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Published October 5th, 2016
Recent Crimes Rattle Towns Around the Hwy. 24 Corridor

Two local robberies last week, one resulting in the shooting of Orinda School Board member Carol Brown, have aroused concerns in Lafayette and Orinda about whether residents are increasingly being targeted by criminals from out of the area.
After Brown was robbed and shot, and her husband pistol-whipped, in their driveway Sept. 26, a group of Orinda residents immediately called for a town hall meeting with Orinda Police Chief Mark Nagel. And on Sept. 29 Lafayette Police Chief Eric Christensen published a Crime Bulletin for its residents relating the details of a police chase the previous night after two men stole a Danville resident's car at gunpoint and fled through the Caldecott tunnel. The suspects in both cases are still at large.
While there is no evidence yet that the Brown shooting was committed by non-locals, both Nagel and Christensen believe that the proximity to BART and Highway 24 make the two cities attractive targets for crime.
Brown, 70, had picked up her husband, Tom Spalding, also 70, at the Orinda BART station, and then stopped at the Orinda Safeway on the way home. The robbery and shooting occurred while they unloaded groceries after they reached their house on Claremont Avenue.
The assailants, who wore full-sized Halloween face masks, fled by automobile, according to witnesses who heard shots and squealing tires. The couple is recovering from their injuries and the matter is still under investigation, and Orinda police are hoping to obtain better descriptions of the suspects and their car from them and from neighbors' security cameras.
Early police reports indicate that the police believed the two men may have followed the couple home, either from BART or from the Safeway parking lot. Although this theory has not yet been confirmed, "the (videos) are coming in (from security cameras), and there is no indication to look inward (in Orinda)" for the culprits, Nagel said.
The Lafayette bulletin reports that there were three other armed robberies in the Brentwood, Antioch and Pittsburg areas shortly before last Thursday's chase.
"While we are unaware of anything that specifically connects these incidents, a relationship could exist between all (of them) - which may include the Highway 24 corridor," it concludes. Indeed, Nagel confirms that much of the crime in Orinda these days is committed by people who come from elsewhere, "even drunk-in-public." With the ease of access to the two cities by BART, and especially by freeway, Orinda is the logical first stop for those with bad intentions who come from outside the area, he says. This is backed up by the history of pursuits, he points out.
Orinda's recent crime statistics seem to support the theory that many of Orinda's robberies and thefts are committed by outsiders - about half, in fact. So far this year, one robbery and three residential burglaries were committed by known suspects with addresses outside of Orinda. In 2014 and 2015, three burglaries were committed by suspects who were outsiders. In Orinda and Lafayette the suspects tend to come from the East Bay. By contrast, in Walnut Creek and the 680 corridor, they generally come from East County, Nagel said.
In the aftermath of the Orinda incident, 60 families from the Claremont Hills neighborhood promptly sought a town meeting with Nagel to discuss their public safety situation. Although it was scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7, when word got out other residents called for a city-sponsored meeting that would be open to all. This will require compliance with public notice laws, so it is likely to be held on a later date, and Friday's meeting is likely to be cancelled.
The local police departments have a great deal of informational material with suggestions for protecting residents against becoming victims of robberies, car thefts, burglaries and associated acts of violence. As far as what communities can do to solve crimes and prevent their occurrence, they agree that one solution stands out: more cameras. After the city's recently installed surveillance camera system captured images of a car involved in an Orinda home invasion and assault last year, the suspect was quickly tracked to Oakland and arrested within days.
By comparison, solving the Brown crime will require old-fashioned police work, Nagel says, because there are no surveillance camera images. This means looking for home surveillance videos and eyewitnesses, a much slower and less reliable process.
As for prevention, after cameras were installed in Orinda, the number of auto burglaries committed by outsiders dropped from 12 last year to 0 so far in 2016.
Residents may also be able to do more to prevent crime from happening. "If you see something, say something," the Lafayette crime bulletin reminded residents.
"When we moved here at the time of cityhood more than 30 years ago, Neighborhood Watch was big," agrees one Orinda resident, who preferred not to give his name. "We ought to revive that."

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