Family-run Berkeley auto shop has been hit twice by thieves

The city has seen a spike in commercial burglaries this year: They are up 32% compared to the same time period last year.

Family-run Berkeley auto shop has been hit twice by thieves
Surveillance footage captured the break-in last week at Autometrics of Berkeley at 1340 San Pablo Ave. near Camelia Street. Autometrics

A longtime family-run auto shop in Berkeley was burglarized again last week for the second time in just three months, the shop told The Berkeley Scanner.

In this most recent break-in, which took place overnight Thursday, a group of people stole four vehicles that belonged to customers along with shop equipment, electronics and a rolling toolbox filled with high-end tools.

They also trashed the front office, leaving papers and other items strewn about the floor, Autometrics of Berkeley co-owner Victor Delgado said.

"I never thought we would be just another small business with ugly boarded windows and a sense of indefinite insecurity," he said.

The business, which is located at 1340 San Pablo Ave. next to REI, opened in 1973.

According to Berkeley police data reviewed this week by The Scanner, the city has seen a spike in commercial burglaries this year: They are up 32% compared to the same period last year.

The rammed roll-up door in February. Autometrics

During the first break-in, which took place in February, burglars used a vehicle to bend the main roll-up door to the business to force their way inside.

They did the same to two other businesses in the neighborhood, Delgado said.

That time, thieves made off with a heavy safe from Autometrics as well as petty cash.

After that burglary, Delgado installed security cameras and added a reinforced steel gate inside the roll-up door.

Last week, however, the group managed to find a different way inside.

Once they got in shortly after midnight, Delgado said, they used the shop's tools to break locks and open the front doors. They spent three hours inside taking what they wanted.

From the surveillance footage, it appeared that at least five people were involved.

Delgado said it had been a horrible feeling to walk into the shop Thursday and realize what happened.

Police responded that day and processed the scene for evidence.

Since then, the shop has been dealing with insurance, especially for the customers whose cars were taken.

Delgado said they've also boarded up the windows and are replacing tools and other things that were stolen.

They've already replaced all the locks and are considering installing steel bars so they can remove the boards and bring the windows back.

Delgado said Autometrics does have an alarm system, but that there was some kind of communication issue last week: Neither Autometrics nor police were alerted the way they should have been.

In his 28 years with Autometrics, Delgado said he'd never seen anything like what's happened with the break-ins this year. They never had any security problems before.

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Delgado said commercial burglaries had become too common in the Bay Area, with reports on the news almost nightly about small businesses in Oakland and San Franciso that have been targeted.

He said it felt like the behavior had increased, at least in part, due to a perception that there are no repercussions for it.

Delgado said a customer had already offered to set up a GoFundMe page, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to go that route. Insurance has been responsive, he said, and the shop is still deciding what to do next.

"We’ll do what we can," he said, "and just keep going."

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Berkeley has had at least 203 commercial burglaries in 2023 compared to 154 during the same period last year, according to BPD's Transparency Hub.

January saw a peak of nearly 60 commercial burglaries, followed by closer to 40 in February, March and April, according to BPD data.

May seems to be mostly keeping pace with that pattern, with nearly 2o commercial burglaries in the first half of the month.

If you've been directly affected by crime in Berkeley, The Scanner would like to hear from you.