Berkeley City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani held a community meeting Sunday to discuss safety and prevention strategies with District 1 residents amid rising rates of theft and violent crime.
During the meeting, Kesarwani cited findings from the 2019 Crime Report presented to the City Council in October, which found some crimes, including auto theft, aggravated assault and homicide, are on the rise in 2020. District 1 residents in attendance voiced their concerns with public safety and questioned the city’s ongoing effort to curb crime in Berkeley.
“I don’t feel safe here,” said District 1 resident Salwa Ismail during the meeting. “I’ve stopped leaving my apartment after 5 p.m. because I just don’t feel safe walking or biking during the daytime, let alone nighttime.”
Although some crime rates have dropped compared to 2019, shootings, which are considered aggravated assaults, have increased significantly this year, with reports of as many as 36 shooting incidents so far in 2020 compared with 28 last year, according to Kesarwani.
While calling attention to the fact that some crime rates have gone up throughout the region during the pandemic, Kesarwani also noted that COVID-19 protocols have presented challenges to enforcement and investigation for local law enforcement.
“All of our nonviolent offenders are being released just because of the COVID-19 concerns, so people are getting a citation and they’re not held in custody unless they have a felony,” Kesarwani said during the meeting. “According to (Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood), that has made it hard to bring accountability for folks.”
Throughout the meeting, attendees raised concerns about localized issues including public intoxication, dangerous traffic conditions and multiple incidents of arson at places of worship. A common point of discussion was the need for city investment in signage, road repairs and especially street lighting in affected areas.
Kesarwani echoed these concerns and pointed out ongoing city efforts to prevent crime by installing additional lighting and security cameras in high-crime areas. She also noted that the City Council recently approved a budget referral to install eight cameras in the berther parking areas at the Berkeley Marina. The council is also scheduled to consider an item to install security cameras at “major arterials used to enter and exit the city” during its regular meeting Tuesday, she added.
“This really is about the environmental design, trying to deter crime by having places be better lit and looking at how we can design our marina and our public streets,” Kesarwani said during the meeting.
The city budget was also discussed throughout the meeting, as Kesarwani cautioned that the deficit caused by the pandemic could impact the feasibility of some crime prevention efforts.
Operation Ceasefire, a “public health approach” to gun violence prevention that the City Council passed as an urgent item in October, draws upon police staffing resources, which, according to Kesarwani, have suffered after some Berkeley Police Department positions were eliminated by budget cuts in June.
“That’s not to say that this cannot happen, but we just need to figure out exactly what is the right approach for Berkeley,” Kesarwani said during the meeting. “We will do what we can right away, and some of the pieces may take more time.”