Most pedestrian robberies this year have involved a cell phone and a lone pedestrian. Source: Berkeley Police Department
Most pedestrian robberies this year have involved a lone pedestrian with a cell phone in hand. Source: Berkeley Police Department

Friday just after midnight, three people walking south of the UC Berkeley campus were accosted by three young men with guns who robbed them of their wallets, phones and sunglasses. The men fled, but police say officers caught up with them early Sunday during a traffic stop. All three were arrested on suspicion of robbery.

If it seems like this story, or at least the first part of it, has become all too common this year, that’s because robberies are up a whopping 25% when compared to the same period last year, police said Wednesday.

Officer Jennifer Coats, Berkeley Police spokeswoman, said it’s hard to know what might be driving the increase, but noted that most of the robberies involve pedestrians walking alone while carrying a cell phone that’s visible. The opportunity to target victims in this position may be on the increase as more and more people buy smart phones and tend to use them on the go.

In its most recent newsletter, the Berkeley Police Department took a closer look at pedestrian robberies citywide, which sparked Berkeleyside’s interest in delving a bit deeper into the numbers. Coats provided updated statistics and more detail on Wednesday.

From January through April, 66% of robbery victims were walking alone, and 64% were holding a cell phone in their hand when they were accosted. Most of the victims were women.

In most pedestrian robberies, a victim was carrying a cell phone when the crime took place. Source: Berkeley Police Department
Most pedestrian robberies involved an iPhone or other cell phone. Source: Berkeley Police Department

In 53% of those robberies, cell phones were taken; iPhones accounted for nearly 40% of the losses. Twelve percent of the robberies involved purse snatchings, and another 13% involved some other type of stolen property. Seven percent involved a bag or backpack, and another 9% involved a wallet. Cash was taken in just 6% of the reported incidents.

Most of the robbery victims were female, with 30% listed as women ages 18 to 25, and another 28% listed as 25 or older. Twenty-two percent of the victims were men ages 18 to 25, and another 14% were men 25 or older.

Five percent of the victims were boys under 18, and just 2% were girls under 18.

Coats urged individuals to walk in groups when possible, refrain from walking with a visible cell phone, and do their best to stay aware of their surroundings. If accosted, Coats said the safest response may be to comply with a robber’s demands, though she noted that individuals will have to make the best choice possible depending on the exact situation.

“Every situation is different,” she said. “We just want everybody to be as safe as possible.”

Violent crimes have been on the decrease in Berkeley since 2008, with robbery reports dropping from a high of nearly 500 that year to just 334 in 2012.

According to statewide data from 2011, however, which is the most recent year available from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, Berkeley’s robbery rate per 1,000 residents falls on the higher end of the spectrum when compared to 20 other cities around the state that are of roughly similar size.

[Editor’s Note: It’s very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to compare crime rates across cities, due to what may be vastly different demographics, geography or law enforcement resources, so we selected a relatively wide swath of cities with an overall population figure within Berkeley’s range to provide some frame of reference. As noted by the FBI, however, “rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”]

Disclaimers aside, Berkeleyside compared Berkeley’s reported robbery numbers to the California cities with the 10 next highest and lowest populations, according to the state Department of Finance. Of those 21, Berkeley was among just six — along with Vallejo, Inglewood, Richmond, Antioch and Victorville — where more than two out of every 1,000 residents reported a robbery in 2011. In Berkeley, that number was closer to three. These cities are indicated on the map above with a red marker.

Residents in another six cities reported one to two robberies per 1,000 people (yellow marker), which is in the range of the national average of 1.14 robbery reports per 1,000 people. Residents in another nine cities reported fewer than one robbery per every 1,000 people (green marker). Click the markers in the interactive map above for more details about population, robbery reports and crime rates.

(We invite data savvy readers to download our data set, in Excel form, here.)

Robbery concentrations around Berkeley in 2013

From January through April, there were 116 pedestrian robberies in Berkeley, out of 140 total robberies — pedestrian and otherwise — listed on, a data source for Berkeley Police statistics. CrimeMapping does not differentiate between types of robberies.

Another source for police data, CrimeView Community, shows the total number of robberies that have occurred this year across the four police “areas”: North Berkeley, south of campus, downtown Berkeley to the Oakland border, and West Berkeley. CrimeView Community does not break down the numbers for pedestrian robberies, but does give a sense of where crimes have occurred across the city this year.

To have a better understanding of what these numbers mean, one would also have to consider the population density in each area, which could potentially be calculated using the latest U.S. Census tract figures. (Berkeley Police staff said the department didn’t have figures readily available either.) Berkeleyside did not have the capacity to take that extra step for this report, but we’d love to hear from any ambitious readers who do so. Generally speaking, however, areas 2 and 3 are the denser of the four clusters shown below, which would contribute to a higher number of incidents in those areas without necessarily meaning there’s a higher likelihood of being robbed there.

Eighteen of this year's robberies took place in Area 1. Image: CrimeView Community
Eighteen of this year’s robberies took place in Area 1. Click the map for a full list of incidents through May 7. Image: CrimeView Community
So far this year, 43 robberies have taken place in Area 2. Click the map for a full list of incidents through May 7. Image: CrimeView Community
This year through May 7, 43 robberies took place in Area 2. Click the map for a full list of incidents. Image: CrimeView Community
So far this year, 64 robberies have taken place in Area 3. Click the map for a full list of incidents through May 7. Image: CrimeView Community
This year through May 7, 64 robberies took place in Area 3. Click the map for a full list of incidents. Image: CrimeView Community
So far this year, 25 robberies have taken place in Area 4. Click the map for a full list of incidents through May 7. Image: CrimeView Community
This year through May 7, 25 robberies took place in Area 4. Click the map for a full list of incidents. Image: CrimeView Community

Berkeley Police nab 3 after robbery south of Cal campus [05.16.13]
Two robberies, one at gunpoint, occur near Cal [05.07.13]
Berkeley Police arrest teen after cell phone robbery [04.23.13]
Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety [04.18.13]
Police arrest 2 teens after 3 North Berkeley robberies [04.17.13]
Police report 2 robberies with guns near UC campus [04.29.13]
Breaking: Woman sustains serious injuries in robbery [03.05.13]
After robbery, police arrest youths with gun near school [02.28.13]
Police arrest 5 in home-invasion robbery attempt [02.25.13]
Crime in Berkeley up 11% in 2012, but longer trend is down [02.06.13]
Two arrested after Berkeley Police foil robbery attempt [02.05.13]
Three arrested after robbery with gun near UC Berkeley [01.31.13]
32 robberies in recent 30-day stretch in Berkeley [12.28.12]
Berkeley hills neighbors anxious after recent robberies [12.21.12]
Violent and property crimes decline in Berkeley [08.30.11]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...