Local: April 2008 Archives

A commenter on my “Bothered by crime? Protest the war” entry suggested I was manipulating the facts because:

  • my analysis looked at all crime, rather than only at property crime
  • my numbers focused only on crime within only 1 block of Avontus Software’ office, ignoring the possibility that employees are walking to work, going to lunch, or parking several blocks away
  • as of 2006, property crime rates in Berkeley exceeded that of Oakland or Richmond

The first two statements are true. The last one’s irrelevant, because I’m only addressing Avontus Software’s claim that high crime rates were linked to the Berkeley Police Department being tied up with protesters.

I re-ran my numbers based on these suggestions, looking only at property crimes within “three blocks” of Avontus Software’s office, as calculated by the indispensable Berkeley Crimelog — an area which in reality encompasses 43 actual human square blocks and about 10% of UC Berkeley, including four parking garages, almost a hundred restaurants, and almost the entirety of Berkeley’s downtown, arts, and transit centers.

The results? Avontus’ suggestion that property crime rates are going up because the police are distracted by anti-war protesters is still a misleading statement, given that January-March property crimes near Avontus Software’s office are actually at a four-year low (down 26% over the past two years), at precisely the time that Berkeley Police have supposedly been the most distracted by having to deal with the anti-war protests two blocks away.

A recent Daily Californian article describes how Avontus Software, a small tech business, is moving out of Berkeley. The company, which moved to downtown Berkeley from Oakland in 2007, is leaving because of the high crime rate, which their CEO blames on the police being “forced…to deal with protests at the Marine recruiting center” two blocks away.

The story’s gotten some pickup in right-wing blogs, where eager commenters are hoping that this is the beginning of the end for Berkeley’s economy. (Berkeley’s anti-war chickens coming home to roost, as it were.)

I feel bad that Avontus or its employees may have been crime victims. However, blaming the “high crime rate” on the police’s having to deal with the protests seems to be at odds with reality: criminal incidents near Avontus’ office at 2140 Shattuck in Berkeley have apparently dropped by nearly 30% from 2007 to 2008.

Per Berkeley Crimelog, the number of crime incidents reported within one block of 2140 Shattuck over time was 359 in 2005, 382 in 2006, 321 in 2007, and 56 for Jan 1-Mar 29 2008 (about 230 annualized). That’s a 28% drop between total incidents in 2007 and annualized incidents for 2008.

To be extra-conservative, I assumed Crimelog may not have all March 2008 incidents on file, so I looked only at crimes with a block of Avontus’ office during January and February over the past four years. The result? A 29% drop between 2007 and 2008.

Why the big drop in crime near Avontus’ office in downtown Berkeley in 2008? We may need to thank the anti-recruitment protests two blocks away, which started in fall 2007 and escalated this year. Perversely, the police’s heavy local response to the protests may well be keeping downtown residents and businesses safer. (Bothered by crime in your neighborhood? Picket the military to get an instant boost in police presence.)


Anirvan Chatterjee is a San Francisco Bay Area tech geek and bibliophile.


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