Police at the scene of a crime on Center Street on May 6, 2018 (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso

Detectives are working to solve a robbery series that began in Berkeley in mid-March and may include as many as 13 robberies, authorities said Tuesday in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry.

The Berkeley Police Department said it could not say anything Tuesday about the individual incidents because it’s an active investigation and detectives do not want to jeopardize the case. Officer Jessica Perry, a BPD spokesperson, said BPD is, however, “working closely with neighboring police departments” to determine whether other robberies in nearby jurisdictions may be part of the same series.

Berkeleyside has received many emails in the past week from community members expressing concern about a recent uptick in armed robberies. The city has consistently averaged about a robbery a day in recent years, but — unlike the recent robbery series — only a fraction of those have tended to involve guns or other weapons.

“We have not noticed any increased police activity in the neighborhood and no alerts have gone out to residents,” one reader told Berkeleyside. “We are afraid to leave our homes.”

The University of California Police Department has put out a series of notices to the campus community recently regarding five armed robberies, at gunpoint, in the Southside neighborhood near campus. The university is required by law to release warnings about certain crimes that take place on or near campus. (People who are not part of the campus community can also sign up for those email notices, but the process hasn’t been without flaws.)

According to UCPD, the armed robberies happened between March 19 and March 29 within just a few blocks.

  • on March 19 at 8:51 a.m., there was an armed robbery at Ellsworth and Blake streets
  • on March 22 there was a robbery at Parker and Fulton streets at 10:10 p.m. that involved three people with a silver handgun who fled the scene east on Parker in a newer compact blue sedan
  • on March 23 at 5:09 p.m. there was an “armed street robbery via gun” at Blake and Ellsworth
  • on March 27 at 10:55 p.m. at Channing Way and Ellsworth, three people with a silver gun robbed a man of his property then fled in a small black sedan
  • on March 29 at 11:30 p.m., there was a robbery at 2400 Bowditch Street (at Channing) involving two people with a silver handgun who fled west on Haste Street in a small dark sedan, “possibly a Hyundai or Prius”

(In the summaries above, Berkeleyside has shared all the specific details UCPD published about these incidents; UCPD noted in its emails that “Physical descriptions of a suspect, including race, are included in timely warnings only when they provide several details that might help distinguish the suspect’s appearance from the general population.” No physical descriptions were included in any of the email alerts.)

One neighborhood resident told Berkeleyside he would like authorities to share more information about these crimes.

“I’ve lived on Blake Street since 1980,” he wrote. “Although there have been occasional armed robberies I’ve never known them to occur with this frequency within the same neighborhood.”

Another local resident told Berkeleyside he had written to officials to ask them to do something about the violence.

“It is the elected officials and the police departments jobs to keep your constituents safe. My wife and I bought our home here planning to raise our children here, all the way through Berkeley High School. We have been in Berkeley for 5 years. Things continue to get worse and worse,” his letter to local leaders reads. “We have no trust or even hope that our elected officials or police will do anything to change the dangerous path this city is on. We have lived in many large cities including Oakland, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Jersey City, Boston, Denver, and we have never felt as unsafe as we do in Berkeley.”

Violent crime town hall comes Wednesday

The man also told Berkeleyside he plans to attend a Zoom town hall meeting with Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Terry Taplin on Wednesday night to address a spate of shootings and other recent violent crime in Berkeley. (Berkeleyside will cover that meeting.) Officials organized the town hall in response to concerns around gun violence in Berkeley but the community outcry about this month’s robbery series may impact the focus of the meeting.

Register for the town hall Zoom meeting at http://tinyurl.com/sberktownhall.

The man also shared an email with Berkeleyside from Interim Berkeley Police Chief Jen Louis, who will be part of Wednesday night’s town hall. Louis told him detectives are diligently working the case and that beat officers have been paying increased attention in the neighborhood where the robberies have happened. Louis said BPD has also put out extra patrols to help address the robbery series.

“It is of great concern to BPD and to the community, and we are actively working on these cases,” she wrote. “Our robbery detectives have been able to develop some very promising investigative leads based on witness and victim statements as well as evidence that was gathered. Our beat officers are aware of the details of these cases and will increase attention in the affected areas. Our detectives are working closely with neighboring agencies in a regional effort to apprehend the suspect in these cases. Additionally we have begun staffing some additional patrols, using details of the incidents to best focus directed enforcement action.”

Other recent robberies have sparked community concern

There have been at least 28 robberies reported in Berkeley in March. Image: CrimeMapping

Readers have also asked Berkeleyside about a number of other robberies of concern in March. It was unknown as of publication time whether any of them relate to the robbery series described by Berkeley police since so little information could be shared at this time.

On Monday, a reader asked Berkeleyside for details about “significant police/fire activity at the corner of King and Prince Street, in front of Malcolm X Elementary School, at 11:30pm on Saturday, March 27th.”

“My son heard someone running and yelling ‘help, police’ a few minutes before the authorities arrived,” she said. “And a neighbor said ‘someone got jumped by a big group of people.'”

BPD told Berkeleyside that officers responded that day to “a report of a robbery via gun of two separate victims. The suspect descriptions were 3 male adults.”

On Tuesday, a separate reader asked Berkeleyside about word-of-mouth reports that had been circulating about “multiple instances in the past two weeks of cyclists being robbed while out along Wildcat road and along Grizzly Peak.”

“The gist is that people are being robbed while alone, bicycling. The thieves pull up in a car and threaten the victim with either a knife or gun,” he wrote. In one of the incidents, which took place Monday night, two men were reportedly robbed of their bikes at gunpoint.

Again, BPD said it could not comment Tuesday on these incidents or whether they might be part of the robbery series under investigation. Officer Perry said BPD had previously put extra patrols in that area of the hills, however, to help with stepped-up traffic enforcement.

No crime report statistics about robberies in Berkeley in March are currently available online due to technical problems with the police data feed. Berkeleyside has alerted BPD to the problem and asked for a fix. (Note: This issue was fixed after publication and Berkeleyside added a map of March robberies to the story above.)

In the first two months of the year, however, there were approximately 53 robberies reported in Berkeley, an average of about 1.1 a day, which is in line with historical trends. It was an uptick over the prior three months, however, when there were 66 robberies, with an average of 0.6 robberies per day. (Only six months of data are available at any given time.)

Robberies in Berkeley in January and February of this year. Click the map for a PDF list of the incidents. Image: CrimeMapping

Unlike other nearby agencies, existing Berkeley PD records do not specify which of the robberies in the city are armed. Berkeleyside has asked BPD to add this information to its online systems to make its records more transparent and useful. The department says it is looking into how to make this happen.

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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...