Eyes on Rockridge

'Ten years ago, no one thought to kick down a front door'
Thursday, June 13, 2013

It's two years this month since my husband and I moved to Rockridge.

In my first Rockridge News column, I spoke of the walkability, neighborliness, land/seascapes and amazing weather that definitely differentiate Rockridge from the metro-Detroit suburb we had lived in for nearly 40 years.

I still love it here- and am very glad we made the move. But the current Oakland crime statistics, which certainly include Rockridge, put a damper on the joy of living here. Before I moved, I never knew anyone personally who was burglarized or robbed (much less shot or murdered) in my safe suburb where I often left doors unlocked and windows open if I were going out for a run or walk. There was a slight chance that if you left something valuable in an unlocked car in your driveway overnight, it might not be there in the morning. But the car certainly would.

But here City Councilman Dan Kalb, who lives around the corner from me, was robbed during his campaign for office last fall. A young man I met when I was reporting on Boyd Avenue's monthly soup parties had recently been mugged on his way home from California College of the Arts. Another Rockridge woman who I wrote about, and has become a friend, was the victim of a home invasion on a recent weekday.

"The scary part," she details, "is that they managed to break open our front door using crow bars, breaking through the panels and popping out the mortise lock and dead-bolt. This all in a neighborhood where everyone is generally watchful." According to the police, she says: "They were young and this wasn't their first rodeo."

My neighbor, Beth Johnke, last month alerted the community through the Nextdoor Shafter listserv that, while walking home from Kaiser in broad daylight, she witnessed the robbery of an older woman walking up the steps to her house pulling her shopping cart. It happened just south of the Rockridge border at John and Howe streets.

"An African American man ran up the steps, grabbed her groceries and purse," Johnke reported. "He jumped in a waiting car with a driver yelling, 'Thank you very much' as they sped off in a black sedan."

And that's just the people I know. It doesn't include the attempted mugging two blocks away of a couple who had just moved here, as they were walking home from College Avenue after dinner. He was shot in the shoulder, somewhat inadvertently. But inadvertently happens when guns are present.

And it doesn't count the numerous strangers who appear to be casing homes and run off down the street when they are sighted.

Meantime, of course, we experienced three Oakland police chiefs within three days, giving at least the impression of further disarray. And when was the last time you saw an OPD car actually patrolling Rockridge streets and not here to investigate an incident after the fact?

It's no wonder that the listservs are bursting with suggestions for attacking crime including passing a special assessment to procure policing of this area, hiring private security guards, mounting surveillance cameras, knocking down trees that are blocking light sources and improving street lighting.

"We're getting more business from the Rockridge area," says Randy Reed, of Reed Brothers Security. For example, "instead of just re-keying newly-purchased homes, we're doing major door hardening." He's also selling more alarm systems, surveillance cameras and stocking commercial quality dead bolts for home use for the first time. "Ten years ago, no one thought to kick down a front door," Reed says. He cites decreased police presence, criminals' ability to stake out an area and communicate by cell phone, and the street value of smart phones and tablets (known as itheft), as reasons why Oakland is the robbery capital of the country.

More muggings are occurring in Rockridge, Montclair and the Oakland Hills than in Temescal where his business is located, says Reed, who keeps close track. "The police call them 'target rich' areas. You're likely to get more for your mugging. And there's easy access to the freeways."

"I want people to put the police on the hook," says Councilman Kalb who says he will arrange a meeting with police for Council District 1 (which includes Rockridge) later in the summer. The increase in crime "is very serious," he says. "When I walk home, I avoid neighborhood streets. The need is to do something to reduce crime and get back to a sense of safety. The police need to hear from the people."

He backs both a budget that will increase the police force to more than 800 over the next two years and the recent Bratton Report that focuses on reducing violent crime immediately.

It calls for dividing the city into five geographic areas, each headed by a captain accountable for crime, and building community collaborations in his or her area. It also moves investigators down to the district level to work with beat and problem solving officers.

Importantly, it also makes solving property crimes a priority. Reportedly, only one part-time investigator was assigned to the 10,000 burglaries committed in Oakland last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Bratton calls for a burglary unit in each of the five districts.

Meantime, we must band together. Rather than barricading ourselves in our homes and abandoning our streets, we must use our communication tools and sensible precautions to outsmart would-be criminals, many of whom are reportedly in their teens.

Attending the Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings, forming and being active in Neighborhood Watch groups, joining the numerous listservs and heeding the generally good advice that your neighbors give are some of the basics.

As eight-year Rockridge resident Monica DiPerna passionately reminded on a recent listserv: "Please remember to leave your lights on in your houseÉ Also, look out your windows, walk out onto your porch, look around... If we all did this a little bit moreÉin the evenings especially, that could really help. Please turn on your porch lights at 8 pm... NO MORE CRIME IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD. We are done. Thank you!"

Judy Berne welcomes your comments and column ideas. Contact her at judyberne@att.net.