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Chinatown retains low crime rate as abduction fears ease

18 October 2008 2 Comments

A sketch of the male suspect was posted at Lincoln Elementary


By Guo Shipeng
Oakland’s Chinatown has retained a low crime rate in the past three months, but a city official said some residents’ habit of not informing the police about crimes made the community more vulnerable.
Most of the 11 robbery cases reported between July 12 to October 8 in the Chinatown were strong arm, but at least one involved firearm, according to figures on the website of the Oakland Police Department.

Of the 49 thefts during that period, 13 were vehicles. There were also 12 burglaries.
“Normally we don’t have big crime cases, though minor ones are reported from time to time,” said Michael Sze, the Oakland Police Department’s Neighborhood Services Coordinator for Chinatown.
“Generally it’s a safe neighborhood,” Sze said.
Nonetheless, the Chinese victims’ inclination to keep crime cases to themselves is always a concern for authorities, Sze said.
“Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. They are not very used to trusting the police,” Sze said. “Some others see no point of reporting because they think they won’t be able to get back their lost valuables anyway.”
“Even though we might not be able to help recover the losses, it is important to notify the police because it’s crucial for us to study crime patterns and prevent similar cases in the future,” Sze said.

Sze said the police spent much energy on educating Chinatown residents to raise awareness in these two regards. 
“Chinese immigrants also like to carry cash with them in business transactions. That and the habit of keeping cases to themselves have been taken advantage of by criminals,” Sze said.

The two attempted abductions of schoolchildren are probably the most talked about public safety topics in the Chinatown in the past month.
On September 2, a middle-aged Chinese man tried to lead a 5-year-old girl away from Lincoln Elementary School before he was stopped by a friend of the girl’s parents.
“The man just let the girl go. It’s not very like in an abduction. So it’s still unclear what happened and we don’t know if it was just a mistake,” said John Melvin, Lincoln’s principal.

Officers and volunteers from Oakland Police Department's Chinatown Substation fingerprinted the about 600 pupils at Lincoln and taught them what to do when approached by strangers after a second attempted child abduction was reported in the nearby Madison Square Park.

Police fingerprinted Lincoln pupils and gave them safety tips.

But a similar case eight days later on the playground of the nearby Madison Square Park heightened the community’s alert.   
“There was a little panic,” Melvin said of the incident in which another Chinese man tried, but, failed to take away an 8-year-old boy playing soccer in the park.
The Chinese community, which has a long-standing tradition of self and mutual aid policing, quickly took actions. On September 17, the Chinatown Neighborhood Crime-Prevention Council invited police officers and the girl’s mother to its monthly meeting to discuss ways to beef up security.
So far police have found no one that matches the descriptions and sketches for the two men, but they have increased patrols around Chinatown schools.
Police gave educational lectures to the 600 students at Lincoln in late September to tell them what to do when strangers approached them. Officers also fingerprinted each and every of the student for future records.
Melvin said the school has installed surveillance video cameras. In a sign of easing worries, sketches of the male suspect posted on the doors of Lincoln have been removed.  
“There is less fear among the parents now,” Melvin said.

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