Emeryville “Most dangerous city in America” according to study. 91% Auto Burglary increase skewing data?

6 mins read

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.

This “heat map” provided by the EPD seems to show concentrations of auto burglaries in our parks, shopping centers and hotels.

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.

Within a year of Prop 47, the CA prison population decreased by 9,504 or 12% (Source: PPIC).

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 47Alameda 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.”

A friendly reminder: There were 773 Auto Burglaries reported in #Emeryville last year (up 8% from the following year).

A post shared by The E’ville Eye Community News (@evilleeye) on

“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

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. Rob, in the phrase “discretely breaking windows,” the word you want is discreetly, meaning furtively.

  2. We are a local business on Park Avenue, and auto burglary is now a common occurrence for our employees who leave their vehicles on Park or Watts Avenues. We’re only 2 blocks down the street from City Hall, across from Pixar. While city officials focus on raising the minimum wage to the highest level in the nation, and say the city–despite crime stats to the contrary–is not that dangerous, we have the privilege of dealing with layers of municipal regulations and taxes. And in answer to the inevitable comment, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave”, we are planning to do just that.

  3. In April I was informed that my auto insurance would double,
    in spite of my perfect driving record. Why? Because most companies rate you by zip code and Emeryville’s zip code
    is one of the worst (in terms of auto insurance) because it is shared with Oakland.

    I finally found insurance that costs less than what I had
    been paying — from AARP. They don’t use zip codes:
    they use street addresses, your driving record, and they
    compareyou with over-50 drivers (as opposed to Oakland

    Need to be an AARP member though, which means you
    need to be 50+, but this might help some of your readers.

  4. When the number of homeless drug addicts increases in an area, it should only be a surprise to the dimly lit that crime would also go up. Blaming the increase in crime on the recycling center’s closure is a reach. The reason crime has increased in the area is simple. One, the homeless are, by definition, desperate – especially when they’re addicted to meth, heroin, crack, etc – and their numbers in the area have been steadily growing for the past few years. And two, the passing of Prop 47 more or less gave criminals permission to commit non violent offenses, such as auto burglary, shoplifting, and other kinds of theft. The word is out that getting caught will likely only be a temporary inconvenience. I’ve had my car broken into twice in the last year, and I don’t keep anything inside of it, and my girlfriend’s car was stolen and totaled a few months ago. They caught the guy who did it, on the scene, ID’d by witnesses. And would you guess that the city of Oakland decided to not press charges? Well, they did decide just that.

    At least Emeryville police keep the homeless from setting up shop anywhere near where their residents live – unlike Oakland, who not only does nothing about the encampments, they in effect encourage them by providing amenities such as trash removal and restroom facilities.

    I have sympathy for the plight of the people living on our streets, but allowing these encampments does nothing to solve their problems, and it’s unfair to the people who lawfully live next to them. Take a walk around where the recycling center used to be. There are large mounds of decaying trash everywhere, the smell of human urine and feces permeates, and if you’re not careful you may get get stuck by one of the hundreds of hypodermic needles scattered on sidewalks and streets all over the neighborhood.

    I admit I don’t have the solution to the problem, but I know what doesn’t work, and that’s what they’re doing now – which is nothing.

  5. My car was burglarized in September 2015 in the Pak n Save parking lot. So was the car about 20 feet away. According to the Emeryville police officer (who was great), the criminals were gone in 90 seconds or less after my car alarm went off during the crime. The car was left unattended for less than 25 minutes while my wife and I were enjoying lunch at Wally’s Cafe across the street. Nothing was left in sight, as I am too wise to do that, as an experienced urban resident of Oakland, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia during the last 50 years. The security in that lot was then, and continues to be now, a bad joke. Why can’t Safeway corporate and other big retailers in Emeryville step up to the plate and provide a more visible and professional private security presence to protect the shoppers who support them? Just asking …

  6. Yeah,I got pic-pocketed at Pak N Sav,,,they actually got my wallet out of my back pocket..now I have a chain on my wallet.

  7. Rob, posting a How To video for smashing windows with ease might be ill advised…if they’re going to break our windows, at least let them do their own research.

    • Ha! I’m doubtful that the perpetrators of these crimes are E’ville Eye readers. This information is so prevalent (that particular video had 1.2 million views) I don’t think we’re letting the cat out of the bag, just educating people how these crimes are being committed.

  8. …and the city council is worried about what ode to cite when starting their meetings. I guess they have their priorities straight. They should be more concerned about the operation of the city. The declining tax base, increase in crime, and quality of life. It seems they are trying to turn this into Berkeley South. Hell, they’ve even tried to strong arm the school district about ownership of the middle school site, seems like they are pretty desperate.

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