Crime rates in Berkeley increased in nearly all areas from 2021 to 2022 but, in several areas, remain below pre-pandemic highs, according to the Berkeley Police Department, which presented its annual report this week.

The total number of violent and property crimes in 2022 was “the highest in the past 10 years,” Interim Police Chief Jen Louis told the City Council Tuesday in a special meeting. “Berkeley continues to have one of the highest property crime rates in our region.”

With the exceptions of arson and auto theft, which had spiked during the pandemic, each “Part 1” crime — the more serious crimes the FBI has selected for law enforcement agencies to count in their annual unified crime reports — increased in 2022 from the previous year.

Violent crimes, which include homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, increased by 25.2%. Total property crimes, including burglaries, larcenies, auto thefts and arson, jumped 14.5%, despite the dips in auto theft and arson.

The presentation also included statistics on traffic stops, pedestrian and bicycle safety, calls for service and use of force. You can watch the entire presentation and discussion here, or read it here.

Despite the increase, crime rates have hovered well below historic levels such as those seen in the latter decades of the 20th century.

Grand thefts — especially of catalytic converters — were on the rise, as were mail theft, robberies of pedestrians, gun seizures and reports of sexual assaults, said Rita De Lucchi, a civilian analyst for the police department. Pedestrian robberies in 2022 numbered 148, about three-fifths of the 247 reported in 2019, before the pandemic.

Catalytic converter thefts went from none reported in 2018 to 150 in 2019, 523 in 2020, and 477 in 2021 to 995 in 2022, according to the report.

The “proliferation” of scooters and e-bikes has had an accompanying spike in property crime as thieves try to steal them, De Lucchi said.

Gun seizures have also been on the rise in Berkeley.

“During search warrants for property crimes, we’re recovering guns, catalytic converter thieves, and also auto burglars are arming themselves and threatening victims with firearms,” De Lucchi said.

In 2022, Berkeley officers seized 115 guns, 43 of which had no serial numbers, according to data available on the department’s website. That was a slight increase — only six guns — from the total of all guns seized in 2021, but the number of “ghost guns” seized increased by nine. In 2020, police seized only 80 guns, 16 of which had no serial numbers.

Those numbers were slightly different from those presented to the council, which included a total of 119 guns seized in 2022, a 1% increase from 2021, with 34 ghost guns seized in 2022 and 33 in 2021.

Police were not immediately able to explain the discrepancy.

So far in 2023, police have seized five guns, all of which did have serial numbers, according to their website.

“It’s been an epidemic for some time now,” Berkeley police spokesperson Officer Byron White said. “It’s difficult enough to keep track of the licensed guns.”

Since tracing them is difficult by their very nature, White said, it is unclear whether ghost guns are being manufactured within the city.

Reports of rape increased from 57 in 2021 to 89 in 2022, according to the department’s presentation.

The higher number of reports does not necessarily correspond to a higher number of cases for the year, De Lucchi said. “We take those reports in the year that they’re given,” she said. Some cases are reported 40 or 50 years after the underlying assault, she said.

The increase in victims coming forward “may be due to an increased comfort level in reporting” cases of rape, De Lucchi said.

Pre-pandemic, there was a steady increase in reported rapes from 26 in 2013 to 83 in 2017, then 65 in 2018 and 74 in 2019, according to the department’s presentation.

The total number of felony, misdemeanor and juvenile sexual assaults — not just rapes — jumped from 133 reported in 2021 to 178 reported in 2022, according to data in the department’s transparency hub.

The lower numbers of reported rapes in the previous two years — 47 in 2020 and 57 in 2021 — may also be due in part to lockdowns and other precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, police theorized.

“When people were in lockdown, or still not fully returned, those numbers would be anomalies,” De Lucchi said.

The same is likely true with other crimes that dipped during the pandemic years.

“We’re not going to see people having their laptops stolen at the coffee shop, because they’re closed,” White said.

Conversely, auto thefts may have risen during lockdown for the same reason — people simply stayed home longer, but that meant their cars went unattended for longer periods, De Lucchi said.

The number of shootings rose only marginally, from 52 in 2021 to 53 in 2022, although all three of 2022’s homicides in Berkeley were by firearm, police said. There were no homicides in the city in 2021, and the number oscillated between none and five since 2013.

Hate crimes, too, “reflect a continued heightened awareness” in Berkeley, according to De Lucchi’s report, despite dropping from 42 cases in 2021 to 38 in 2022.

In addition to rising crime, police are coping with the fatigue and poor morale that come with forced overtime as the department grapples with low recruitment and retention.

Of the 181 sworn officers the department is authorized to employ and 176 for which it is budgeted, it has only 151 on staff, and some of those are on leave or in training, police Capt. Michael Durbin reported Tuesday. Nearly a third of the department’s sworn officers are eligible to retire within 10 years. A total of 30 officers can retire in just two.

While no data was available to quantify how, or if, low staffing has altered the department’s response time, “In general, there’s definitely a correlation between our response time to crime and then crime deterrents,” White told Berkeleyside in a phone interview.

The department’s dispatcher staff has just 24 dispatchers and supervisors, despite authorization for a total of 36, Durbin said. Independent auditors have asserted the department should be staffed higher still, with as many as 60 dispatchers and supervisors, he said.

The pool of officer applicants has shrunk dramatically, from around 1,000 applicants a year to a relatively paltry 200 beginning in 2020.

Berkeley also has to compete for top applicants against other law enforcement agencies, and it can take over a year to recruit and train new officers to succeed retiring ones.

As recently as 2017, the department had officers whose whole jobs were recruitment. Today, the officers who work on recruitment do it “as a side, ancillary assignment” in addition to their regular duties, White said.

Turnoffs for possible applicants are the nature of police work itself — working on-site, across holidays and weekends — and the increased level of accountability that arrived with the age of the internet and cellphone cameras, according to Durbin and White.

Nevertheless, White said, anyone who might be a good fit for the city should apply — not just as a police officer or dispatcher, but also for positions as community service officers, who don’t carry weapons, and parking enforcement officers.

“We can use all the help we can get, because we cannot do this alone,” White said.

Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...