In the last few years, the Temescal District has been heralded as one of the most culturally diverse communities in the city. Its growing popularity has resulted in increased interest from business owners and residents who are vying for a space within the community. But over the last few months, the number of robberies and thefts that have been reported to the Temescal Telegraph Avenue Community Association and the Temescal Merchants’ Association has shown an increase, the members of those associations say, leaving local merchants frustrated and asking for more help from the police and the city.
The two associations have received email notices and other forms of communication from merchants indicating that between March and July, at least eight merchants have reported incidents of theft, vandalism and assault, including a robbery at Marisa Haskell Jewelry, destruction of private property at Tanjia Restaurant, break-ins or attempted break-ins at The Mixing Bowl and Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop, and the mugging of two employees from 17 Jewels Salon & Spa.
Many of the merchants are blaming the crime on the decrease in the number of police officers in the area and the lack of response Temescal business owners say they receive when reporting a crime. According to several business owners who spoke with Oakland North, merchants’ calls to the police station go unanswered, or, should they speak with an officer, they are advised to document crimes that do not involve a physical assault via an online crime report. The neighborhood associations have started a letter writing campaign to request that the Oakland Police Department (OPD) assign a regular patrol officer to the area. The associations are currently asking their members to write letters documenting incidents of crimes so that the letters can be bundled together and sent to the OPD and the mayor’s office.
As of press time, OPD spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson had not returned responses to interview requests seeking more information for this story.
Darlene Drapkin, executive director of the Temescal Telegraph Avenue Community Association, said that merchants feel the police are focused on responding to violent crime rather misdemeanor cases. “One of the problems we’re having is the City of Oakland continues to shift its police resources to kind of reactive-type activities, as opposed to being proactive,” said Drapkin. “Temescal is a relatively safe neighborhood, but certainly incidents will happen. Unfortunately, Temescal is no longer getting that much attention and community policing appears to be going by the wayside.”
“A few years ago, a lieutenant told us that Temescal is Hawaii to them and East Oakland or West Oakland was Iraq, so that’s were they had to spend their time,” Drapkin continued.
Temescal merchant Grace Lee, who owns The Mixing Bowl, a shop specializing in salads, sandwiches and baked goods, said she now reports only serious crimes to the OPD. “The small petty crimes I just handle on my own,” she said. She said the merchants notify each other about shoplifters and other situations that could be harmful. “At this point I don’t think any of us even bother calling the OPD anymore,” Lee said. “What’s the point?”
“A few months ago someone broke in through the back door,” Lee said of her own shop. “I identified him, we had camera footage of him, called the OPD. Three different police officers came down here, looked at the footage, took my statement and zero follow up.” A few days after the first incident, the same person attempted to break into the shop for a second time, Lee said.
Last week someone attempted to break into Jena Davidson’s store, The Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop, which is approximately five blocks away from the Mixing Bowl, but was caught by a neighbor, Davidson said. “I didn’t even bother to call the police because they won’t come,” said Davidson. “I understand they’re busy, they’re very overworked and very understaffed, but it has put me in a position where I know that if something is happening and it is not addressed immediately, there is really no point.”
Davidson has lived in the area for more than seven years. When she opened her business a little more than one year ago, it appeared to her that the area was gradually improving with the arrival of new businesses, she said. But now she wonders if the recent rise in crime is because Temescal is receiving more publicity about the new businesses.
“My mother was robbed in a Safeway parking lot two weeks ago,” Davidson said. “She called the police. They said they were coming, [but] no officer ever responded or even helped her file a report. She dealt with the security guard in the parking lot. It has been three weeks since this happened.”
Julie Stevens, who owns 17 Jewels Salon & Spa, just a few blocks away from The Sacred Wheel, said that within the past two weeks, “Two of my employees were robbed half a block from my salon. … One was at gunpoint, the other was tackled and assaulted for her cellphone.”
Stevens, who is also on the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District board of the directors, said she and the residents down the street from her were able to identify one of the men who attacked one of her employees. After filing a report and giving the police a description, they saw the man parked on the street in their area. They were able to document part of his license plate number. But, she said, she is frustrated and concerned because trying to get the OPD to move forward on the case has been like “a fucking shut door.”
Stevens said she has heard of a total of five robberies in the past two months, including one last week at the bus stop in front of the Bank of the West during which someone’s phone was taken.
Property crimes are up this year throughout the city. According to the weekly OPD crime report submitted for July 16 to July 22, the number of robberies citywide this year is up from 1,677 to 2,075 at the same time last year, an increase of 24 percent. According to the report, the number of burglaries has gone from 4,574 at this time last year to 6,380 so far this year, increasing 39 percent.
The website Oakland.Crimespotting.org, an interactive map that provides crime reports and alerts for locations throughout the city, shows that during the week of July 23 through July 30 there were 47 reports of theft in the entire city, with 8 occurring in and around the Temescal area. These included four on MacArthur Boulevard between Broadway and Jackson Street, three on Telegraph Avenue between 44th and 54th Streets and one on Adeline Street.
There were 68 robbery reports in the entire city throughout this time period, with, seven in the Temescal area: One on West MacArthur Boulevard, one on 40th Street, two on Telegraph and 45th Street, one on Telegraph Avenue and 45th Street near Market, one on 53rd Street and one on 53rd and Telegraph Avenue.
There were 46 burglaries city-wide during this time period, one in the Temescal area on Telegraph Avenue and 45th Street.
Temescal merchants feel that the recent crime rate in their neighborhood is unusually high. “I’ve lived in Temescal for 14 years now and I have never experienced this level of crime that is happening right now,” Lee said. “It’s bad and everybody wants to do something about it, but what that is is unclear.”
In an effort to gain support for the Temescal District, the merchants have decided to have each business owner write a letter recounting criminal incidents that have occurred in the last few months. Lee is in the process of compiling all the letters that merchants have sent to her and will put together a packet to deliver to city officials, requesting that the OPD assign a police car or a problem-solving officer to patrol the area daily and in the evenings.
In the letters, the merchants lay out the details of the criminal activity they have witnessed and what steps they have taken to work with law enforcement. “My shop in Temescal Alley was robbed for the second time in the last year this weekend,” wrote Marisa Haskell, owner of Marisa Haskell Jewelry, in an email sent to the Temescal Merchants’ Association, which will be passed along to city officials. “Roughly $1,500 in jewelry was stolen as well as my bicycle and some personal possessions. I am increasingly concerned about the safety of the neighborhood.”
Davidson wrote one about the break-in at her cheese shop. “At 3:00 a.m., Saturday July 21 a man was stopped by our neighbors [from] cutting the glass out of a window on the side of the building,” she wrote. “Though our neighborhood is thriving in many positive ways, it seems that crime is thriving as well!”
Drapkin said that the Temescal Merchants Association and the Temescal Community District Association have been notified that a new problem-solving officer has been assigned to the area, which has been without one for several months after the previous problem-solving officer was reassigned to another location. The officer would be the liaison between the police department and the merchants in the area, and would patrol the neighborhoods to help resolve issues like loitering, shoplifting or disturbing the peace. But, said Drapkin, “One of the problems we have is that we keep getting a new one [problem-solving officer] every few months so we can’t develop any real relationship.”
In the past, Lee said, “We invited an officer to come and speak at our group [meeting]. He was to specifically address safety but he never showed and didn’t call and there’s been no follow up.”
The merchants have had several meeting to discuss ways to improve safety in the community. One option that has been discussed as an alternative to a police presence in the area would be to hire a private security firm. But the community associations do not have the funds for such an expense, so the business owners would pay the costs, said Stevens.
“Something needs to improve here, because they are keeping their eye off the ball in the neighborhoods that generate a lot of sales tax revenues for the City of Oakland,” Drapkin said of the city. “We want to keep people feeling safe about coming to Temescal and these little rash of crimes is just not good. It’s stuff that can be ‘nipped in the bud’ with just a little bit more police presence.”