In honor of , a event to bring communities and police together to prevent crime, Berkeley Patch interviewed Nancy Carleton, co-chair of Halcyon Neighborhood Association, a group that's working hard to prevent crime in its community.
National Night Out aims to bring neighborhoods and police together through block parties to create alliances against crime. Nineteen years ago, a South Berkeley resident threw a block party on Halcyon Court that did just that.
The block party took place in a parking lot, strangely planted in the middle of the neighborhood near Prince Street, that served as overflow parking for Telegraph Avenue. At the party, neighbors became inspired to transform the parking lot into a community park.
But how would they prevent the park from drawing crime into the neighborhood? To build the park and answer that question, the Halcyon Neighborhood Association was born.
"It was unrealistic to think there would never be any issues," said Nancy Carleton, who's lived in the neighborhood for nearly 21 years and is co-chair of the association. "But our level of togetherness would help us deal with those problems."
The association invited then-Berkeley Police Sergeant Cliff Romig, now retired, to speak to neighbors. He said, "Your level of tolerance will dictate our level of enforcement," according to Carleton. The quote still appears in Halcyon Neighborhood Association newsletters, as a reminder for residents to remain vigilant.
"We encourage neighbors to call in and report every crime," said Carleton. "We don't look the other way when graffiti is starting to build up. I think that sends a message."
Neighbors clean up the graffiti, pick up trash and report crimes around the sunny, tree-lined Halcyon Commons park, featuring lawns, a tire swing and a mini rock garden. A neighbor built a distinctive community bulletin board with a Japanese-style copper roof. "The glass has been broken a number of times, but we replace it right away," Carleton said.
The association also maintains a newsletter, e-mail lists and website to stay in contact with each other. Occasionally members go door-to-door with fliers to reach new neighbors, since the community has had a high rate of turn-over among residents, Carleton said. Currently, there are 67 members in the association's Facebook group.
"We do a lot of information sharing," she said. "We encourage neighbors to post a sign if there's been a car break-in, because those tend to come in waves."
Social events like the party the association will host for National Night Out have helped keep the association together all these years, Carleton said, by helping neighbors get to know each other — rather than sit through boring meetings. The group does not charge dues, and instead relies on volunteer work and donations. The nearby market has donated a party platter to the association's National Night Out event on Tuesday.
Over the years, the association has used its relationship with police to combat a number of crime issues throughout the entire neighborhood, bounded by Telegraph and Adeline and Ashby and Woolsey streets, an area with about 860 households. Carleton said most of the crime in the neighborhood are car break-ins and burglaries. "There tends to be a spike in summer, when the weather's nice, and when students get back to town," she said.
Having the police train neighbors to describe suspicious persons — "the clothes someone's wearing, not just race and sex," Carleton said — has added security. Additionally, the police drive around the neighborhood more frequently when prompted by neighbors' crime reports.
The neighborhood has had three low moments within the lifespan of its neighborhood association, Carleton recalled. The first was a violent sexual assault on Telegraph Avenue in the late 1990s, that led the association to host a rally in the park to bring more attention to the area.
Then, four or five years ago, there was a frightening spike in drug dealing in the park accompanied with armed robberies on Prince Street. The incidents led Carleton and a group of residents to start walking their dogs together at night in the neighborhood, "to be a friendly presence," she said.
Finally, in 2010 there was the murder of Adolfo Ignacio Celedon Bravo at Adeline and Emerson streets. "That was right on the edge of our neighborhood," said Carleton. "It really shook people."
The reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Celedon murder case has to $20,000.
After the spike in drug dealing around 2006, Carleton said she was pictured in a newspaper article about the neighborhood dog walks to discourage criminal activity — then she received a threat at her house. A man showed up at her driveway and told her, "You may very well get killed," she recalled. "He said, 'We know what you look like, what your dogs look like. You're declaring war on drugs.'"
Carleton wasn't intimidated. "We got into a dialogue," she said. She explained she didn't want a "war on drugs" — just for residents to feel comfortable in their own neighborhood and park. "We got into talking about respect. This community created this park."
After the confrontation and neighbors requested an increased police presence in the area, Carleton said the criminal activity died down.
She credits the sense of community among her neighbors for the success of the neighborhood association, and the support of the police department. "My experience is, the city and the police department are really willing to work with you," she said.
Among other neighborhood festivities across Berkeley, BART Police will host a National Night Out event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with safety tips and a chance to speak with officers at Ashby station. A total of 53 community groups are participating in Tuesday night's event, according to the Berkeley Police Department — the biggest showing for National Night Out in recent years.
Correction, 8/3/11: This article has been revised for clarification. The term "robberies" has been replaced with "burglaries" to more accurately reflect typical crime trends in the Halcyon community.