An open forum Monday night at Homeroom in North Oakland drew nearly a hundred concerned residents who packed into the restaurant and onto the surrounding sidewalks to discuss the Temescal area’s recent surge in crime.
Many in the crowd said they had been victims of attempted or successful muggings, armed robberies, break-ins, thefts and assaults, and gathered in small groups to discuss tactics to help make their community more secure. Merchants in the Temescal area faced a rash of robberies and break-ins last summer, and electronics thefts, particularly of smartphones, are also on the rise. Over the last weekend, a taxi cab driver was stabbed outside of the nearby MacArthur BART Station.
The meeting, which was hosted by concerned neighbors, attracted nearby residents, representatives from the Oakland Police Department, local merchants and members of various neighborhood watch groups.
“Our intention for the meeting is to create an open and caring environment to express our opinions,” said Temescal resident Jessie Wayburn, who lives in an apartment complex down the street from Homeroom and helped to organize the gathering. Wayburn contacted the restaurant about hosting the meeting after her apartment complex was broken into by armed thieves in mid-December. “I emailed Homeroom because guys came into my apartment building with guns and I said, ‘I’m sick of it,’” Wayburn said.
Sara Erickson, who lives near 49th and Manila, helped found Temescrawlers, a neighborhood watch group that meets Wednesday evenings at 9 pm to walk throughout the area and discuss community crime prevention. “This is a sign of how it’s personally affecting everybody,” Erickson said, gesturing to the full house. “People care, but what can we do that’s effective? What’s more helpful is meeting neighbors and talking about crime and other lines of communication.”
There have been recent muggings in broad daylight on the sidewalks right in front of Homeroom, she said, which is located on a well-traveled commercial strip on 40th Street. “There was no shame in their game,” she said of the muggers.
Lee Edwards, who heads the Temescal Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), said crime in the Temescal district has increased more than 100 percent within the last three years, in part because of the city’s inability to staff more police officers. “We used to have officers walking up Telegraph,” Edwards said. “We’re in a unique location. 40th Street is on the edge of a [police] beat. In effect, it should get double the patrolling.”
But budget cuts have made extra police presence in the area a near impossibility. There are only 616 Oakland police officers currently employed throughout the city, compared to 837 in 2008. Only four officers patrol from 25th Street to the Berkeley border, said Oakland Police Department Sgt. Fred Shavies, who spoke at the meeting. Robberies are frequent above 40th Street and there are a “crazy amount of robberies” between 38th and 40th Streets, he said. “I could go on and on about needing more police officers, but that’s not going to solve anything,” Shavies said. “A lot of it is budgeting issues.” Instead, he encouraged concerned residents to reach out to members of the city council and to report suspicious activity to the OPD’s non-emergency number—(510) 777-3333—and emergency line—(510) 777-3211—if needed.
The group also discussed the importance of maintaining open dialogue with neighbors, including keeping running lists of cell phone contacts and email and street addresses of residents. Being aware of neighbors’ daily routines—like if they tend to keep doors and windows open—also helps to keep a block aware of suspicious activity, attendees said. “We want to build a community that looks each other in the eyes as they pass each other on the street and makes small talk; to make a community that feels like they’ve been seen,” one concerned resident told the group.
Discussion also included suggestions that neighborhood watch groups like the Temescrawlers and MossWatch—located in Mosswood and Lower Temescal—join forces, as well as for petitioning City Council members to install better street lighting and plastering anti-crime fliers throughout commercial and residential districts. “It’s about building community,” said one woman, who said that her roommate had been mugged in front of their home. “You stop crime from the ground up.”
A second meeting to discuss crime and safety will be held March 11. To find out more information about the meeting, or to join the group’s email list and Google Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: The email address has since been changed to email@example.com