Berkeley police are currently investigating a series of robberies beginning in mid-March, five of which were within a few blocks of each other on Southside near the UC Berkeley campus.
While the investigation is ongoing, Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, detectives believe that about 13 robberies in the city are related, according to BPD spokesperson Byron White. These robberies reflect a crime uptick in surrounding areas as well, including Emeryville and Oakland.
“It’s been a challenging year for crime in our city, especially as the pandemic has resulted in so many fewer eyes on the street,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “Things have generally seemed to be improving as things reopen, but I’ve been seriously concerned by the violent situations nearby recently, including in my neighborhood.”
Near campus, there were armed robberies at Ellsworth Street and Blake Street on March 19 and March 23, in addition to three armed robberies involving a silver handgun and a small sedan near Parker Street, Fulton Street and Channing Way, as reported by UCPD.
BPD recommends the public to travel in groups and on well-lit routes, while constantly remaining aware of surroundings, according to White. Police also encouraged people to keep “attractive” electronic devices concealed while walking, White said.
White added that campus students should consider using the campus’s Night Safety Services, which include Bearwalk and the night safety shuttle.
Campus graduate student Roy Zhao noted that the robberies “feel like a chain.” As a four-year resident of Berkeley, he mentioned that robberies do occur in the area and reflected on another robbery from two to three years ago. While Zhao said he has been more “on guard” than before, he anticipates these types of events. Zhao added that he avoids running in the neighborhood at night.
“The difficult reality about the area which surrounds the UC Berkeley campus is that it is an attraction for many—including people willing to commit crime,” White said in an email. “While we continue our investigative efforts, we encourage the public to take some basic steps in the hopes of dissuading ‘would be thieves’ from targeting them.”
Berkeley detectives are coordinating with regional law enforcement agencies that have been investigating similar crimes, White added. The main suspect in the robbery series was arrested by the Oakland Police Department, resulting in three arrests directly related to the series, according to Robinson.
However, White noted that violent crime has decreased overall due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the violent crime rate this year is slightly lower compared to last year.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín addressed the issue of violence in a virtual Community Safety Town Hall on March 31. The town hall was also attended by interim BPD chief Jen Louis, council members Terry Taplin and Ben Bartlett, with more than 100 attendees.
During the town hall, Arreguín discussed the work being done by the city to reimagine policing and approach the causes of violent crime in the area.
In regards to city plans, Taplin and Bartlett recently issued a proposal to fund bike and foot patrols in West and South Berkeley, which has the potential to “enhance community trust with BPD,” according to a budget recommendation.
“These instances of violence also impact our broader community and do create fear for people who live in our community,” Arreguín said during the town hall.