Police chief: ‘Not some kind of preferential treatment’

Police Chief Michael Meehan (second from right) at recent police awards ceremony. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Embattled Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said Wednesday that having 10 police officers search for his son’s stolen iPhone on January 11 was not “some kind of preferential treatment,” but is something the department “would do for anybody in the city.”

“This is being cast as some kind of preferential treatment, but it was not,” said Meehan in a telephone interview. “It is not unusual for us to respond to a live track of stolen property with the resources we have available. We have done it in other cases. In this case, my son was the victim of a crime at the high school. My personal phone was linked to his and was able to track it. I showed that to a detective-sergeant and said ‘what can we do with this?’ He said we can work cases like this. He took his team to track the signal and they weren’t able to find anybody.”

The reason so many officers investigated the theft so quickly was because it was a crime in progress, said Meehan.

Meehan also said that since his phone was tracking his son’s missing iPhone, it made sense for him to go on the search. He did not think putting 10 officers on the chase was something unusual. The police department responds to crime with as many officers as they have, and that number goes up and down depending on how many people are on duty and how busy they are.

“In this case, the detective-sergeant, he made an assessment,” said Meehan. “He used the available officers that he had.”

On Tuesday, the BPD supplied Berkeleyside with examples of seven cases where anywhere between four and 11 police officers were assigned to track and locate iPhones or iPads. The cases were from the past three years. One took the police to San Francisco, and two resulted in arrests.

Meehan also said he was not aware that a police report had not been filed until Berkeleyside and the Oakland Tribune asked about it.

Since the news broke Monday evening that 10 police officers looked for Meehan’s son’s stolen iPhone, the media has descended on Berkeley, much like they did in early March when news broke that Meehan had ordered Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to go to the home of an Oakland Tribune reporter to ask him to change an incorrect story.

Meehan was not available for media interviews on Tuesday, but by Wednesday he had interview requests from dozens of Bay Area news outlets, as well as national outlets, including the Atlantic and CNN, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. Even the British newspaper The Mail did a story.

Interim City Manager Christine Daniel declined to talk about the iPhone incident.

“I have no comment at this time with respect to the Chief’s involvement in the investigation into the theft of his son’s cell phone,” she said in a statement.

Daniel did announce that the investigation by San Francisco law firm Renne, Sloan, Holtzman, Sakai into Meehan’s actions in March had been completed. “Appropriate action has been taken,” she said.

The city had budgeted as much as $25,000 for the report by the law firm but the total bill was $15,502.53 said Daniel.

“The report will not be released due to state law regarding police officer privacy protections,” said Daniel.

Berkeleyside asked Chief Meehan if he would release the contents of the investigation. He said he would talk to city officials about it.

Meehan said he does not think this incident is a reflection on his judgment, as some disgruntled police officers in the department have suggested.

“The proof is in the performance,” he said.

He said the department is doing a lot of good work. Crime is down 22%, complaints are down 48%, and the diversity in the department is up. He said next week he will take some community outreach initiatives to the City Council.

“I also understand that whenever you are dealing with an agency of 280-odd people, you are never going to please everybody.”

Hunt for police chief’s son’s iPhone cost $740 in overtime [05.22.12]
Berkeley police chief sent 10 officers on hunt for son’s iPhone [05.21.12]
Berkeley will spend up to $50K after police chief blunder [05.18.12]
Berkeley City orders investigation into police chief [03.16.12]
Questions remain about Berkeley police chief’s actions [03.11.12]
At 12:45 am police chief demands reporter make changes [03.10.12]

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  • Heather_W_62

    Formal complaints should be directed to the interim City Manager, Christine Daniels, cc: Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council. 

  • Ginny Roemer

    That is too
    bad, I liked Kusmiss. She is not scary like the news paper editorial seem to suggest. Still, to the future person in
    the post: most law abiding people see an officer outside their home at odd
    hours think , “OMG who died?” It is not “intimidating” so
    much as heart attack triggering.

  • Ginny Roemer

    btw – Are folks aware of the fact that the service providers of these phones are very soon to employ the technology of completely disabling these phones once they are been reproted stolen? Yahoo!  This friggin’ problem soon to be off my obsession list.

  • bgal4

     Ginny writes,

    “You have to be FOR something sometimes”

    We want is the same access to police services the Chief’s son got.

    So far that is not my experience by a long shot.

    Meehan has announced he is rolling out a new initiative for community outreach. I will be interested to see what is included. My first public challenge to him during his meet and greet neighborhood meetings was to request he engaged in a dialog with us consider the development of a citywide neighborhood council framework tied to geographic policing.

    He did support the  initiative modestly, it  was killed by certain council members. The reason we were given by the dept for the lack of progress on implementing a pilot program was politics.

    In conclusion, the Chief could have just as easily provided the leadership to get this pilot off the ground. Instead he allowed the same  anti-law enforcement mentality you are complaining about to win.

    I look forward to hearing his proposals soon.


  • Heather_W_62

    He started at $205K per year, as reported in Berkeleyside when he was sworn in. 

  • Ginny Roemer

    “Guest” was estimating and addin  a yearly value to his  pension –calculated by the Chief’s life
    expectancy charts? So Meehan must have had some inkling of what this job would
    mean. I hope his kid doesn’t have to take any heat at school for all this. If that
    poor kids breaks any rules I am sure the bells will be ringing all over Bezerkeley…

  • GregWEK

    We like Kusmiss. She appears sincere and she was our area officer years ago and helped us with a neighborhood issue with thought and understanding. We think she lives in the community too. Stop focusing on her and focus on the
    man in charge. If she has an attorney then she should be advised not to be the Chief’s spokesperson or assistant anymore.

  • GregWEK

    And also, the Chief should have done his dirty work himself.
    Last time and this time. Obviously he does not care about his staff people.
    The whole thing is unfortunate.

  • No, he was simply sending out a message “You don’t f*** with the Police Chief or his family, or you get the might of the entire police force coming down on you.” Simple as that. Nothing incriminating, just a threat to his authority that he had to unethically and unfairly deal with.

  • They already have this technology and have always had it. They simply disable the SIM card that was placed into the phone and no longer let it access the network. They have been doing this since cell phones were invented. Not only that, but since the phone is “locked” it can’t work with any other SIM card so it is effectively useless without inside help from the service provider. Beside the fact that a stolen phone is useless, most new smartphones come with GPS that allows the provider and the police to track it…

  • No police chief will ever admit he did something wrong, unethical, and/or illegal. They will defend themselves, even if they have to lie, to the bitter end and will never come clean. That is how the police work.

  • They would simply write the theft report after the fact and pre-date it of course. Why would they write a report for an unsolved crime? That would hurt their statistics. But catch a thief and that looks great. He also lied saying it was a “Crime in Progress” when in fact it simply wasn’t. There was no crime actively  taking place and the phone was stolen and the perpetrator was long gone. More and more lies…

  • Ginny Roemer

    Gees Jack Servedio, what you holding back for?

    Well if we
    are going to wildly speculate and dramatize this event…I have a version of events in my

                 A visiting foreign student at BHS decided to
    do a sub-rosa study about law enforcement in Berkley California,
    starting with the notorious High School that is known for its diversity. Our
    foreign student mindfully chose to steal the phones of students from three
    distinct groups within the school and record the community and cultural

      1. His first
     victim was a top academic senior in the
    IB school and who had videotaped her now deceased mother’s last words on her iPhone.  Tragically, she had had not downloaded the
    video to any back up device. Her mother was a Berkeley liberal though, so, in memory of her
    beloved mother, the forgiving girl left a note for the thief apologizing for
    having left her locker un locked and therefore contributing to the moral misstep
    the theft had suffered in his development.  This senior wrote her essay about this event
    and received a full scholarship to UC Berkeley.

      2.  His second victim was a Sophomore drug
    dealer, a nice one, not an illegal, out of district transfer one, who saw our
    foreign student take the phone and so had him beat up –  on the BHS campus though, so that no record
    could be shared by virtue of student confidentiality sections in the Education
    Code. Drug dealer got phone back.

       3.  His third victim was the police chief’s son and
    that theft, oddly enough, resulting in the firing of the Police Chief in the
    several months that followed.

    Truth is stranger
    that fiction.

  • Heather_W_62
  • Sandy_Green

    Well, gee, Sharkey, you are the one who presumed the reference to physical had to do with a particular body part. Could have meant he was lacking confidence because his legs are so long, or, if referring to the body part you specified, perhaps too large. 

  • Sandy_Green

    Why do kids need phones at school?

  • Heather_W_62



  • dawndelle

    I see it differently: Electronic device rip-offs at BHS are notorious, ask any student. Phones; ipods, computers, headphones. Also a problem on the streets, not just on campus. Meehan observed the opportunity to catch a crime in process since his kid’s phone’s tracking device was working. If they’d found a suspect/s, or the fencers buying the stolen goods, this could have made a considerable dent in the problem on a large scale, beyond his kid’s phone. Police do this all time if the timing is right, with property crimes, drugs, hit & runs. Track the criminals, see where it leads. Put as many officers on it as you can. Too bad the signal fizzed. Good to read Berkeley Police have had some successes with tracking electronic crimes in process. Rather than focusing on the fact this was the chief’s kid, the focus should be on what parameters a chief uses to assign staff when a crime in process presents. There are times when it makes sense to throw resources at an opportunity.

  • bgal4

     No body who believes the response was preferential treatment has argued against catching thieves.

    In fact, what we are saying it that when it was us or our kids the response was grossly inadequate and leads were not followed.

  • Bruce Love

    Another way to sum it up:

    In February, BPD got news of a crime in progress.   A trespasser, apparently not sane, wanted to get into a residence.  BPD did not respond.   The trespasser then murdered one of the homeowners.

    In January, BPD got news of a crime in progress:  someone was in possession of property stolen in a theft.  Ten officers plus the chief went after the person holding the property.  Four of those officers were on overtime.

    Asked why they did not respond to the trespasser, the department and the chief initially referred to reduced service in anticipation of a Fuck the Police march.   This came under public criticism.  Shortly before a public meeting, the chief and the department seemed to change their story, saying that they didn’t blame the protest for not responding.    Incredibly, although the news outlets had published multiple direct quotes from the department and chief that seemed to blame the protest initially, now the chief’s tune was that the press had gotten it wrong.   At the community meeting, while reiterating that the protest was not to blame, the chief also mentioned concerns that the protest might try to take over police headquarters.

    Asked why so many department resources went after his son’s stolen phone, the chief and department responded that (a) it was a crime in progress;  (b) in a small number of other cases multiple officers have chased trackable phones.    No details of these other cases were offered beyond the numbers of officers involved, the success rate (2 for 7), and that in one case officers had gone all the way to San Francisco.

    After the public meeting about the night of the murder, the chief gave now infamous orders to disturb a reporter at home in the middle of the night to demand a story correction about what, precisely, the chief had apologized for.   Compounding matters, the question arose as to whether or not police crime records had been improperly used to obtain the address of the reporter.   The chief told the press he had no idea how the address was obtained.   Later, email messages were released confirming that the chief was in on the process of retrieving the address from crime records.

    During all of this there have been multiple indications that the rank and file is displeased with the chief’s command.    The chief has so far responded simply that “you can’t please everybody”.

  • Obviously BHS is too crime-ridden. Maybe Chief Meehan should transfer his son to McClymonds…

  • dawndelle

    You’re comparing apples and oranges. The horrific February murder threw light on police responses to calls trespassers or people-acting-strange or threatening at the door. (We get this kind of thing fairly often in the flatlands, by the way.) The Berkeley police will respond completely differently to this type of call going forward; you can bet. As they should. Which is little solace to the victim’s family who have every right to be angered. The chief’s son’s beeping iphone showing the real-time path of robbers is different. If, in fact, the police ascertained they had enough officers on duty to pursue, they did what any agency would do – went after the culprits with full court press. Going forward, calls of threatening strangers will probably bring a similar response; this is my guess. (With some people complaining its a waste of tax payer dollars.) The lack of a police report on the cell phone chase is another matter. I do believe the chief could have been trying to save face. 

  • Bruce Love

    You’re comparing apples and oranges. The horrific February murder threw light on police responses to calls trespassers or people-acting-strange or threatening at the door. (We get this kind of thing fairly often in the flatlands, by the way.) The Berkeley police will respond completely differently to this type of call going forward; you can bet.

    Why would you believe that?    Doug Oakley’s story errantly suggested that the chief had apologized for the response that night.    The chief sent Kusmiss to bother Oakley to correct that.

    It is the chief’s position that the calls from the Cukor’s were handled “consistently with what other departments” do, and consistently with Berkeley’s own policies.    Why do you believe the department would try to fix that which it does not consider to be broken?

    The lack of a police report on the cell phone chase is another matter. I
    do believe the chief could have been trying to save face.

    Who can tell what might be the motivations?   It alarms me that we can’t same to get a credible, full, and straight account — and never will thanks to the lack of a report.

  • dawndelle

    Going over old well-trod terrain now (I know the history), but the PR nightmare (which isn’t to say it isn’t for good reason) is a pretty good motivator for the BPD to make sure they’re on top of all stranger/trespass calls going forward. Stolen ihones as well. Even if the chief was on shifting-ground about the response to Cukor. For better or for worse, public response affects policy. At least for a while.

  • Ginny Roemer

    I am
    willing to concede that this attempt at allegory on my part might not be brilliant
    – but did you miss the point completely? 
    They guy we are depending on to keep our kids safe is the one we are
    attacking…not the criminals, the guy we need and pay and are depending on is
    the guy we are attacking.  Over an all
    too understandable response to protect his son and get the criminals, Berkeley shoots its chief
    law enforcement officer..It is virtually nutz. (( A few other
    nuanced points about Berkeley
    political correctness were intended in my allegorical attempt—- but just forget it.;-}  ))) 

  • Ginny Roemer

    That would be an illegal district transfer.  Besides, it is not the crime that is as offensive as the people here in Berkeley who think that law enforcement is the problem.  You can bet that parents at McClymonds are not as confused.

  • noucette

    Perhaps berkeleyside could/should spend a little time on what the chief has actually done that many in the community do in fact support and take a deeper look at the story:  there seems to be some bias in the stories being written & selected on this particular subject. (I love berkeleyside.com and am an avis reader & follower).