Archived Q&A and Reviews
There's been a rash of armed robberies in our beat lately. As I read the updates from our neighborhood officer, I grow increasingly more afraid. People are being held at gunpoint at times of the evening that I'm often out too -- between 7:00 and 9:00pm. I find myself wondering if I want to live here and raise my children in a place where I have to worry in front of my own house. And now that it gets dark early, I find myself feeling vulnerable when I simply walk from a restaurant to my car or simply into my house. Are other people having the same thoughts and fears? How do you handle it? Hate feeling like a prisoner of fear
I live in Area 1, the area you are describing. Your post struck a chord in me for a couple reasons; first that there is a wave of gun-slinging robbers out there is kinda disconcerting, and in fact, one of my neighbors knows one of the people jacked up, so it is pretty close to home. Second, this is Berkeley -- not an island in the middle of nowhere. We don't have a fence around us that keep Us from Them. Berkeley is wealthy, students walk around draped in all the latest finery, cell phones, ipods and whatnot, so why not rob people here? There is crime all around us, and of course it is in Berkeley as well. I've lived in this neighborhood for over 20 years and there are intermittent waves of such incidents. Strong arm robbery, home invasion, muggings... it all happens here, just like everywhere else. I don't hide, I am aware of my surroundings, hope my dogs are some sort of pathetic deterrant, hope I'm not in the wrong place at the right time, and don't walk alone at night (like someone with a gun cares about any of that) but I also live my life and walk my dogs and generally hope I don't end up on the Berkeley Crime Roster. That's about it; I refuse to live in fear so that a couple of low-life nobodies win. Oh, and I never carry anything of value when I wander around, so even if they did rob me, they'd get nothing. I've thought about walking around armed myself, but what the hell am I gonna do? Shoot someone who robs me? No. -- refuse to be afraid.
I read your post and understand where you are coming from. We am pretty new to the Bay Area (3 years) and live in Oakland. I am shocked at the crime in every neighborhood. Long time Oaklanders don't seem to even notice. My husband gets furious when I bring it up since we wanted to live here and recently bought a house. I am hoping someone out there can say something that will bring me some peace too. Thanks for posting. Understanding Neighbor
Interesting question! I live in South Berkeley and same thing. Here's my take on it
1) get off the neighborhood dist lists - most of them are just crime update lists. Now you know it exists do you really need the details of each one? Imagine if you got an email each day about every person killed in a car crash in the US. We all know people die in cars - we just don't dwell on it. Same with crime.
2) I think it is just the price of living in these neighborhoods. It may or may not be worth it to you. I used to live in Los Gatos and Palo Alto. Very nice safe places. Very middle class, very white. Very soccer mom-ish. I also know I would hate being a mom in those places as I would not have fit into their culture. So these are all things to weigh we you consider different neighborhoods.
3) I am trying to just be better prepared when I go out. More aware of my surroundings (not wandering around on the phone), I bike rather than walk as I feel safer when I'm moving faster. And bottom line if I get mugged (and now realize that its a real possibility) just be ready to handover my stuff (in fact I have deliberately made sure that I have a little cash on me - don't want to piss them off). It is rare for things to go badly when you just hand over your stuff. Easy for me to say now and I might think differently if I did get mugged but I also recognize that I love these neighborhoods -I way prefer the people I meet here to the ones I've met in safer places.
But it certainly has crossed my mind - why do I live in such a crime ridden place (particularly all the attention recently to gun-point muggins) and for me the scales is still weigh in favor of staying. So you probably need to figure out which way your scale is titled. Good luck - it's definitely a tough one.
It is disconcerting to move into an area that doesn't have much violent crime and then hear that there is a rash of armed muggings, like in Area 1 in Berkeley. I am concerned too. It IS good that our beat officers in Berkeley send out email notices of crime waves. And it is also good to know that dramatic changes in crime are taken very seriously by the Berkeley police. For my part, I still plan to be out and about, with perhaps more awareness of what is around me.
I recommend if you are finding yourself fearful, that you take a self defense - awareness class, like those offered through kidpower/teenpower/fullpower. See this website: http://www.kidpower.org/who-we-serve/adults.html There classess are not full of scariness, but are empowering and very informative. There are other ''model mugging'' type classes around, too that may be just as good. Also, if you want exercise when it is dusk, buddy up with a friend or family member.
And follow the polic departments advice about not talking on cell phones, or texting, or have earbuds in while walking around at dusk or night. That could make for an easy target. Hope it gets better soon for you. Anon
Two comments: Get to know your neighbors. Do you have a neighborhood watch group? You can contact your local police about forming one and an officer can come out to speak on safety issues.
Secondly, I have lived in downtown Emeryville and now work in the Iron Triangle in Richmond. During the daylight hours when I am out walking around I make a point to make eye contact with other walkers, smile, say Good Morning as I walk by. I have not had anyone respond adversely and most people return the ''hi.'' It helps to be known and also to know who belongs in your neighborhood. After dark, I try to always walk with other people, even if I just catch up with some strangers walking the same way and make myself look like I am part of the group. I also carry pepper spray, in my hand, ready to go. I have only felt once that I might have to use it and fortunately the guys who were yelling stuff at me didn't cross the street. I also have all the local police depts. programmed into my cell and when I walk, I will have the local police number up on my screen so all I would have to do is push the button. Walk like you aren't afraid and know where you are going. Not Hiding in the House
We live in a ''transitional'' neighborhood where the property values are increasing quickly but where young families are not moving in, probably in large part because our local neighborhood school is not perceived to be very strong academically. Our children go to private school. They are 5 1/2 and 8 1/2. We live one block in from a busy street where there is quite a bit of illegal activity such as prostitution. There are a fair amount of sketchy people walking around, who to my adult eyes are looking for drugs, looking for employment (prostitution) or just plain mentally ill (i.e. the shirtless man zigzagging up sidewalk talking to himself). There are a lot of sirens, shouting at night, and we are vigilent about using our burglar alarm. There have been some recent armed robberies very close to our house, part of the recent uptick in crime all over Oakland. On the other hand, our neighbors are a wonderfully diverse group and we know many of them. My older child recently told me that she is afraid of living in Oakland, and that she thought it was scary. The honest truth is that I agree! But I told her that scary things can happen all over a city and that we keep safe by using our burglar alarm and looking out for people that we don't know.
This is my question: am I traumatizing my children by staying in a neighborhood that probably is dangerous at times, or does the good outweigh the bad? If we didn't have kids I would be just fine there because I loves cities and urban life. I know that this is a really personal decision, but I wanted to know the thoughts of other parents who have thought about this issue. anonymous please!
Short answer: If one of your kids gets harmed as a result of living in this neighborhood, will you ever forgive yourself?
Long answer: You don't say what your race is, or the gender of your children. I would NEVER raise a boy child in Oakland, with the incidences of young boys just up and getting shot. If you CAN move, I'd do it. Although (for financial reasons) some children are forced to live in places that scare them, if the family can move at all, then for the period of time that the child is growing up, the family should move themselves to a safe area.
I know an amazingly large number of friends who used to raise their kids in the south of market area who gave up and moved to safe areas. Walking the baby next to people shooting up is WAY overrated. no longer a city mom
If your daughter is saying that it is scary and you think it is scary, then it must be pretty scary! Do the benefits outweigh the problems by that much?
I understand that it is great to feel like a ''settler'' in a transitioning area and that you can gain great satisfaction in helping turn a neighborhood around and great financial rewards when you do sell your place. I never thought I'd sound this conservative, but I don't think any of that can make up for the fact that your child is afraid in her own home.
You don't say whether finances are an issue in your neighborhood choice, but maybe you can make some other sacrifices to live in a safer neighborhood.
We lived in Oakland for close to 20 years, 10 of them with our kids. When we moved to the burbs, it was like a weight was lifted off them, especially my oldest. It's been a few years now and he *still* thanks me for moving. And he had friends and seemed happy enough at our old place. I did not realize how much stress was floating in ether around him all the time: crime, traffic, noise, drugs, etc., and we lived in a decent neighborhood compared to the one you described.
Again, your child says she is afraid of where you live. You need to take that seriously. She is looking to you to protect her.
When kids are a little older, perhaps 6th grade and up, I believe it is important for them to live in an area where they can walk in pairs to places they need to go, such as school, parks, library, market, etc. It will give them a strong sense of community and and important step toward independence. If they will not be able to do this in this neighborhood then think about moving. For relative affordibility, diversity, relative walking safety, and public schools, try Central or North-West Berkeley, Richmond Annex or the flat part of El Cerrito. -- a mom
I understand where you are coming from, as I grew up in the middle of a large city myself, and thought I would always be a ''city girl''. However given what you have said, I just don't see the point of you living where you do.
If you can afford to send two kids to private school, you can probably afford to buy a house in a more livable neighborhood. What benefits are you reaping from raising your family in such an environment, especially since you have a choice? It seems like you are living with all the negative aspects of the urban experience (crime and unsafe environment) and none of the positives. When I think of positive aspects of living in a city, I think of easy access to public transportation, ameneties such as shops, restaurants, parks within walking distance, theater, art galleries, public events, etc. Does this really exist for you?
My family and I enjoy all of the above said ameneties within walking distance of our home, our kids play outside on the sidewalk and neighbors look out for each other in our ethnically diverse community. We live in Alameda - still close to SF but we have sacrificed bragging rights to say ''we live in Berkeley'' or ''we live in Oakland'' - as if they are such big booming metropolises anyway. blah blah
Maybe you should consider your kids safety and well being and bite the bullet... move to a safer community even if it's a small town. I don't mean suburban subdivision hell - there are other options out there that can offer you genuine urban lifestyles, even if the population is under 100,000. You can always move back when they have grown. still a city girl at heart.
I can not believe how negative the responses were to your post. There are many families raising children in Oakland. It is hard to answer your question without knowing where you live. Even knowing where you live, the definition of a transitional neighborhood is so subjective. For example, some people feel the only acceptable places to live in Oakland are Montclair and Rockridge. We live in the Dimond district and we love it, however, we have a neighbor who feels it is the heart of the ghetto and can\xe2\x80\x99t wait to move to Walnut Creek. The person who stated that he/she would never raise a boy in Oakland has obviously not looked very closely at the youth who are actually victims of violent crime, particularly shootings. The fact that you are able to afford to send both of your children to private school tells me that you are not part of the demographic that is likely to be involved in gun violence. Also, I grew up in Sacramento in a neighborhood where my parents often forgot to lock the doors. Even still, as a child I remember feeling afraid sometimes and thinking of where I would hide if someone broke in. The news and our culture in general has really scary, violent stories and images, so I think some fear in children is just part of growing up in this society. Anyway, this may or may not answer your question, but I just wanted to let you know that there are other families living in Oakland who love it and feel it is a great place to raise children. I'm sorry more have not spoken out. Meredith
Boy oh boy did this question raise some debate. Look, I have no problem saying that we live in a ''transitional'' neighborhood, whatever that means. For us it means a neighborhood that still walks the line when it comes to crime and safety and community: could go either way. In our neighborhood in North Oakland, we have had a heck of a year with shootings (all bad guy on bad guy action), robberies, and general lack of police initiative nor presence. I know they are short staffed, but it was difficult to feel sympathy when the drive-by happened next door and they would not come until I could prove someone was hurt. On the other hand, lots of families are moving in and mobilizing to make our neighborhood better. We have monthly gatherings at the park, and meetings with crime prevention councils, and beautification projects. My child (only one of them is school age) goes to a private school, but we could only afford to continue once my second reaches school age because I work there. I will state right now that while I am not thrilled at the state of Oakland Schools, my children will not go to them because I have a different philosophy about education. Oakland can be a wonderful place to live, and frankly what we could afford. Especially leaving room (not much, though) to afford house repairs, travel, and anything else that might crop up. But I am NOT going to judge you for feeling so conflicted over this. There are days where I want to sell and rent somewhere a little nicer. Then I plant my vegetables, or have a visit from a neighbor and I think ''all our hard work can pay off''. In the end, who knows? You will, I think, know when or if you are ready to leave. Do what's good for you because life is too short to stress over it everyday you turn on your burglar alarm. Sam
I live in Oakland and I love my neighbors and my neighborhood. However, we have crime that no one feels good about. It goes beyond the occasional car break-in-- we've had lots of those. In a 6-block radius, we've had several hold-ups with guns and getaway cars (at all times of day and night), a drive-by shooting, and many home robberies. We have formed a Neighborhood Watch group and a yahoo group communicate regularly about crime and suspicious activities. We let each other know when we'll be out of town and look out for each other. We report everything to the police. However, the incidents continue, and most people are feeling scared. They are less likely to walk around the neighborhood, or work in the front yard, and many people with young kids are moving out. My question is: what have others done to address crime in their neighborhoods? What has been effective? We've tried to get organized, and everyone wants to Do Something, but no one really knows what to do. I welcome any and all suggestions Scared
I live in Richmond. I used to live in Oakland. That being said, we have a neighborhood council that meets once a month. Community issues are discussed and especially neighborhood issues are discussed such as, street lights out and not being repaired, pot holes, cars being broken into, graffiti, dogs roaming freely, etc. This is not to say that Richmond doesn't have a very real crime problem, but it helps with making our neighborhood feel a bit more safe. If we need something specific we can usually get the police office who is responsible for our area to make an appearance at the meeting. Our new new Police Chief has now assigned watch officers to each area so that there is accountability. Maybe a monthly meeting might help your neighborhood. It puts people in touch with one another, allows you to act as a group (with more power) in getting the police to up their presence in your area...maybe even have 'foot patrols' again, and when people come together I believe it gives them a feeling of hope as well as strenght. (if you ever want to sit in on one of our meetings, you are welcome.
What neighborhood do you live in? Here in Montclair there is a group called the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council which operates in conjunction with the Oakland Police Dept. People who participate in this group communicate about local legislation, police contacts, etc. to take a more active role in fighting crime and improving safety in terms of crime, traffic, blight, dumping, etc. http://www.montclairsic.org/ Perhaps someone from this group can tell you how to build something similar in your neighborhood. Montclair Mommy