The website SafeWise.com released its annual The 30 Most Dangerous Cities in America report in May. In the report, our city was ranked as the #1 Most Dangerous City in America rising from number three last year.
While this makes a compelling headline, is it true? Is little Emeryville really “dangerous”? The numbers are misleading according to Emeryville Chief of Police Jennifer Tejada.
To compile this report, SafeWise analyzed the most recent and complete 2016 FBI crime data for cities with a population of 10,000 or higher. Emeryville hovers near 12,000 residents according to the most recent census data. “The crime analysis done by SafeWise is based on Emeryville’s census population not our service population” noted Tejada. “[Emeryville] arguably has daytime swells of approximately 35,000 people, and weekends are most likely higher.”
More than likely impacting Emeryville’s ranking is our “edge city” makeup with a concentration of entertainment/shopping centers and easy access to major highways. Tejada points out that the increase in “violent” crime is largely fueled by robberies at our shopping centers. “The majority of our robberies consist of shoplifts by force, and therefore occur in our commercial areas (versus residential)”.
Having a neighboring city with inadequate police resources may also be a factor. None of the cities in the SafeWise report were necessarily “major” cities.
Despite the statistical increase in crime, arrests were actually down in 2016 (-32% decrease in adult arrests, -43% decrease in juvenile arrests). Tejada notes this decrease in arrests is not due to a change in policing philosophy, but more to do with staffing levels. “Arrests are related to proactive and discretionary time available to officers and when staffing levels are low (vacancies, injuries etc), we can always expect to see a drop in areas such as arrests.”
Tejada also points out that violent crime is actually down 9% for the year according to the most recent monthly report. Emeryville did not have a single homicide in 2016.
Auto Burglaries up a staggering 91%
The most notable increase in Crime is clearly Auto burglaries and there are many variables and traits of our city that make us susceptible to this “crime of opportunity”.
While anyone who has lived in Emeryville for any substantial length knows the protocol of leaving nothing in view in one’s car, visitors to our city might not be armed with the same knowledge. “We have done outreach to the local hotels, provided them with flyers they can hand to guests that give them advice on how to not become a victim of theft” noted Tejada.
Criminals have become savvy to the fact that many people will hide electronics under seats and in easily accessible hatchbacks. These devices, even in sleep mode, can be easily detected by wi-fi and bluetooth signal detecting devices. Criminals are also exploiting keyless entry systems more frequently as they become more sophisticated.
A more low-tech technique for discreetly breaking windows involves the use of “Ninja Rocks” which are fragments of porcelain from spark plugs that when thrown, shatter glass. Other inexpensive tools for punching through glass are readily available.
Closure of Alliance Recycling making people “more desperate”?
While last year’s closure of Alliance Recycling was welcomed by some residential neighbors of the business, it may have removed a legitimate income source for those on the margins of employability or suffering from addiction. Former Councilmember Jac Asher suggested its closing could drive crime up in a 2016 Council discussion. “Who knows what the effect of that is going to be? It could be that people are more desperate at that point.”
Jason Witt, who was profiled in the 2015 Dogtown Redemption Documentary suggested the same thing at a raucous Oakland City Council meeting. “If you take away that recycling center, crime will rise again in Oakland worse than you can ever think!”
The EPD does not track data on homeless perpetrators separately so there is no data to support this. “We do not keep data on homeless offenders, and the arrest policy is the same for all offenders,” according to EPD Crime analyst Adrienne Robinson.
Prop 47 Impact disputed
Emeryville clearly is not the only town in our urban core battling these crimes. This 2016 article in The Atlantic outlines some of the controversial policies that may be contributing to this epidemic including recent criminal reforms. The SF Chronicle and other sources have noted a connection with the passing of 2014 California Proposition 47 and an increase in property crimes. Prop 47 reduced the penalty for these “nonviolent” crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with the intent of reducing the burden on our overcrowded prisons and save the state money.
This suggestion is disputed in this 2016 study by The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. CJCJ is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates for alternatives to incarceration.
Prop 47 successfully lowering our prison population by more than 9,000 inmates according to most estimates. The savings from this reduction was intended to go toward treatment, victim services and other programs intended to keep people out of prison. These $103 million in prison savings was just recently distributed to 23 California Cities and Counties.
Emeryville Councilmember John Bauters, who is on the committee that decided which communities should get these funds, works for the organization that authored Proposition 47. Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, who provide support to residents in the justice system with mental health and substance issues, will receive $6,000,000 as part of this distribution.
This three years ‘lag” before these savings could be calculated and allotted to community and social services, criminal justice advocates and defense lawyers argue, may be causing many former inmates to end up on the streets with no safety net or support system according to this LA Times piece.
Law enforcement agencies have been questioning if Prop 47 is allowing “nonviolent” criminals to act with impunity knowing the likelihood of them getting punished is lower. At least one Emeryville business owner complained of a “catch & release“approach to the criminals at the recent small business forum noting the impact it was having on his business. This 2016 NPR piece notes the frustration of local law enforcement who note criminals are being released “before my partner and I finished our report”. They also note the difficulty of getting these criminals voluntarily into drug treatment programs without the threat of jail time.
Some are optimistic that Prop 47 will have longterm benefits. “The benefits to our society from locking up fewer nonviolent offenders will in the long run translate into safer communities, a better economy, and stronger services,” noted Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen in this 2015 SacBee piece.
Lawmakers are mulling a new ballot measure that would amend parts of the law, making it a felony to steal $950 worth of property in a calendar year (versus any one individual crime which it is currently).
EPD mounting awareness campaign, making progress?
What is the EPD doing to combat this problem? “We have taken measures to counter the problem,” noted Officer Robinson. “Every week patrol bulletins are published to alert officers as to where the hot spots are. Officers are deployed in those areas for extra patrol and are on alert for any noted suspect descriptions from previous incidents.”
The EPD has also engaged in an awareness campaign that includes signage in retail parking lots and outreach to local hotels and businesses. Robinson also notes they’ve the EPD along with some regional partners have made some key arrests to hopefully disrupt this trend. “We are beginning to see the numbers decrease this year from 105 in February and 106 in March, to 88 in April and 74 in May. If citizens take extra measures to keep their belonging out of sight, we may see the number decrease even more.”
“While every occurrence of crime is a concern, and any rise in any category of crime deserves our attention, I hope the above information sheds some light on why we should not be alarmed at this Safewise data and ranking” Chief Tejada noted. “Emeryville is not a ‘dangerous’ city.”
SafeWise describes itself as an industry leader in home security, committed to increasing safety education, awareness, and preparedness in American communities.
Read the SafeWise.com report →
Further Reading & Resources:
Proposition 47 and Crime in 2015: A County-Level Analysis | CJCJ.org [PDF]
Prop. 47 got thousands out of prison. Now, $103 million towards … | LATimes.com
Just the Facts: California’s County Jails | PPIC.org
Why Can’t San Francisco Stop Its Epidemic of Window Smashing? | TheAtlantic.com
California Cops Frustrated With ‘Catch-And-Release’ Crime-Fighting | KQED.org
An explosion of California property crimes — due to Prop. 47 | SFChronicle.com
$103 Million in Prison Savings Awarded to 23 California Cities, Counties | KQED.org
Retailers and law enforcement officials want lawmakers to increase … | LATimes/com
Editorial Governor Brown is lowballing the savings from Proposition 47 | LATimes.com
Is Prop. 47 working? Depends whom you ask | The Press-Enterprise
This story and others made possible through the contributions of our supporters.