Berkeley police earlier this year at Channing and Acton investigating a report of a barricaded man with a gun. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Crime reports in Berkeley fell by double-digit percentages in the first half of 2018, with fewer robberies, rapes, aggravated assaults and property crimes than in the first half of 2017, authorities reported this week.

Violent crime fell by about 19%, with 62 fewer reports. Property crime dropped by about 10%, or 272 reports. Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood and investigations Capt. Ed Spiller presented the mid-year crime report to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday. BPD updates council twice a year on crime trends: once in March about the prior calendar year, and once in the fall about the first six months of the current year.

It wasn’t all good news: Berkeley did see shooting incidents double in the first half of 2018, from five in 2017 to 10 this year, BPD reported Tuesday. Authorities said the majority of this year’s shootings have been gang-related. No City Council member asked for more information about the shootings or expressed concern about that level of violence in the city. On a somewhat brighter note, none of the shootings have been fatal, and police have made arrests in at least six of them.

BPD also reported that all officers are now wearing body cameras. It’s an effort that has been years in the making. (Stay tuned for more reporting soon on the body cameras.)

The city’s crime reports to council focus primarily on the eight “Part 1” crime figures many local jurisdictions turn over to the FBI on a regular basis. The violent crimes tracked by the FBI are homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, and the property crimes are burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.

Five-year crime trends in Berkeley for the first half of each year. Image: BPD

Robberies in Berkeley decreased 9%, from 185 in the first six months of 2017 to 169 during that period this year. In the past five years, Berkeley has consistently averaged about a robbery a day.

Laptop thefts continued to be a problem this year, which was part of a regional trend, police said Tuesday: “People working on their computers at local coffee shops continue to be attractive targets for thieves,” Spiller said. BPD has made arrests or identified suspects in 18 of the 49 incidents this year. The department set up “sting” operations with plainclothes officers to try to deter thieves, which worked well, police said.

Aggravated assaults fell 32%, from 104 to 71 reports. BPD said this was largely because ongoing protests in the city last year were not a factor in 2018.

Rape reports fell, too, from 43 to 30 in the first half of the year. Two of those incidents involved a stranger who attacked students, police said.

“In the first, a high school student was sexually assaulted at gunpoint on her way to school. Several days later a UC Berkeley student was attacked and managed to escape into her apartment building, in an attack captured on video. Investigators determined the same suspect was responsible for both attacks,” BPD wrote in this year’s crime report. Spiller said Alphonzo McInnis, a Berkeley parolee, has been charged with both crimes and remains in custody. DNA and surveillance video linked him to the cases.

On the property crime side, burglaries were up 6%, with 291 home burglaries and 130 commercial burglaries. Commercial burglaries drove that increase, police said Tuesday. Larcenies fell 13%, while auto thefts dropped 11%. Arson reports were up, but none of the incidents were major, police said. One serial arsonist, who has been arrested, was responsible for much of the spike, authorities added.

BPD has been working to build its voluntary surveillance camera registry and now has nearly 160 cameras on the list. The department is taking part in Berkeley High School’s Law and Social Justice class for the third year running. It recently equipped officers with Narcan to help respond to drug overdoses. BPD has also completed a major update on its computer-aided dispatch system.

To address the staffing shortage, the chief created a new recruitment team and hopes to hire 35 new officers in the next 12-18 months. Greenwood said the department has 161 officers, but 25 are in training or on leave. That means 136 officers are available to work patrol, investigations and other duties. Greenwood estimated another 10-15 officers are in the pipeline to leave. The department is authorized to hire 181 officers.

“We have a huge amount of work to do,” Greenwood said, of the staffing shortage. “If I had 20 applicants that were well qualified, I could hire them tomorrow.”

Members of the public said they want the department to do more to address complaints about racial profiling, and to finish a more rigorous analysis of the racial disparities identified in Berkeley earlier this year by the Center for Policing Equity. BPD proactively turned over its data to that group several years ago and asked for an analysis. Greenwood has said that partnership will continue and he expects to be able to present more detailed data in the first quarter of 2019.

Councilwoman Cheryl Davila said she’s heard from numerous people of color and people who are unhoused that they aren’t comfortable making complaints about police because they fear repercussions. She said she’d like to see a “performance audit” about how officers are spending their time. Her appointee on the Police Review Commission, Berkeley Copwatch co-founder Andrea Prichett, has called repeatedly for that audit, too.

Greenwood said it’s important that all complaints be documented so he can look into them in a timely manner and ensure problems are addressed. He said having all the interactions recorded now on body cameras should also make a big difference.

“Our people are OK with that scrutiny and looking forward to that kind of review of their work,” he said. “We’re really entering a new era.”

Several council members, including Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Linda Maio, Susan Wengraf and Lori Droste, thanked Greenwood for prioritizing body camera implementation, the surveillance camera registry and efforts to boost staffing. The mayor noted that BPD has very low use-of-force complaints and hasn’t had an officer-involved shooting in many years.

Councilwoman Kate Harrison said she was pleased to see the “large decline in violent crime” and asked the chief if he had any ideas about why so many people still feel unsafe.

Greenwood said it’s a combination of people being able to share information readily on platforms like NextDoor, as well as robust local reporting in Berkeley — both of which have helped the community become more informed about significant incidents that happen.

“Crime is down 10%: Those numbers are good numbers,” Greenwood said. He went on to note, however, that the level of violent crime in Berkeley remains significant. “We still do have seven street robberies a week.”

Greenwood clarified after the meeting that he believes other communities would be well-served to have access to the public safety news Berkeley has: “I believe coverage and reporting is good, not bad, and that more factual information is always better.”

Greenwood said the department averages about one use-of-force complaint for every 6,000 or so calls for service. He told council Tuesday that he’s reviewed the complaints, and has not found any pattern connected to an individual officer or particular group of officers.

“Our numbers are very low,” he said, of the complaints.

The Berkeley Police Department has not had an officer-involved shooting since 2012. BPD handled 77,429 calls for service in 2016, and received no complaints about excessive force or discrimination that year, according to the 2016 annual report from the PRC. From 2012 to 2016, there were 34 allegations of excessive force out of nearly 300,000 calls for service. Just two were sustained by the PRC.

According to the PRC report, an average of 22 complaints a year are submitted to the body. From 2012 through 2016, the period reviewed in the annual report, most of those complaints were ultimately dismissed or deemed unfounded.

Within that five-year period, the PRC convened Board of Inquiry (BOI) hearings an average of seven times each year to consider alleged police misconduct. Out of 36 cases reviewed in five years, there were 11 sustained allegations of misconduct (some may have been part of the same incident). Most of the misconduct findings were later overturned by a judge on appeal, however, leaving just three sustained findings of misconduct from 2012 through 2016, according to the PRC report.

The last time the PRC sustained an excessive force allegation against BPD was in 2013, when it sustained two; it was unclear from available records whether those decisions were later appealed to a judge or overturned.

Most of the complaints to the PRC in 2016 — 10 allegations across five cases — focused on improper procedures, or a category listed as improper arrests, searches, seizures, stops or detentions. Two allegations were sustained — related to an “improper investigation” and an “improper arrest, search, seizure, stop or detention.”

The PRC has not received a complaint about police in Berkeley since June.

See the PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday’s meeting. This story was updated shortly after publication to include additional information about BPD complaints.

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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...