The Berkeley Police Department presented the City Council with a crime status report Tuesday, which showed the city’s crime rates are at a 30-year low, despite three recent homicides and a general perception of higher crime.
The report primarily focused on crime trends during the last seven years, which show that major crimes in Berkeley have declined along with the rest of the state.
Robbery, however, is bucking the downward trend, according to the report. Robbery increased during 2001 from the previous year and occurs at a higher rate in Berkeley than the rest of the state.
“This is a mixed message were getting,” Mayor Shirley Dean said. “We have some problems, but we also have some bright spots.”
Dean requested the report in October after numerous UC students said they were worried about their personal safety during a public hearing on redistricting. Dean said she also requested the report in response to an a recent newspaper article that described Berkeley as having the state’s second-highest crime rate among cities with populations of more than 100,000.
But despite three recent homicides and the recenmt article, the police department report shows that three of the four violent crimes, homicide, rape and aggravated assaults, are below the state average. Only robbery, which is defined as the taking of property through force or threat of force, is higher than the state average.
Police Chief Dash Butler pointed out that the Dec. 30 murder of Charlotte Ortega was the first in 15 months. Although he said the double homicide of Noel Turner, Jr. and Rammar Johnson on Jan. 22 in south Berkeley has him “very concerned.”
According to the report, since 1995 Berkeley has seen a 90 percent decrease in homicides, a 32 percent decrease in rape and 43 percent decrease in aggravated assaults. Even Robbery, which occurs in Berkeley at a greater rate than the state, has dropped by 42 percent.
The state robbery rate for 2001 was 180 robberies per 100,000 people. In Berkeley, the robbery rate during the same year was 320 per 100,000.
The report also showed that among 11 California universities, UC Berkeley had the third highest rate of violent crime behind UCLA and UC Irvine in 2000. UC Berkeley had 22 incidents of violent crime during the year including 10 robberies, 4 rapes and 8 aggravated assaults . The campuses with the fewest incidents of violent crime was UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, which both had six incidents of violent crime.
UC Berkeley is patrolled by the University of California Police Department, which is completely separate from the Berkeley Police Department.
“There are some categories of crime that we have to take a look at,” Butler said. “We are currently considering a number of options to deal with robberies including some task force approaches.”
Dean said there was some good news in the report although she thinks the city has a lot of work to do to reduce crime and the perception of a high crime rate further.
“I have been going to neighborhood meetings all over the city and people are saying we have a crime problem,” Dean said. “Safety in our homes and in our streets has to be our number one concern. People have to feel safe and they have to feel their children are safe.”
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said now, while people are concerned about crime, is a good opportunity for the city to support residents getting involved in their communities.
“Certainly the statistics show that Berkeley is doing a very good job in limiting the frequency and severity of crime,” he said. “But when a serious crime occurs, it makes people very afraid and while people are paying attention, we have to leverage that into community crime prevention efforts.”
Councilmember Linda Maio asked Butler if there was a significant relationship between a downturn in the economy and an increase in crime.
Butler said there is only anecdotal evidence that an economic downturn effects crime rates and that he is “unconvinced there’s a connection.”
Police Captain Douglas Hambleton said that a positive aspect of the economic downturn is that the quality of police applicants increases.
“There are now more people who are interested in becoming cops,” he said. “We have 375 applicants for a test this Saturday. We have not had that many in about 15 years.”
Hambleton added that the September 11 terrorist attacks and a concerted recruitment effort have also added to the high application rate.
Butler agreed. “We’re recruiting from a very broad base of the community,” Butler said. “We are advertising in newspapers we never did before as well as going to events that appeal to all segments of the community.”