Late on the afternoon of January 11, an estimated ten Berkeley police officers, several of them from the department’s Drugs Task Force, knocked on front doors in a residential block in north Oakland. They were not looking for drugs. They were hunting for the missing iPhone of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan’s teenage son.
Four of the officers worked overtime on the investigation, for which a report was never filed. The iPhone was not recovered, and the Oakland Police Department was not alerted about the search, which Meehan participated in.
Chief Meehan is currently at the center of an independent investigation into his decision to send an officer to the home of a reporter in the early hours of March 9 with a request to correct a story. That review will cost the city up to $25,000. In addition, Berkeley is spending $24,000 on an audit of the police department’s media relations policies.
On January 11 this year, Chief Meehan’s son, who attends Berkeley High School, came to the police station to say that that his iPhone had gone missing. He was upset, according to a witness.
The stolen iPhone was equipped with “Find My iPhone” tracking software, which provided its general location in real time and was accessible through Chief Meehan’s phone. Chief Meehan showed his phone with the in-progress tracking to a BPD property crimes detective sergeant.
The detective sergeant decided to take his team to try to locate it, according to BPD. As the signal was moving into the City of Oakland, the detective sergeant called the Drug Task Force to ask for additional assistance and members of that team offered to help, according the BPD.
A team of around 10 officers in several cars met up at parking lot in Oakland, according to an officer close to the incident, and then headed to the area of 55th Street and San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland where the signal had stopped updating its position.
Several police officers knocked on the front doors of homes on one residential block, but nobody was able to provide any useful information and the team ended the investigation. Four detectives extended their shifts for approximately two hours each, according to BDP, and the whole operation took about one and a half hours.
Berkeleyside submitted a request for information on the incident after being tipped off by a source, and BPD confirmed that the incident occurred and that no report was written, “an oversight that came to our attention when researching your questions.”
A police officer close to the incident, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was surprised at the response taken by the department to the missing iPhone. “I’m surprised at the manpower that was spent on the case,” he said. He added that it was strange that a report had not been filed. “If it had been anyone else they would have made a report,” he said.
BDP spokesperson Sgt Mary Kusmiss said it is common for BPD officers “to actively investigate an in-progress tracking signal from a stolen electronic device. (e.g. laptops, smartphones and tablets).” She said: “These investigations can involve a Supervisor and multiple officers depending on the circumstances of the case and the location(s) of the signal(s).”
Asked why (five) drugs task force officers were brought in to the case, BDP said they are a pro-active street team that is part of the Investigations Division.
According to sources inside the department who asked not to be identified, many rank and file police officers are concerned with both this incident and the March 9 incident for which Meehan has apologized. They say there is widespread lack of confidence in the the Chief, who they see as being too self-involved and prone to such errors of judgment.
Chief Meehan has not responded to an email sent Friday, asking him to comment on the incident.
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