How Montclarions Respond To Burglaries

What a range of reactions to the recent uptick in burglaries!  From the online boards, coffee shops, and neighbors walking their dogs, here’s an unscientific recap.
Defend Yourself: Most of the hits happen when we’re not home, but folks seem to be scared because sometimes the robberies are at night too.  All kinds of ideas have been suggested, from baseball bats to firearms.
One interesting suggestion was to learn basic self-defense.  There’s a class for women starting tomorrow, at the Redwood Heights Recreation Center (map).  It costs $41 and will run on Saturdays, from 3-6pm, through November 8th.  Either show up or reach instructor Titus Taylor:, 510-238-2384.
Make Home Improvements: Update your locks, replace old garage door openers, and install alarms inside or outside your home.  Why bother?  At the recent community meeting with Oakland Police, Sandra Pohutsky took great notes and shared six things that Montclair break-ins have in common.

1. The burglars will leave if they hear an alarm after breaking in, so consider getting one of some type.
2.  Doors kicked in are often 1970’s doors which have become brittle with poor framing.  How strong is your door?
3.  Dead bolt locks in old doors may have been installed with small screws that are now loose.
4.  A sense of complacency may have resulted in using only the little door handle locks, leaving the dead bolt locks unused.
5.  Front doors may be hidden from street view; cut down bushes and trim trees.
6.  Inspect your house and beef up security.

Call The Cops: We are starting to help the Oakland Police track burglars more frequently now, said Montclair SIC’s Nick Vigilante, by calling and reporting suspicious people.  Problem Solving Officer (PSO) Maureen Vergara, who covers Beat 13Z, asked for these details if possible:

1.  license plate information – number and state
2.  vehicle descriptions – make, model, color, and year
3.  suspect descriptions – gender, race, as much as possible

Quit Oakland: Some people want to give up and join Piedmont and/or declare independence from Oakland.  This was quickly pushed away as irrelevant or untenable by some, who have looked into the possibility before.  Others are still hopeful.

Burglaries Way Up, And We Can Help

When the Oakland Police report that burglaries have jumped 73% in our ‘hood, we should take notice.  These break-ins have increased in the past month or two, while all other crimes have held steady.

For the whole 94611 zip code, there’s no question things have gone awry.  Last time we looked, there were 43 burglaries in a three month period (early May- early August).  In the past two months, there were already 49 hits.

In Montclair’s Beat 13Z, south of Thornhill, there have been 23 burglaries in the past two months as compared to 18 during the three preceding months.  Beat 13Y, north of Thornhill, is also experiencing similar levels.  I’m not precisely sure where that 73% figure came from, but there’s no question about the trend.

While it’s unclear how many crooks are casing Montclair, they are good at what they do!  They stay under the radar and specifically enter homes to snatch easily re-sold items.  The burglars like electronics most of all, and also pick up construction materials.

Earlier this week, our police officers attended a neighborhood meeting and focused on these burglaries.  The cops haven’t received more calls, and they want us to communicate whenever we see anyone out-of-place.

Apparently post-burglary interviews sound something like this:  “Yes, I thought he looked suspicious but I didn’t want to be racist so I didn’t call.”  We seem to suffer from a bit of political correctness, and need to get over it.  If there are unfamiliar faces, then pick up the phone.

The cops may be able to connect the dots, when we provide additional eyes and ears.  Speaking of which, some neighbors do report local speeders and I recently received a fair warning from the Oakland Police.  We should be able to pay attention to other suspicious activities, too.

Meet Your Cops, Tues evening

Come meet your cops!  They will be on hand this Tuesday evening, from 6:30-8:30pm, at the Montclair Public Library (map).
Nick Vigilante, who leads the safety team for Montclair SIC, announced that our local problem solving officers “will be our special guests at the upcoming MSIC Crime Prevention, Traffic, and Pedestrian Safety Team Meeting.”
Sgt. Bernard Ortiz will be there, who oversees ten beats including Montclair.  Officer Maureen Vergara, who’s responsible for Montclair’s Beat 13Z, will attend as well.  Rounding out the list is Anna Chang-Lai, our neighborhood services coordinator.
It’s nice to have a chance to meet the cops this way, and learn what they really do.  They plan to discuss how two-way communications helps them do their jobs, and are ready to listen to specific beat priorities.  There will also be time for questions.
Some of the officers conducted an open meeting with Montclarions in early July, and their practical advice was welcomed.  With the spate of new break-ins, particularly when residents aren’t home, it’s about time for a refresher on how to prevent or respond to crimes here.
More info: The patchwork of police beats known as “Beat 13”  can get a little confusing. As mentioned, Maureen Vergara is the officer responsible for Beat 13Z, south of Thornhill.  In addition, Officer Mark Contreras covers Beat 13Y, the area north of Thornhill.  Beyond Montclair, Officer Randall Chew handles Beat 13X in Upper Rockridge.

New Cop Assigned To Montclair

In Montclair, Maureen Vergara broke our glass ceiling as the first female Problem Solving Officer (PSO) assigned to the Village.  She’ll be a presence in the community, as the “go-to” contact for Montclair and North Hills residents.

PSO Vergara is pictured above, along with Montclair Safety’s Nick Vigilante, Jim Dexter and Jean Quan staffer Sue Piper.  Welcome her to the neighborhood – without any interrogation about her family, hairstyle or choice of eyewear!

Along with Vergara, the other two Oakland Police assigned to our 13Y/13Z beats are Sgt. Bernard Ortiz and traffic contact Jason Scott.  We met the other officers during early July, where they shared safety priorities.  They can all be reached via email, including Vergara at

For actual emergencies:

Calling “911” works best from your land-line.  However this number connects you to Highway Patrol, when called from your cell phone.

Here are direct telephone numbers for emergencies: Oakland Police dispatch at 510-777-3211; Fire Department and Medical dispatch at 510-444-1616; and Drug Activities at 510-238-DRUG (3784).

Since it will be virtually impossible to recall these numbers right when you need them, just take a minute to save them in your cell phones.

Corrections:  Please click on comments above.  Jim Dexter, Vice-Chair of North Hills NCPC (Beat 13Y) provides full corrections about past and current officers assigned to Montclair-related beats.  Thanks, Jim.

Counting Crimes In Montclair

When Montclarions hear about a single crime, they start thinking there’s a crime wave underway.  Will my car get stolen too?  Is that home for sale a prime target?

Our numbers seem fairly moderate and steady.  In the past three months, there were 82 crimes reported for the Montclair core and 352 crimes in the zip code.  People just want our stuff.

Within Montclair, some 17 autos were stolen or 21% of all reported crimes.  Burglaries represented 22% of crimes, while thefts added 35% to the total blotter.  The rest came from assaults, narcotics and vandalism.

Overall, the Montclair police beat contributed about 25% of all 94611 crimes.  Given the crime mix in both geographies, we live in a pretty safe place based on official reports.

For more information, visit the Oakland Police Department’s CrimeView site.  There you can select crimes by address, landmarks and more.  The results can be mapped by crime type as well.

Cops Give Fatherly Advice

Oakland cops weren’t shy with their advice to Montclair residents last week.   First, they want to hear about any problems you may see, even small things.  Second, they want us to lock our cars and houses.

While this fatherly advice seems pretty simple, I’m admitting to guilt on both counts.  I often dismiss things that might be suspicious AND I frequently leave my doors ajar.  Maybe it’s time to stop singing Que Sera Sera.

Sandra Pohutsky, who attended this village meeting, explained that “Sgt. Bernard Ortiz and Officer Melvin Bermudez want to know all the problems that are happening in Montclair so that they can recognize patterns and do something about it.  They get a list each day of our complaints.”

While I enjoy sharing what’s happening around town, my instinct is to clam up about experiences that seem minor.  For example, I’m one of many locals who have been solicited for magazines.  I didn’t ask to see the seller’s license nor did I get paranoid about him casing my home.  So I have officially spoken up now.

Saying something can make a difference.  The cops told a story about the “Sierra Club Solicitor” who committed 200 burglaries statewide.  One Montclarion was solicited and then noticed this nice guy rummaging around his neighbor’s backyard.  By calling 911, our local hero helped nab a hardened criminal.

For reference, here’s how to share anything suspicious:

  • Emergencies by land line – 911
  • Emergencies by cell phone – 510-777-3211
  • Non-emergencies – 510-777-3333

Besides the cops, the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council is a citizen group which encourages everyone to share issues they see in the Village; their Yahoo message board is a great vehicle to ask questions.  This group delivers priorities to Oakland cops and city officials about recurring matters.

So the ball’s in our court, to actively communicate with cops and watchdog groups.  Except for the Nina Reiser murder, the crimes are petty ones around here.  Yet it’s still possible to raise awareness and lower the thefts, by reaching out when something’s amiss.

Meet The Cops – Tues at 6:30pm

Meet Montclair’s Finest this Tuesday evening, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Montclair Library (map).

Officer Melvin Burmudez serves as our main Problem Solving Officer (PSO), while Jason Scott helps with traffic matters in the Village.  In addition, outgoing Sgt. Brad Young will be there along with his replacement Bernard Ortiz.

We mostly suffer from thefts and robberies in Montclair, usually a handful or two monthly.  You may look up exact locations via the Oakland Crimewatch site.

Our Montclair and North Hills watchdog groups jointly organized the meeting, since they focus on all neighborhoods located in Beat 13Z (south of Thornhill), and Beat 13Y (north of Thornhill) respectively.

Everyone is invited to meet the officers, and put faces to these names.  Find out what they do, learn how to help them, and ask any questions in this forum.