Sometimes it takes a village- Sometimes just one resident

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I think we owe Tim Caton.

It was Caton who protested to the Rockridge public after the Locksley Avenue home that he and his wife, Ruth Paglierani, have lived in and beautified over 40 years was broken into twice within a few months earlier this year.

Their burglaries were part of a string of 10 break-ins and attempted break-ins along the two blocks of Locksley between Hudson and Cavour, which Caton alerted us to on the Nextdoor listserv and that also ran as a letter in the June Rockridge News.

"I'm not a complainer," the architectural consultant told me. But he felt abandoned by City Councilmember Dan Kalb's office which didn't return his initial calls; The Rockridge News for not reporting crime; and the Oakland Police Department (OPD) for their apparent inability to respond although a signal from one of his stolen electronic devices showed it was still nearby.

He got results. Kalb, OPD Area 2 Commander Captain Darren Allison, Special Resource Commander Randy Brandwood, Community Resource Officer (CRO) Anthony Hutzol and a Safer Rockridge representative met with more than 50 concerned residents (along with two Rockridge News staff members) at a May 27 neighborhood meeting held at the Rockridge Branch Library.

Allison was upfront: "The number one crime problem in this area is burglary. We're completely understaffed in the Oakland Police Department." He has one patrol car per eight-hour shift to cover both Rockridge and Temescal. And that officer can be diverted to critical incidents anywhere in the city. "We're basically trying to put our fingers in a dike."

"I have no doubt that it was the same person or persons in such a concentrated spree of burglaries on Locksley," he said.

"I can't stand burglars," Brandwood added. "The odds are very slim of catching them in the act. There's no (legal) ramifications for property crime anymore," making their risk worth the reward. Robbery Ð which Allison called "a more disturbing and personal crime" Ð still means jail time.

This was also the meeting at which Kalb said that over the next two years, Oakland hopes to graduate five more police academy classes. "I don't want to have to wait two years to feel safe," one resident said. Another said: "Our cars have been broken into so many times, we've stopped calling."

"Auto burglars are another animal," Allison said. "They are professionals going up and down the street." (And, apparently into parking lots, since three cars were broken into in the Rockridge Library lot as police addressed the June 18 RCPC meeting on public safety and crime prevention in Rockridge. See story, page 1.)

Residents wanted to know what they could do to protect their homes. Caton and Paglierani are busy implementing some of the safety procedures outlined at the May 27 meeting. "My takeaway," she told me, "is you've got to kind of layer the protection you have and make it a hassle for them."

They contacted alarm companies for bids, purchased a special double lock for their garden gate, locked up their ladders (one incident involved use of an available ladder), and keep in touch with neighbors.

They have a large-ish dog, who certainly barked when I approached their house. "We thought having our dog would be a deterrent," Caton said.

Officer Hutzol told the audience that he had walked the length of Locksley Avenue and thought that its heavy greenery and homes with side doors and/or very private back yards might lure a would-be intruder; "Anywhere someone can hide," he said. Of course, those features are also what make it such a beautiful neighborhood.

'Every time I come home [from her job as an educator] and open the door," Paglierani said, "I look to see if anything is disturbed." Caton checks their cars "sometimes more than once a night." Still, "It's hard to stay vigilant all the time," she adds. They are considering selling their home and moving.

But there are glimmers of hope. When my husband and I moved here four years ago, Oakland's police force numbered 637 sworn officers. And now, we are told, it is up to 722 and headed toward 762 in this budget year. Also, a year and a half ago, the Safer Rockridge group formed to oversee and finance a private patrol service (PPS).

Caton's compilation of his neighborhood's crime statistics appears to have prompted better coordination between Safer Rockridge and the OPD. Ten days after he went online, "Capt. Allison held his first meeting with PPS and other Area 2 private patrols. He plans to provide us with bi-monthly reports, including crime 'hot spot' identification, which we will then use to help prioritize patrols," according to Safer Rockridge's monthly report.

"To better target daytime and nighttime peak crime hours," the report continued, "we have adjusted the patrol hours per Capt. Allison's recommendations. [Most daytime burglaries occur 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.] PPS will also adjust its routes to support a heightened presence in the 'hot spot' areas."

As I write this in the third week of June, the neighborhood has had several weeks with the usual string of auto burglaries, always disturbing, but distinctly fewer home burglaries reported.

Also encouraging is the holistic approach to crime that Mayor Libby Schaaf and Police Chief Sean Whent embraced before a large audience at the June 6 Oakland Crime Summit held at Laney College.

"For Oakland to be the safe city we know it can be," Schaaf said, "requires incorporating sufficient police staffing, better community policing, and superior violence intervention and prevention programs." It also means "addressing the root causes of crime, starting with better jobs and improved education outcomes for our youth."

Over his two years in office, Whent said, homicides are down 26 percent; non-fatal shootings, 27 percent; robberies, 7 percent; residential burglaries, 31 percent. (He did not mention auto burglaries.)

"We're not satisfied with the level of service we're providing," Whent said. "You don't measure success by the number of people you put in jail. It's measured by streets filled with kids riding their bikes and their parents getting groceries out of their cars."

Note: I could not attend the June 18 RCPC meeting on public safety and crime prevention in Rockridge. Please see the related story at top of page 1. If you have comments on this column, please email judyberne@att.net.