, the rate of auto burglaries, aggravated assaults and sexual assaults decreased the most in 2018. BPD received 65 reports of sexual assault in 2018, a decrease of 25 percent from the previous year. According to Spiller, BPD recently reorganized its special victims units to have one division allocated to sex crimes and domestic violence and the other to focus on youth and family services.

There were no homicides in Berkeley in 2018, but according to Spiller, there were five more shootings in 2018 than in 2017.

“We believe that at least 12 of the 20 shooting incidents were gang-related,” Spiller said to the City Council. “With each shooting, our officers and detectives go to great lengths to identify and arrest the responsible parties, take guns off the streets and prevent further incidents.”

In the past three years, the number of bicycle thefts has decreased by 37 percent, from 774 thefts in 2015 to 483 in 2018. According to Spiller, a program was launched in 2016 to address bicycle theft, and operations were conducted in the areas where many of the thefts were reported. Greenwood and Spiller believe that this program is the likely cause of decreasing bicycle theft.

Spiller also addressed the trend of laptop thefts and what BPD is doing to address it. He said BPD sent officers to sit at coffee shops that were often targeted.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín attributes the overall decrease in crime to new technologies that BPD utilizes, such as smartphones and computer programs.

“The implementation of body worn cameras, which I first introduced in 2014, has given officers a new tool in being able to document cases, allowing for more efficiency in their work,” Arreguín said in an email.

The decrease in crime is also likely due to several high-profile arrests BPD has made, as well as its increased community engagement and improved relationships with neighborhoods that have higher crime rates, Arreguín said.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison said she believes that BPD’s strategies are not the only cause of the decrease in crime. Through her work in the court system, Harrison said she found that lower crime rates are a national trend. She believes, however, that BPD is good at identifying trends in crime and taking action.

Harrison said she would like to look at how specific communities are treated by BPD. She added that she would like to see data on traffic stops and uses of force, in particular.

“I would like to see us produce these numbers on disparities … especially for African Americans,” Harrison said. “Part of reducing crime is increasing trust.”

One issue Greenwood and Spiller brought up in their presentation was how many officers have to work overtime because of low staffing numbers. According to Arreguín, the City Council has addressed this by funding a statewide and nationwide outreach campaign.

“BPD estimates that they need to hire an additional 30-35 people to reach the full capacity of 181 sworn officers (under the assumption 10-15 people will retire over the next year),” Arreguín said in an email. “Given the intensive outreach the Department has been doing, they are on track to reach this goal in the next year or two.”

Contact Megha Krishnan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_.