Officer Karen Buckheit addresses neighbors at town hall meeting. Photo: Diana Arbas

By Diana Arbas

Summer has officially begun, bringing warmer weather and increased crime.

At a town hall meeting last week hosted by Councilman Darryl Moore, an officer from the Berkeley Police Department gave San Pablo Park neighbors tips on how to protect themselves against crime and report suspicious activity. In turn, the neighbors challenged police and city officials to do their part addressing area burglaries and youth nuisance.

Officer Karen Buckheit, Area 4 Coordinator, credited the neighbors for police success in catching repeat youth offenders. She encouraged the neighbors to continue calling in suspicious activity.

Youth burglars have been relatively brazen, breaking into homes in the middle of the day, Buckheit said. These burglaries haven’t been limited to the Acton and Dohr streets by San Pablo Park, either. The same youth burglars have been found in the Berkeley hills and east of Sacramento Street.

Buckheit said that it’s difficult for police to catch burglars without neighbors’ help.

“We don’t necessarily know who lives where,” Buckheit told the neighbors, “but you guys do. You guys think, ‘I don’t recognize that person in my neighbor’s yard. I know who my neighbor is; I know who their kids are.’ You can see things that we can’t see.”

One neighbor had even photographed a burglar and sent it to the police, who were able to identify the person the next day. “It worked out great,” Buckheit said. “Now I would never recommend that you do that if it’s just not safe.”

But proactive neighbors are key to community safety, she said. Neighbors should not hesitate to call the police dispatch if they see someone rattling a door or climbing out the window—“Most people use a door,” Buckheit quipped—and the sound of glass breaking warrants a 911 call.

Another red flag: someone’s hanging out in the traffic circle for an hour. “Kids are watching you go to the store, and they know you’ve left,” Buckheit said. “You might come back in an hour, and the place has been burglarized because somebody’s hanging out watching.”

But neighbors wanted to know what proactive steps the police have taken to keep the community safe.

Tae Kim, who had moved with his wife and baby to the neighborhood in September, pointed out that when nearby houses had been broken into, it took BPD three hours to respond to calls. “That was a bit disconcerting,” he said.

Kim hasn’t observed as much neighborhood police surveillance as he’d like.

“You see at times blatant drug transactions or kids just hanging out,” Kim said. “There are a lot of emails going back and forth about locking your doors, basic stuff that I would suspect people would do.”

More police action will make the neighborhood a safer place, said Kim. “I understand that you guys are busy, and it’s a hard job,” he said. “But I think it’s safe to say that we all want to live in a community where people feel safe and secure, especially with little kids.”

Marj Plumb, another San Pablo Park neighbor, said that women already don’t feel safe and secure at the park. Plumb and her partner live across the street from the park’s women’s restroom.

“The pot smoking in the women’s restroom by the neighborhood boys is incredible,” Plumb said. “It is so upsetting to me when I see a woman, or a man with a child, and the woman turns a corner with a kid and she can’t even get into the bathroom because there are eight kids in there.”

Plumb said that the boys are selling marijuana and shooting craps there.

“Is there anything we can do to make that a less attractive place for the kids to use?” Plumb said. “And if I call every time I see something, do you promise not to put me on a crazy list? ‘Cause I’ve done two or three calls in a week, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to stop answering.’ They’re going to be like, ‘That crazy lady from Park St. is calling about mope and dope again.’”

Buckheit said that BPD won’t put frequent callers on a list, and she acknowledged that gambling has been going on at the park for a long time. “But we do have limited resources—”

“I know you do,” Plumb said. “I think it’s a community, city, police problem—not just a police problem.”

Kim voiced a concern that youth burglars in general receive a minor slap on the wrist, and he asked about stronger measures for repeat juvenile offenders. He said he understands that kids might not have direction or they’re just young and dumb. “On the flip side, there’s a difference between youthful indiscretion and breaking into someone’s house,” he said.

Diana Arbas studies creative writing and journalism at Mills College. She is also the assistant news editor of The Campanil, the college’s student news organization. She is currently interning at Berkeleyside.

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