2016 mid-year crime report. Source: BPD
2016 mid-year crime report. Source: BPD

Crime is down in Berkeley this year, after it spiked in 2015 with the highest serious felony statistics since 2009.

In the six-month crime report, set to go before the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, Berkeley police authorities say overall Uniform Crime Report numbers were down 8.3% from January through June as compared to the same period in 2015. The federal designation tracks reports of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.

The department does not analyze the crime rate or look at how crime statistics relate to changes in the city’s population.

Despite promises to council in March to launch a robust social media program this year, the effort has yet to take off. According to the Sept. 20 report, “The department is … working with the City PIO to develop and implement a social media strategy using Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor and GovDelivery.”

The city as a whole has been slow to embrace social media, and follows a policy created by city spokesman Matthai Chakko that requires departments interested in social media to create a six-month content plan in advance and commit to a rigid posting schedule.

On the bright side, pedestrian robberies decreased nearly 20% from 2015, and overall robberies were down about 10%. There were no homicides in the first six months of the year.

2016 mid-year crime report. Source: BPD
The 2016 mid-year crime report includes reports for the six month of the year, from January through June. Source: BPD
The 2016 mid-year crime report includes reports for the six month of the year, from January through June. Source: BPD

Over the first six months of 2016, BPD saw a slight rise in sexual assaults, aggravated assaults and arson cases. But overall those numbers remain relatively low.

Aggravated assaults increased from 72 to 88 reports, compared to 2015. BPD said these incidents — which are more serious than simple assaults — “often involve people who know each other.”

“Many of these cases involved victims or suspects who are transient and suffering from mental illness,” according to the report.

Reported rapes were up 65%, with 11 more cases being brought to authorities than in 2015. About 80% of those cases involved an acquaintance, while another five involved strangers. Three of the “stranger” cases were part of a “digital penetration” series that involved Cal students and took place in the neighborhood south of the UC Berkeley campus. No arrests were reported in that case.

BPD said there were also eight more reports of sexual assaults by partners or former partners in 2016 than there were last year.

The department is adding a full-time sexual assault investigator to its Special Victims Unit team due to the reported rise.

Arson cases nearly doubled, from nine cases in 2015 to 17 this year: “Of the seventeen cases, three involved a subject who had a previous history of arson. Five of the cases involved subjects with known mental health issues. Five of the cases reported involved debris left on the street and six were trash or dumpster fires.”

The mid-year crime report, covering the first six months of the year, comes annually each September following a city manager request for the data.

Annual crime report for 2015 showed double-digit rise

2015 annual crime report. Source: BPD
2015 annual crime report. Source: BPD

The mid-year crime report follows the annual crime report each March, which looks at the overall data for the prior year.

BPD reported an increase in March — in the overall 2015 data — of just over 16%. (The published report contained an incorrect calculation that understated the numbers, BPD said.)

That put 2015 Part 1 crimes at their highest level since 2009, with nearly 6,600 reports, according to BPD data online. The vast majority of those fall into the larceny category, followed by burglary, motor vehicle theft and robbery. (See the chart below.)

Violent crimes increased overall in 2015 by nearly 20%, primarily driven by higher robbery numbers. (Again, the posted report contained an incorrect calculation that was lower than was later reported during the presentation to council.)

Robberies were up 25% in 2015 compared to the prior full year; many of those were pedestrian robberies. About 75% of the pedestrian robbery cases involved people walking alone at night with their cellphones visible.

BPD had just one homicide in 2015, down from three the prior year.

Property crimes were up 15.7%, with home burglaries up by a third and a 28% increase in auto thefts. In about half the burglaries reported to BPD, thieves gain entry through an open door or window.

Annual Part 1 crimes over the past 10 years. Source: Berkeley Police Department
Annual Part 1 crimes over the past 10 years. Click the graph to view it larger. Source: Berkeley Police Department

BPD told council in March that bike theft “continues to be a problem for our community,” which often sees an increase each fall.

“From our analysis, we know bikes are targeted in a variety of settings, whether stolen off the street, off of porches, out of yards, or in garages or home burglaries. In the latter part of 2015, our officers arrested over 20 bike thieves, and we continue to focus on the bike theft issue,” Capt. Andrew Greenwood told council at a March 8 worksession.

Greenwood said bike thieves “are usually prolific, repeat, property-crime offenders. They typically have extensive theft and burglary histories, and are often already on probation for their crimes.”

Police encouraged residents to register their bikes on BikeIndex.org to make it easier to identify stolen property should theft occur.

Greenwood said, too, there were 23 fewer bikes stolen in Berkeley in 2015 than during the prior year and that, as of March 2016, there had been 35 fewer reported bikes stolen than last year.

“We are encouraged by what we’ve seen,” Greenwood told council. “We’ll continue our focus on bike theft throughout 2016, and report back on results.”

Also at the March 8 worksession, Police Chief Michael Meehan told council it had been a “challenging year,” but said his “diverse team of police employees continue to provide a high level of service to the Berkeley community even with what sometimes seems like near constant criticism in the national media.”

The mid-year crime report is set to be presented to the Berkeley City Council during a worksession at Old City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m. See the city website for details.

Have a question about a local public safety incident? Write to crime@berkeleyside.com. Photographs and videos are always appreciated.

Serious Berkeley crime skyrockets in first half of 2015 (09.10.15)
City of Berkeley unveils new open data portal (08.10.15)
Berkeley home burglaries spike in 2015 over prior year (04.07.15)
Violent crime dropped 25% in Berkeley in 2014 (03.10.15)
Violent crime reports down 44% in Berkeley (09.08.14)

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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...