There Are Many Reasons Behind Recent Crime Increase. Instead of Blaming, Let's Help BPD Attract and Retain Good People.
I am troubled by the newly released statistics showing that crime in Berkeley has steadily increased over the past several years. Although the overall crime rate is lower today than it was a decade ago, the recent uptick – a trend replicated nationally – is worrisome and must be addressed. I, along with other council members, want to do everything we can to help the Berkeley Police Department not only fight crime, but be proactive in crime prevention. This means helping the department staff up to its full levels funded by City Hall and retain existing personnel so that officers have all the support they need.
Despite high profile cases, including among Bay Area agencies, the Berkeley Police Department has had a great track record over the years. It has some of the best-trained and most educated officers, and has avoided the type of scandals that plague many agencies. We value and respect our officers and want to help them do their jobs.
Now, in light of the shortage of personnel, we must work together to think of proactive and creative ways to attract a new crop of officers who seek opportunities for professional development and growth. This could mean changing how recruitment is done or looking at salaries and benefits to be competitive.
I want to remind residents that in a “strong city manager” form of government such as ours, the mayor does not direct the day to day operations of the police or have any say on how the agency’s resources are spent. However, I am here to support Police Chief Greenwood and will be meeting with him soon to discuss what we can do to address retention and recruitment, and address the uptick in crime.
While we work to be proactive in addressing crime, we also have to be careful to not jump to conclusions about who is behind these incidents. While the number of homeless have undoubtedly increased on our streets, there is no evidence that those without shelter are responsible for the vast majority of crime. In fact, the rise in assaults is directly attributable to last year’s protests aggravated by people coming into our community to cause a ruckus and the theft increase has much to do with lap-top “snatches” in our cafes. As housing prices soar, income inequality also rises, leaving many people lost and vulnerable. Ask any criminologist and they will tell you that the reasons behind any increase in crime are complex and cannot be boiled down to one simple answer.
Having said that, we absolutely need to assist our police department in retaining officers and identifying more resources to deal with the homeless so that officers are not continuously diverted. That is why we will open a year-round, service-rich navigation center at Second and Cedar streets by mid-May. There, people will not only be able to get shelter and food, but also treatment for addiction and assistance with finding a job.
Ultimately, we want our residents to feel safe, our police to have the tools to do their jobs well and find appropriate spaces for the homeless that do not pose a risk to residents, businesses and schools while being realistic about our lack of shelter. Instead of casting blame, let's work together to find solutions to these myriad of problems that affect us all.