by Anneli Rufus
Five teenage robbers, all of them too young to vote and three of them too young to drive, were caught in Berkeley last month thanks to the swift reactions of victims, witnesses, and police officers.
In a bulletin to North Berkeley residents, Berkeley PD/Community Services Bureau Officer Casimiro Pierantoni described what occurred on the 1900 block of Chestnut Street (near Berkeley Way) on the night of July 26.
After hearing what sounded like a car window being smashed on the street in front of her apartment house, a woman went to her front window and looked down onto the street. There, Officer Pierantoni writes, "she saw a young male loitering suspiciously. She then noticed a second male. ... As she watched, the two males met and appeared to whisper to each other briefly." As the second figure disappeared from her view, the woman "was very suspicious and intently observed the actions of the first male. She watched as the male approached a car parked in front of her building and reached into the car’s passenger-side window."
Deducing that this was the window she had heard being smashed, the woman "immediately shouted out to the male. The male became startled and ran a short distance away from the car. The male abruptly stopped and returned to the parked car." The woman then pluckily "yelled out, 'What are you doing?!?! The cops are on the way!!!'
"The male responded by swearing at the community member while he opened the car door and reached into the passenger seating area. The community member watched as the male hastily exited the vehicle, now holding a large square black item in his hand. The male quickly moved out of sight," and the woman dialed 911 at once, giving a detailed description of the figures she had seen.
"Officer Nikos Kastmiler responded to the area quickly and began searching for the suspects. On Berkeley Way, west of Acton Street, Officer Kastmiler saw two males walking eastbound that closely matched the suspect descriptions given by the community member on Chestnut Street; a female companion was also walking with the two males. Officer Kastmiler detained all three individuals to determine if they were involved in the auto burglary witnessed by the community member. When other officers arrived to assist, Officer Kastmiler began to question the suspects. He asked the first male if he had anything illegal on him. The male raised his hands and stated he didn’t. Officer Kastmiler asked the male if he would consent to a search; the male said, 'Go ahead.' When Officer Kastmiler searched the male he found a metal 'multi-tool' and a pair of black cloth gloves in his pants pockets. In one of the male’s front pants pockets, Officer Kastmiler discovered a portable vehicle GPS device."
Along with laptops, GPS devices are among the items most commonly stolen in auto burglaries.
"Officer Tim Kaplan met with the community member" — that is, the witness — "from Chestnut Street and drove her to where Officer Kastmiler had the suspects detained. The community member positively identified the two males as the individuals she saw involved in the auto burglary. The female, though not seen at the auto burglary, was found to be in possession of burglary tools commonly used in auto burglaries.
"A 17-year-old male and a 15-year-old male, both from El Sobrante, were arrested for auto burglary. Their 14-year-old female companion, also from El Sobrante, was arrested for possession of burglary tools. The juveniles were released to their parents," but the case has been sent to BPD's Youth Services Detail to be dealt with henceforth.
Officer Pierantoni noted that while "some of us may find it disheartening to know that juveniles are committing crimes like auto burglary in our neighborhoods, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of this story. Our fellow community member was alert to her surroundings and immediately called the police when she realized she had witnessed a crime. Officers, with the solid and timely information provided by the community member, responded quickly and detained the suspects a short distance from the crime. The community member then aided the officers in their investigation by positively identifying the suspects."
This has become a pattern in Berkeley of late, he revealed: " a call from an alert community member + a quick and focused response from the police = the arrests of individuals committing crime."
The second North-Berkeley caper he related occurred at the same time of night, just before 10 p.m., but this one occurred on July 9 and this time, he writes, "the crime committed was much more serious.
That night, a Berkeley resident "was walking to his house on the 2000 block of Delaware Street," near Milvia Street. "Just before he reached home, the community member" — that is, the victim — "was approached by two male juveniles. The first male juvenile brandished a dark colored semi-automatic handgun and demanded, 'Give me all your money.' The community member complied, taking his wallet from his back pocket and placing it on the ground in front of him. The second male took all the money from the community member’s wallet and then the two suspects walked away quickly, moving westbound toward Milvia Street. The community member immediately contacted BPD and reported the incident.
"Officer Jeffrey Chu and Officer Max Talcott were on scene within moments. Officer Talcott contacted the victim of the robbery while Officer Chu searched for the suspects. Officer Chu, checking the area on foot, spoke with a community member" — that is, a witness" — who was walking on Milvia Street near the scene of the robbery." The witness said he had seen two males running northbound on Milvia Street to Delaware Street and then turning eastbound onto Virginia Street.
"Officer Chu quickly moved to Virginia Street and began to walk eastbound. He noticed two males that matched the suspect descriptions walk from the south side of the street to the north side, toward the Berkeley Arts Magnet School. For a moment Officer Chu lost sight of the suspects, but he heard one of the gates into the school open and close. Officer Chu ran to the gate and found the two suspects walking onto the school property. Officer Chu noticed that the two suspects appeared to be breathing heavily. Officer Chu detained the two suspects and asked why they were walking into the school so late at night. Not surprisingly, neither suspect was able to provide Officer Chu with an answer.
"When other officers arrived to assist with the detention, Officer Chu walked to the south side of Virginia Street and checked the area he had first seen the suspects. On the front porch of a home on the 2000 block of Virginia Street, Officer Pon found two dark-colored jackets and two dark color hats" that matched the descriptions of what the victim had said his assailants had been wearing. "All the clothing was warm to the touch. Officer Chu checked inside a barbecue that was on the same porch and discovered a replica handgun that matched the weapon description given by the robbery victim. Officer Chu took all the items back to where the suspects were detained. Officer Chu asked the suspects (who had been advised of their Miranda rights) if the clothing was theirs. Both suspects each identified one of the jackets and hats as being theirs. Officer Chu placed the appropriate hat and jacket on the appropriate suspect and requested that Officer Talcott bring the robbery victim to the detention scene. When the victim was brought to the scene, he immediately identified the two suspects as the individuals that robbed him. He also identified the replica firearm as the item the first suspect brandished during the robbery.
"A 15-year-old male and a 16-year-old male, both from Berkeley, were arrested for robbery and transported to Juvenile Hall.
"This is another incident in which we can highlight the actions of the involved community members and police officers. The victim, while dealing with an unexpected and frightening experience, responded appropriately during the robbery" — that is, by putting up no resistance and handing over his valuables — "and then continued to respond properly by immediately reporting the incident to BPD." The witness walking on Milvia Street was alert to the suspicious behavior of two males running up the street at 10:00 p.m. "The police officers, responding quickly and aggressively, located and detained the suspects a short distance from the crime scene, and completed a thorough investigation. All these elements meshed together and resulted in the arrest of two robbery suspects."
Five down. How many more to go? These days, keep your eyes peeled just before 10 p.m.