Auto Burglaries

Monday, May 22, 2017

Welcome to this edition of my community blog. The primary topic for this post is auto burglaries. This blog edition appears longer due to the use of graphics that illustrate data on auto burglaries in Emeryville. After the main piece on auto burglaries I have provided updates on last week's Small Business Forum and California Arts Council delegation visit. All of the small business resources provided to forum attendees are included in this post. Finally, today is Harvey Milk Day. This edition ends with a link to an opinion piece I was invited to write about Harvey Milk Day for the nation's oldest LGBT news weekly. I have also provided some resources for families, friends and teachers of LGBTQ youth.


Crime prevention is as important as crime reporting. When discussing data and crime trends, the public should be armed with information that can help make our community safer through prevention. The goal of this post is to provide community stakeholders with information about auto burglaries that can be used to help residents, customers, guests and employees of Emeryville reduce our collective risk for becoming a victim of this kind of crime.

The Big Picture: While Most Crime is Down, Auto Burglaries are Up

A copy of the EPD April 2017 Crime Report is below. As you can see in the lower blue circle, there were 122 more crimes between January and April of 2017 than the same period last year. If you look at the upper blue circle, you will see that we have had 187 more auto burglaries in the first four months of 2017 than we did for those months in 2016. If you look at the column for "YTD 2017" you will notice that auto burglaries account for almost 45% of all crimes reported in Emeryville this year (393 out of 885). This increase is alarming. Consider this for a moment: if auto burglaries were removed from this statistical analysis, Emeryville would have 65 fewer crimes between January and April 2017 than during the same period last year. Auto burglaries are having a dramatic impact on Emeryville's crime statistics. With this context in mind, the important take-away from this data strongly suggests that while our community safety has noticeably improved in many areas, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to preventing auto burglaries.

Part 1 Crimes P1 Auto Burglaries Have Increased Even While Other Crimes are Down

This problem is not limited to Emeryville by any means. Auto burglaries are on the rise all across the Bay Area. In fact, one of Emeryville and the East Bay's most notorious auto burglary suspects led police on a high speed chase before crashing his getaway car on the freeway in Emeryville and escaping on foot. Law enforcement agencies are partnering together in an effort to solve this regional crime spree.

Where do Auto Burglaries Happen?

At the May Public Safety Committee meeting we learned about where these smash-and-grab auto burglaries were happening most often. Heat mapping the number of auto burglaries across the city last year shows us where the concentrations of auto burglaries are happening. From this we can see that the most common place for these has been in shopping centers. In particular, the Powell Street Plaza, East Bay Bridge Shopping Center and the Towers on Powell Street have a higher concentration of auto burglaries reported. Proximity to freeways makes it easier for auto burglars to get out of town quickly after committing the crime.

Auto Burglaries P2 Brighter Spots on the Map Indicate Higher Auto Burglary Incident Rates

When are Auto Burglaries Happening?

While this crime can happen at any time of the day, the most common time these crimes occur is between 5:00 - 9:00pm, when residents and shoppers are typically eating dinner or running after-work errands. These crimes are also slightly more common at the beginning and end of the work week. A break down of the number of auto burglaries reported by hour and day of the week during 2016 is provided below. You'll see the highest concentration of events circled in blue.

Auto Burglaries P4 Auto Burglaries Occur Most Commonly During Dinnertime Hours

How is an Auto Burglary Committed?

While auto burglars use a variety of methods for breaking into cars, I found one of the common methods being reported by EPD worth noting. Police report that some people committing auto burglaries are using small ceramic pieces commonly found in the your basic spark plug as a tool to break into your car. These ceramic pieces are harder than actual rocks, which explains their street name: "Ninja Rocks." Throwing them at a car window is often all it takes to take out a window. You can watch a short demonstration of how this is done HERE. The speed with which this can be accomplished makes it difficult for police to predict or prevent on their own. The below images show damage caused by ninja rocks that hit but did not break the glass.

[gallery ids="2858,2857" type="rectangular"]

Tips for Preventing an Auto Burglary

There is no foolproof way of preventing an auto burglary from occurring. However, there are a number of simple, smart ways to reduce the chance that you, your guest or business customer becomes an auto burglary victim here in Emeryville:

(1) Never leave valuables in your car

It should probably go without saying, but never leave valuables in your car. While there are clearly times when taking everything with you isn't possible, do your best to mitigate your risk.

(2) Never leave electronic devices ON - even in your trunk!

Why does it seem like the people committing these crimes always know which car has the iPad in the trunk? Well, many of them actually do know. Thieves utilize wifi-detection devices that work just like your own iPad does when it is searching for a wifi signal. They walk around cars and search for the signal that pings from your electronic devices. Leaving your electronic device in "sleep mode" or closing your laptop without turning it off does not necessarily shut off all of the electronic signals it sends. According to police, many of the people committing these crimes near shops and restaurants are looking for devices that a shopper/diner has left in sleep mode in their trunk. They can detect your wireless device's signal by literally walking around the car and picking up signal strengths. Take away: turn all your devices off completely or, better yet, don't leave them in your car in the first place.

(3) Window tinting doesn't solve the problem

There are several schools of thought about whether tinted windows attract or deter would-be burglars. The truth is that it doesn't matter. Flashlights can see through tinted windows. Don't think you can leave things in your back seat because you have well-tinted windows - a thief can still see what's there.

(4) Never leave a garage door opener in your car

Although it takes a little more practice, leaving your garage door opener in a car you park on the street makes you susceptible for more serious crimes, like residential burglary. Keep your garage door opener in your house with your keys. The same goes for Toll Transponders. Leaving them out in the open can cause you other kinds of headaches after the burglary.

Has Anything Worked So Far?

We have found that signage warning shopping patrons to take their valuables with them at our local shopping centers has been effective in reducing auto burglaries in those locations. You may have seen them around town - they help! While it is unclear if they deter would-be criminal activity or if shoppers actually heed the warnings, we don't know for sure. The EPD is working with private security partners at shopping and business centers around town as they strategize to combat the issue of auto burglaries in Emeryville.

Finally, a small note on how criminal statistics are reported in Emeryville. Some residents have cited a dramatic 18% increase in crime between 2015 and 2016, suggesting that crime has exploded. This increase is largely due to changes EPD made to how crime statistics are reported. Prior to January 2016, EPD only reported incidents where a police report was filed. The consequence of this practice was that the community did not have visibility to a large number of calls that EPD responded to but for which no police report was filed by the caller/victim. In order to tell the complete story about the good work EPD is doing, we changed our reporting practices in 2016 to include any call for service, even if the caller or victim ultimately chooses not to file a formal report after police have arrived on scene. While any increase in crime must be treated seriously, this change in reporting methods accounts for the vast majority of the year-over-year increase that was reported between 2015 and 2016. If reporting mechanisms had remained unchanged, the total increase using the previous method would have be closer to 2%. As noted, the reality remains that crime is up this year, the overwhelmingly cause being the regional auto burglary problem plaguing the Bay Area.

Being armed with information is the first step to achieving community safety for everyone. Let's continue to work together on this and other community safety initiatives going forward. Special thanks to the men and women of EPD who keep Emeryville a safe place to live.


Small Business Forum

Thank you to the more than SIXTY attendees representing small businesses who participated in last week's Small Business Forum. The feedback I have received about the event has thus far been overwhelmingly positive. Special thanks to my colleagues on the City Council and Planning Commission for attending a midday meeting and listening so attentively to the ideas presented by the community. Additional thanks to Chad Smalley, Charlie Bryant and Emi Theriault for their partnership and collaboration in putting this event together and securing our guest presenters. I am grateful to everyone who helped make this event a huge success.

If you were unable to attend the meeting but would like to access the information that was provided, the entire event was recorded. You can view video of the entire event HERE.

The City of Emeryville and the East Bay Economic Development Alliance (East Bay EDA) did slideshow presentations about grant assistance programs and other resources for small business at the outset of the event. Both of those slideshow presentations can be found in their entirety, HERE.

There were a number of handouts on small business grant and financial assistance programs discussed by the presenters. Those handouts are consolidated HERE.

Additional small business resources and more detailed information on small business loan programs are available on the Working Solutions website.

Finally, during the presentation, Emeryville-based Ripple Foods was mentioned for the recognition it recently received when it won the East Bay EDA's 2017 East Bay Innovation Award for food technology. I had the pleasure of attending the event earlier this year with Council Member Martinez. A short video highlighting this year's iAwards winners can be viewed HERE.

Next Steps:

  • While turnout was excellent, I understand that not all small businesses who wished to participate could do so during the middle of the day. I am reviewing options for ensuring we capture the feedback from community stakeholders who could not attend last week's forum.
  • The City staff will be compiling the nearly two hours of public comment we received into a list of suggestions and recommendations for the Council to review and discuss in the coming months.
  • The conversation is not over. There are a number of things I heard people ask us to work on that I hope to turn into actionable items in the near future. Please remain engaged as we work through that process.

California Arts Council Visit

Last week, city staff, resident leaders, business community partners, Mayor Donahue and I hosted a small delegation from the California Arts Council in support of our bid for one of the initial Cultural Arts District designations being offered by the state. Their whirlwind tour of the city showcased the city's artists, our diverse art production industry and our commitment to art in public places. Special thank you to the many art producers who opened their studios to the Arts Council delegates and the residents who attended the stakeholder meeting at the 45th Street Artist's Cooperative to discuss the role art plays in civic life here in Emeryville. The Council delegates had many nice things to say about our local artist community. One delegate commented to me at the end of the day that local artist/resident John DeMerritt's bookbinding studio was among her favorite experiences while visiting Emeryville. Thank you to everyone who helped showcase our artistic identity!

Next Steps:

The city will learn whether we have moved on to the next phase of the competition by early July 2017.


Today is Harvey Milk Day. Born on May 22, 1930, Harvey Milk is typically remembered for being the first openly gay person elected to a public office in California history when he was elected as a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977. His life was cut short when he was assassinated at San Francisco City Hall by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. You can learn more about Harvey Milk, his life and the challenges he faced as a pioneer in the gay rights movement by reading his official biography HERE.

I was recently asked by the Bay Area Reporter to write an opinion piece about the significance of Harvey Milk's historic speech calling for LGBTQ people to come out to their families, neighbors and coworkers from the perspective of an openly gay elected official today. You can read my reflections on Harvey Milk Day and the growing issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness HERE.

Although much progress has been made in forty years, many LGBTQ youth still face rejection and even violence in their homes and schools when they come out to others. The trauma many of these youth experience leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.

While there is absolutely no substitute for telling a child who is struggling with their own sexual orientation/identity that you love them unconditionally, HERE is a compilation of LGBTQ youth resources I recommend for parents, relatives, friends and teachers  working with children or youth who identify as LGBTQ.

If you are an Emeryville resident and want someone to speak with privately about resources for an LGBTQ youth in your life, do not hesitate to contact me at

If you are an LGBTQ youth who feels depressed or suicidal, or you know someone who might be in need of crisis counseling, please use these life lines, provided courtesy of the amazing folks at the Trevor Project.

"All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential." - Harvey Milk

I could not agree more. Do your part. Volunteer to make a difference in a young person's life today!

Wishing each of you a wonderful week.