By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times
Residents of Castro Street say the neighborhood has been a hotbed of criminal activity and they are banding together to do something about it.
In the past six months, there were four stolen cars, one robbery, two cases of battery, two case of assault with a deadly weapon, four reports of suspicious people and one case each of petty theft, vandalism, and trespassing. There were also 13 calls for disturbances ranging from loud music to fights, police said.
The residential street is “continually” an area where police are called, according to San Leandro police chief Sandra Spagnoli, who patrolled the block herself on July 4.
Residents met with the police recently to see what they can do to improve safety in the area.
“Your neighborhood, I can tell you as chief, is a priority,” said Spagnoli. “We are committed to taking care of the quality of life issues and we need neighbors who are going to be partners.”
Since February, there has been a uptick in criminal activity on the street, according Sgt. Isaac Benabou.
A large potion of the criminal activity was centered on a single house, 98 Castro Street, police said. Officers arrested residents there after connecting them to a convenience store robbery. The police also recovered some stolen cars at the address.
The owner of the building evicted the tenants, but they broke back in and squatted, according to Mayor Pauline Cutter, who is working with the owner to find a solution.
The tenants are gone for now and the owner is trying to get a permit to raze the building, which is run down and has a ten-foot high pile of trash in the backyard as well as abandoned furniture and Halloween decorations in the front yard.
The problem at the one house may be solved, but there have been numerous other incidents on the street including speeding cars and a semi-tuck that ripped one woman’s phone line right out of the wall of her house.
The national issue of police violence came up when one African American woman said that she felt intimidated by police when she was the witness to a car fire of Castro Street.
All San Leandro police officers are equipped with body cameras, which they can turn on an off to record interactions. She said she felt unsafe when the officer interviewing her told her he was turning his camera off.
“I didn’t feel safe in my own house as an African American woman,” she told Spagnoli.
Benabou and Spagnoli both told her she could have asked the officer to leave or even filmed the encounter herself. She responded that that doesn’t address the real issue – that it is 100 percent the officer’s decision when the cameras are used.
“I was heartbroken when I realized the camera wasn’t on all the time, who does that help?” asked the woman.
Spagnoli said that there is a “balance” that each officer must try to achieve when deciding when to use the cameras. She added that the four recent cases of San Leandro police officers opening fire on retreating suspects were all recoded by their body cameras.
Overall, the police said that citizens reporting crime and being good witnesses are the key to improving public safety.
“We have to know about it and then we can avert it,” said Benabou. “Utilize your police department. I hear people saying they don’t want to call, but that’s what we are here for.”
CAPTION: Residents complained to the police about the junk that piled up at 98 Castro Street where police recovered some stolen cars and arrested residents there after connecting them to a convenience store robbery.
PHOTO BY AMY SYLVESTRI