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Rash of thefts cause concern

Oakland’s Lower Rockridge area has experienced nine home burglaries in the last two weeks.

Each of the nine thefts took place in areas of Oakland close by the Mills campus; the majority of them occurred in the neighborhoods between College Avenue and Telegraph Avenue. Police reports filed for the thefts indicate that the items stolen from the targeted homes were mainly laptop computers.

According to Yeda Altes, the neighborhood services coordinator for the Oakland Police Department, “all of them took place between 6 p.m. and the late night.”

Altes said that an inter-department e-mail notice sent mid last week to police officers and other O.P.D. officials from the area where the thefts took place, commented as to why the affected homes had been attacked.

“Some of the laptops that were stolen had been left out by windows, so they were easily in view from the street,” Altes said about the e-mail. “It seems that the other stolen laptops had been seen by the thieves either while they were in use by their owners, or while their owners had come and gone with their laptops on their person.”

Despite the recent thefts, crime statistics are down overall. The downward swing of these numbers came from “targeting hot spots and individuals involved in violent crime … the hard work of the men and women in the department [and] problem solving with our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils and the support of the Mayor and City Administrator in funding and supporting this plan,” said Deputy Chief Peter Dunbar in an O.P.D. news release at the beginning of this year.

In place since the early ’90s, the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils are established in many Oakland neighborhoods and made up of residents and volunteers from their specific areas. They hold monthly meetings where priority concerns are voiced and discussions take place involving how to solve neighborhood problems collectively and seek resolutions to quality of life issues. The beat officers for those neighborhoods come to the meetings to hear the concerns of the residents in hopes of being able to resolve their issues.

On Sept. 20, the NCPC for Lower Rockridge gathered to discuss the recent robberies. Police in this area have been on the lookout for suspicious activity that may have a link to the crimes that were committed, Altes said.

Altes said that community members should acknowledge the reality of living in an urban environment and always take preventative measures for their safety. The recent onslaught of thefts in Lower Rockridge and other neighborhoods near Mills that are often frequented by Mills’ students highlight the need to be cautious while living in an urban community.

Mills students come from an array of communities worldwide. While some students are familiar with living in cities like Oakland, many are unaware of the potential dangers of urban city living and the steps that they should take to avoid them.

Freshwoman Jenny Safreno grew up in a small farming community near Fresno, Calif., and said that coming to Mills has been a big transition from what she was accustomed. Safreno said that she’d never learned “street smarts” to use when she went out around the city, adding “I don’t go out by myself. I go in a group, and I tend not to carry a whole bunch of stuff with me.”

Students experienced with city living are able to use their safety skills while out late at night. “Basically you pay attention and act like you have the right to be wherever you are and people respond to that,” said Elizabeth Anderson, an MFA student.

Travis Johns, a grad student who grew up in the northern region of New York, said he’s aware of the danger of being seen as unfamiliar or uncomfortable with your surroundings. “If you look like you’re out of place, people will react in kind,” he said.

Johns has lived in both urban and suburban areas, and he advocates the importance of personal safety awareness regardless of location. “I feel that Oakland is a high crime community, but every community has the potential to be high crime,” Johns said.

“One thing people should learn to do,” Altes said, “is to treat their belongings, such as cell phones and laptops, like cash.” Following this advice will avoid drawing the attention of criminals and potential danger, she said. Altes encouraged the members of the Mills community to follow the safety checklist on the O.P.D. Web site,