In front of about 85 people concerned with the recent spate of crime in their city, Police Chief Jeremy Bowers went over some familiar crime stats – both recent and as far back as 2007 – and reiterated the steps his department is taking, and wants to take, to fight a recent spike.
But some of those who came out Wednesday night for a public safety town hall meeting at the Community Hall said they remain fearful.
“We’re thinking about leaving, and there are many others,” said resident Sari Kaplan.
Bowers fielded questions and comments from 20 people over about 80 minutes Wednesday night, covering topics ranging from whether speed bumps would deter fleeing suspects (maybe, Bowers said, but they would deter pursuing police, as well), how the city is “hardening” itself from bad guys (more on that shortly), can Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) cameras be installed in the Trestle Glen neighborhood (maybe, Bowers said), can retirees with time on their hands serve as additional “eyes” for police (not really, Bowers said), making Piedmont crime stats more readily available for public viewing (we’d like to make that happen, Bowers said, and time-intensive but “in the public interest”), the police department’s “clearance rate” for solving crimes (six of ten recent robberies have either resulted in arrests or identification, Bowers said) and, as mentioned, whether Piedmont is a safe city in which to live.
That last question wasn’t so succinctly answered Wednesday night. Bowers and others said Piedmont, by pretty much any gauge, is safer than any surrounding community, Oakland or beyond.
Warren Glettner said he took some comfort in the most recent Piedmont crime stats, presented in detail at the Sept. 18 City Council meeting and to a lesser degree at Wednesday’s town hall gathering. He also said he believes criminals seem to be increasingly violent.
“Are we too scared of the reality, or are the stats not reflecting reality?” Glettner asked.
Bowers commented that the criminals are getting younger – as young as 13 for some serious crimes, he said – but said weighing crime stats, and how to respond to them, requires a measure of common sense. Piedmont residents, he added, must avoid “out-and-out paranoia.”
Bowers also described several significant measures to “harden” the city against crime that are either already underway – installation of more public safety cameras, prepping for adding three new police officers over the next year or so, physical improvements to the city’s emergency dispatch center, converting two former animal control officers to become non-sworn community police officers – or are in the department’s plans. The latter measures include determining locations for more ALPR cameras and ways to fund them; and training officers for plain-clothes duty in following up on ALPR-triggered spurred calls.
Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price has been criticized for being too soft on crime. But Bowers said even if Price is recalled or otherwise leaves that post, that little would likely change in the short term, and that more all-encompassing solutions are preferred. “We need to look at this (crime) situation more holistically,” he said.
Bowers implored town hall attendees to continue to call police about any sort of crime. At the Sept. 18 council meeting, the chief said that minor property crimes tend to be significantly underreported, especially in larger cities. He said Wednesday that such underreporting can help whitewash problems.
“If we don’t know the severity of a problem, how are we going to hold people accountable?” he asked.
After Wednesday’s session, Chris Moore of the local group Piedmont Neighbors Together said he was encouraged by Wednesday’s meeting.
“People are scared, certainly concerned,” he said. “The more we talk about it, the better it is.”
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