In the course of just a few months, Berkeley police’s “Who Are These Suspects?” website has become immensely popular. Launched in March 2010 by BPD’s Community Services Bureau, the site now has more than 1,600 subscribers, people who want to be in the know about Berkeley’s crooks and thugs.

Each month the department posts its own version of a “Most Wanted” list, although these Berkeley criminals are usually suspected of fairly minor crimes. There generally is a description of a crime and a few grainy photos taken from a surveillance camera mounted high on a store wall.

In September, for example, the site highlighted the theft of a purse stolen from a car parked on Spruce and Vassar streets. A woman parked her car around 5:15 pm on Sept. 23, tucked her purse under the seat, and left to pick up her child from daycare. As she left, she noticed two women seated in a car behind her.

When the woman returned, her car window had been smashed and her purse had been stolen. About 20 minutes later, a woman resembling one of the women sitting in the parked car used a credit card stolen from the purse. The suspect bought $400 in items from Office Depot.

Suspect using stolen credit card

“Who Are These Suspects?” posted photos of the women using the credit cards and issued a warning: “Please keep this vehicle and suspect in mind. They are most likely responsible for several similar thefts in the north. Similar incidents have been reported around Cragmont School during the daytime hours. “

In August, in a different crime, someone walked out of REI with a bike for which he had not paid.

Man stealing bike

“Photographs and narratives touch community members in a variety of ways – the curious, those who want to be investigators, the helper, those intrigued with crime, the hero/or heroine,” said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the police department. “We have received some photographs taken by victims and witnesses of crime. Although we absolutely do not encourage chasing after suspects to take photographs, some have done so safely and from a distance. Those images have been a great help.”

The most successful outcome from a posting on “Who Are These Suspects,” came in August, after Berkeleyside did a story on a mysterious wallet that had been mailed back to a man four years after it had been stolen. Police wanted to talk to the person who had discovered the wallet on San Lorenzo Avenue and had mailed it back, but could not read a note that had been included. Police considered the wallet important evidence in an attempted murder trial.

The story went viral and was picked up by newspapers, websites and television stations around the bay. As a result, the person who discovered the wallet contacted Berkeley police. Prosecutors can now establish how the wallet was stolen from the victim on Poppy Avenue, ended up on San Lorenzo and was mailed back to the victim.

Berkeley police would like to run more photos and crime descriptions on the website but are hampered when they are no photographs to post.

“BPD is trying to grow the feature but it is predicated on cases in which images are available,” said Sgt. Kusmiss. “Many businesses in the City of Berkeley do not have surveillance cameras and there is no requirement that they do.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...