Matt Raimi was sitting in Ohlone Park at 11.30 in the morning on the Thursday before Thanksgiving chatting on his cell phone with a cabinet maker about a possible kitchen remodel when he felt something nudge him in the side. He looked up and saw a young man who demanded that Raimi hang up and give him the iPhone. The man — black, aged between 16 and 20 and about 5’7″, according to Raimi — had a semi-concealed gun in his pocket and was pointing it straight at him.
Raimi gave up his phone and wallet — the laptop bag at his feet was rejected after he explained it was empty. In fact, Raimi had just dropped off his computer at the shop to be repaired. Nobody witnessed the incident and the perpetrator has not yet been found.
Raimi, who runs an urban planning business close to Ohlone Park, is only one of several Berkeley residents to have been a victim of armed robbery in the north Berkeley area in the past few weeks. According to Berkeley Police Officer Casimiro Pierantoni, six armed robberies have taken place in North Berkeley since November 11. Writing in his community newsletter Officer Pierantoni said the robberies were concentrated in the residential area around the North Berkeley BART station.
District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio, who distributed safety alert flyers to residents in her area after the crime wave, was reported as saying she believed the North Berkeley BART station might be entry point for criminals trying to take advantage of the affluent North Berkeley community.
Matt Raimi was told by a police detective that a similar crime to the one he experienced occurred later on the same day he was robbed, this time in south Berkeley. And on the following Sunday one of Raimi’s employees reported being in Ohlone park and coming across police officers investigating what sounded like a near-identical hold-up with a similar sounding perpetrator.
Car break-ins have also spiked over the past few weeks, including from cars parked for a brief time while children are taken into schools. Rosa Sheng was one of several such recent victims while she was dropping her daughter off at Marin School shortly after 8 am on Wednesday November 17. “My car was locked and parked across the street. I returned five minutes later to find my passenger side window smashed with a backpack missing. My wallet, phone and laptop and accessories were in it,”she told Berkeleyside. “Since that has happened, I have heard numerous stories of similar events happening nearby.”
Two families at Crowden School were affected and the music school’s Executive Director, Doris Fukawa, sent a note to parents warning that a “black, Jeep Cherokee/SUV type of vehicle with tinted windows has been seen to be scoping out parent drop-offs and pick-ups as well as unattended vehicles surrounding Jefferson School and Crowden.” Fukawa urged parents not to leave purses, briefcases, backpacks or valuables visible in their cars.
This advice is echoed by the city’s police department. “Please, before you walk away from your parked car, always take a moment to check that you’ve left nothing of value in plain sight, regardless of what time of day it is or where you’re parking. We all know we have an auto burglary problem in Area 1, so let’s do everything we can do to prevent them,” wrote Officer Pierantoni.
Calls to the Berkeley Police Department today were not returned. We will publish updates on developments as they arise.