West Berkeley residents are on the edge after a rash of more than 20 home burglaries since Jan. 15. The burglars have been breaking into houses during the daytime, usually between 11 am and 3 pm, and making off with easy to carry items like laptops, cameras, jewelry, and cash, according to police. The area targeted by the thieves is bounded by Ashby and University Avenues and San Pablo Avenue and Sacramento Street.
On Monday, about 70 neighborhood residents gathered at the Corporation Yard to talk to Berkeley police about the crimes and what could be done. David Morin, a sales and marketing manger for Northwestern Mutual Life who has lived in West Berkeley for six years, attended the community forum. Morin’s house was one of those burglarized. He shares his story:
“It all started two weeks ago on a Friday afternoon. was reading Berkeleyside, looking over the most recent “Police Blotter”, when I came across a post in the comments section that caught my attention. The post mentioned that there had been a rash of daytime burglaries in the Poet’s Corner. That was my neighborhood. I normally pick up my kids after work but decided to go home a little early that day. I didn’t want to have my kids with me when I walked in the house and confronted a potential burglar or even a burglarized house. I’ve lived in that house for 5 years now and never once did I open the door thinking someone could have been on the other side. That afternoon I pushed the door open slowly, thinking for the first time that someone could be in there. Luckily there was no one waiting for me. Though there were papers on the ground, 2 missing laptops, and a missing window pane in the back door.
“I felt compelled to write a comment back to that original poster. How could I not? She was probably writing that comment as my house was being robbed. What are the odds? She responded to my post and said she was organizing a neighborhood crime meeting soon.
“A week later as I was getting my kids out of the car and slowly shuffling them into the house, I noticed a woman stapling a flyer up on a nearby telephone pole. She came over and handed me a flyer about an emergency crime meeting. Her name was Kathy Harr and she was the one organizing the meeting. It turns out she was the woman from the Berkeleyside comments section. A week earlier we had been anonymously connecting with each other about something so personal. Now here we were, our paths randomly intersecting in real world coordinates. The world works in strange ways sometimes.
“The emergency crime meeting was held at the Corporation Yard this past Monday and it was packed. Standing room only. The overall mood was of anger and helplessness. Strangely enough, I found another emotion surfacing inside me. I felt neighborhood pride at the sheer number of people that showed up. Even the evening’s main speaker, Berkeley Police Officer Cesar Melero, seemed to be surprised at the amount of people that came out. His 10 crime pamphlets would barely cover the front row.
“Officer Melero’s talk focused on the trends of the burglaries. He included descriptions of the suspects from several eyewitnesses and tips on what we could do to help prevent them. Tips included buying a safe, leaving radios on when not home, watching out for your fellow neighbors, and calling 911 when you spot suspicious lurkers in neighbors’ yards. Mostly it seemed like common sense stuff and didn’t alleviate any feelings of helplessness.
“There was one unanticipated outcome of the meeting. I managed to walk away from the meeting with a new connection to my neighborhood (too bad it took a robbery to get there). I met a few neighbors I had never met before, swapped some emails, and exchanged some empathetic smiles and nods. Though it wasn’t the crime solution I was looking for, it turned out to be a nice salve for my current insecurities.”
Berkeleyside publishes a weekly police blotter, with data provided by BPD and UCPD, on Fridays. See last week’s here. For more information on crime in Berkeley, see the San Francisco Chronicle’s regularly published list of arrests in Berkeley, Community CrimeView and Crimemapping.com.