Categorized | Crime

Crime Rates Down in El Cerrito

BY SWETA VOHRA //

In the past two years, statistics show that El Cerrito has put a significant dent in crime rates. The most significant reduction has been in larceny-theft crimes, which can include stealing personal property from unlocked cars or houses. Chief Scott Kirkland says this decrease in crime rates is due to “a myriad of factors.”

According to statistics compiled by the El Cerrito Police Department, from the year 2006 to 2007, the number of crimes reported in the city fell from 1,807 to 1,466, with the largest drop in theft offenses. The year-to-date crime reports in 2008 stands at 929.

One of the main factors for an overall decrease in crime, according to Kirkland, is the Police Department’s Bicycle Patrol Program, which deploys officers on bikes instead of patrol cars. “Last July, we really invigorated our Bike Patrol Unit,” says Kirkland, in an effort to combat crimes more effectively in the city.

The Bike Unit allows officers to monitor places that police cars may not have easy access to such as the parks, the Ohlone Greenway and El Cerrito Plaza. According to Kirkland, many residents believe the BART pathway is a dramatically less safe area compared to other parts of town, when in reality the crime statistics show it does not have a higher incident rate.

Therefore, this “perception of safety,” is the hardest thing to handle sometimes, says Kirkland. When officers on bikes ride up and down this area, it eases people’s fears as well as fights crime.

Another factor that has cut crime rates is the School Resource Officer Program. Two School Resource Officers are stationed at El Cerrito High School and according to Kirkland, “have established good relationships with students and more importantly, made clear what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior.”

Kirkland says he hears daily from the resource officers, which helps him stay informed about the youth in the community. He stresses that listening to his officers and the residents is “paramount.” Kirkland adds, “How responsive can you be without listening to the community?”

One of the ways that Kirkland keeps in touch with his community is through the El Cerrito Crime Prevention Committee. Aside from appointing a police liaison, Kirkland also tries to attend meetings when he can.

Suzanne Iarla, the community outreach specialist for the committee, says the prevention committee “focuses on crime prevention and safety topics.”

According to Iarla, the committee consists of volunteer residents who meet the second Wednesday of each month. National Night Out as well as working closely with the police and fire departments are some of the key functions of the group.

National Night Out, which takes place annually in August, consists of several block parties around El Cerrito where neighbors can get together to discuss concerns with each other, as well as police officers and elected officials. The prevention committee also plans to host a “family friendly” event in the spring to help promote the Bike Patrol Program.

“It’s important to share success stories to help reduce crime,” says Iarla.

Kirkland also stresses that sometimes residents may not realize how the police are fighting crime in the city. During the string of take-over robberies in Oakland earlier this year, Kirkland says their department sent out officers in “plain clothes, unmarked bikes, and unmarked cars.” Even if residents are not aware of that, “it’s okay by me,” says Kirkland.

Kirkland says the biggest challenge facing his department today is getting a new department building. Built in the late 50s, the current building is “not functional for today’s modernization,” according to Kirkland.

He emphasizes new officers are in limited quantity and having an old, outdated department appears less attractive to new recruits. “I understand its expensive [to build a new department] but we should take the steps to improve,” says Kirkland.

In the meantime, Kirkland and his department will continue making efforts to cut crime rates and encourage residents to remain active in this effort. He constantly stresses for residents to contact the Police Department if they feel suspicious about something in their neighborhood. Kirkland says, “I would rather have an officer respond to such a report and find nothing amiss versus not being called and later learn that a crime did occur.”

Chart: El Cerrito Crime Breakdown

Line Graph: Crime in Past Five Years

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