OAKLAND -- Candace Jantzen-Marson and her husband, Brian Pelletier, had been living in Oakland for six weeks when they became a statistic.
They were walking home from the Rockridge BART station one night when a man jumped out of the back seat of a car, pointed a gun at them and demanded their valuables.
"We stalled a bit, but they took both of our iPhones and peeled out," she said.
It was the first of three robberies in the neighborhood in one week, and the incident had the couple unnerved.
"I'm scared to go out during the day," Jantzen-Marson said. "I'm scared to go out at night. I'm scared to be in my house. We are both unsettled and spreading the word to our friends that Rockridge is not as nice a place as it seems."
The couple would later get emotional support from neighborhood residents who attended a meeting Aug. 22 at the Rockridge Library to discuss recent crime and how to fight it. The meeting was led by Oakland police Capt. Anthony Toribio, who manages Area 2 -- which takes in Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue, College Avenue and other neighborhoods.
It was the second of three meetings organized by District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, who represents the neighborhoods. The spate of robberies was one a series of problems discussed during the standing-room-only session in the library's meeting room.
Many robberies are occurring as the victims are returning home from bars between midnight and 2 a.m. Toribio said. To combat the problem, a group of problem-solving officers who are assigned to deal with specific neighborhood crimes will end their shifts at 2 a.m. instead of 11 p.m. to be available during that window of time.
Officers are also being assigned to special patrols in target areas from Claremont Avenue to Broadway to 51st Street. A crime response team dedicated to targeting area crime is also planned but cannot start yet because all response teams are now being used in East Oakland because of gun violence.
Dark side streets such as the area where the couple was robbed are prime areas for armed robberies, according to police. A city-sponsored program that will trim trees and increase the brightness of streetlights is being undertaken, Toribio said. Some hard-hit areas like the neighborhood near 24th Street and Telegraph Avenue will get better lighting on an expedited schedule, he added.
Toribio suggested a few tactics to make it harder for robbers to lie in wait, including honking your car horn when entering your driveway, carrying a flashlight when out at night and keeping porch lights on. Residents asked why police don't often arrive quickly when called.
Toribio said five new officers will be assigned to Area 2 from a police academy class that just ended. Two more classes will also graduate by the end of the year, adding to the size of the force, Toribio said.
But sheer numbers don't tell the whole story. Often, too many police are dispatched to less important incidents such as a recent case in which four officers were tied up on a call of an alarm sounding, which turned out to be workers boarding up a building. Better call management and a streamlined system that will route some reports to the department's websites should help solve the problem, he said.
"Yes, call volume is an issue, but that is not the sole reason we have late responses," Toribio said. "We need to manage our officers better so they are more effective."
Residents also complain that frequent job turnover within the police department makes it difficult to maintain continuity when attacking neighborhood problems.
Under terms of Oakland's contract with its police union, officers can choose where they work and their days off, Toribio said. Turnover occurs when police officers get promoted, choose other assignments or just get burned out, he said.
"I favor keeping people as long as you can because they develop a sense of ownership of the area and become part of the community, but that's a constant struggle," he said.
Toribio urged residents to form neighborhood watches or join existing crime prevention groups. Some who attended the meeting pledged to get involved, and the group will meet again to determine how much progress has been made. Jantzen-Marson and Pelletier seemed impressed by the response.
"This is good," she said. "It's nice to know so many neighbors are concerned. People are watching over each other and want to take action."
And Pelletier was able to put the couple's rude introduction to the city into perspective.
"It's a tough introduction to Oakland, but we have a lot of friends who moved from San Francisco to Oakland and are doing just fine," he said. "Obviously, this area is being targeted. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time."