Poll: Police Chief’s reputation tarnished, not department

Chief Meehan: damaged reputation after two and a half years on the job

Recent actions by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan have damaged his standing, but the department’s reputation has not been overly tarnished and there is not strong demand for Meehan to apologize. These are the main findings of our “Berkeley Police Chief” Reader Poll, which we launched on Friday and kept open over the Memorial Day weekend.

We had 301 respondents to the poll, which was designed to take the pulse of the community rather than be scientific. Many of you qualified your votes with comments.

Sixty percent of you felt the January incident in which Meehan sanctioned sending ten officers to Oakland to look for his teenage son’s stolen iPhone, and the March incident in which he sent an officer to a reporter’s home in the middle of the night to correct a story, had sullied the Chief’s reputation. Only 38% felt the department’s reputation had been damaged as a result, however. Although a number of readers called on the Chief to resign, many felt there was a clear distinction between the boss and the rank and file. “It is possible to be very proud of BPD and at the same time very embarrassed of Meehan,” wrote Berkeleyan in the comments.

Twenty three percent of those surveyed trust the Berkeley police as much as they did before, while 25% of respondents trust the police less than before the recent revelations. Only 14% of those surveyed were satisfied with Meehan’s explanation of the iPhone incident, in which he argued it did not constitute preferential treatment, and only 5% felt there was a clear way for the Chief to move on from the storm.

Forty four percent of those surveyed agreed Chief Meehan should release the findings of the independent report that was made into the Doug Oakley incident. The $15,500 report, by San Francisco law firm Renne, Sloan, Holtzman, Sakai, was completed recently according to Interim City Manager Christine Daniel, who said “appropriate action” had been taken, and that she had no intention of making it public.

As with all such snapshot-polls, many questions you would have liked to see addressed were not included, and some of those that were included were deemed to be flawed. A couple of readers pointed out that it was impossible to judge whether two lapses in judgment were part of a larger pattern.

Several readers pointed to the fact, mentioned by Berkeleyside in its extensive coverage of the Meehan storm, that the Berkeley Police are currently in contract negotiations and that this may color opinions, including those of the anonymous sources who triggered some of the pertinent revelations in the media.

A significant number of commenters said they were happy with the Berkeley police department. First-time online commenter JJ said: “I do believe that recent incidents demonstrate lapses of judgement on Chief Meehan’s part. I also believe that media portrayal (although not necessarily Berkeleyside’s) of recent BPD actions — including the Cukor incident — have sensationalized the events. Notwithstanding any of the foregoing, the main point I want to convey is this: in spite of recent events, overall, I think the Berkeley Police Department is doing a great job.”

Meehan, who was sworn in as Chief in January 2010, is presenting a progress report tonight to the City Council regarding the department’s engagement with the community. The report covers the introduction of an online crime reporting system and enhancements to the department’s website that, among other things, make it easier to see the department’s command structure and apply for a job. The police department is also introducing an upgraded crime data mapping system that they say will be more up to date then those used in the past.

Also on tonight’s City Council agenda: Mayor Tom Bates intends to recommend that Christine Daniel be appointed City Manager.

Related:
Reader Poll: What next after Berkeley Police Chief storm? [05.25.12]
Berkeley police chief: “Not some kind of preferential treatment” [05.23.12]
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]

Want to be up to speed with what’s going on in Berkeley?  Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s new-look Daily Briefing.

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  • bgal4

    OK so they bought an update to Crime View Community , nothing to brag about.

  • Heather_W_62

    Mayor Tom Bates intends to recommend  that Christine Daniel be appointed City Manager.  
    Of course he is. She toes the company line. 

  • Bruce Love

     

    Meehan, who was sworn in as Chief in January 2010, is presenting a progress report tonight to the City Council regarding the department’s engagement with the community. The report covers the introduction of an online crime reporting system and enhancements to the department’s website that, among other things, make it easier to see the department’s command structure and apply for a job. The police department is also introducing an upgraded crime data mapping system that they say will be more up to date then those used in the past.

    Well, now, he’s managed to increase Berkeley’s vendor lock-in and diminish local sovereignty over police records.   Why if that isn’t community engagement I don’t know what is.   I feel pretty engaged, don’t you?

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t it be a hilarious if they bought it in order to get a dept. license for the iPhone ArcGIS app?

  • Fecal_Brown

    Could be worse. At least an ‘officer’ didn’t kill a dog for no good reason, and then have the rest of the department back up the dog-killer. Some officers may be good, but when they all back up the bad ones, it makes it hard to trust any of them.

  • Ginny Roemer

    “Several readers pointed to the fact, mentioned by Berkeleyside in its extensive coverage of the Meehan storm, that the Berkeley Police are currently in contract negotiations and that this may color opinions, including those of the anonymous sources who triggered some of the pertinent revelations in the media.”

    Can the anonymous source please step up and show some grit? Seems like a dirty way to get a raise to me.  Not that I think things should be sercret – just don’t think this guy/gal should remain anonymous if it is secrets he/she doesn’t like.

  • bgal4

     What’s dirtier, speculating about the professional conduct of the rank and file just to protect the chief?

    and which pertinent revelations? From what I was told, it was a BHS staffer who let the local papers know about the smart phone incident and that was over 2 months ago, it just took the BPD official until last week to respond to media request.

  • Kjast3

    There’s no way the police are getting a raise. Look at the climate around the state. Why would they want to anger the new city manager? Wonder if the “official” bgal mentions even knew about the phone issue when asked?

  • Guest

    The Berkeley Police have helped my family many times and I appreciate them.  All this stuff is just noise!  We need the police and we are lucky to have a dedicated police force.  We should pay them a fare wage to be sure they don’t start looking for other jobs.  Thank you for everything you do, Berkeley Police Officers!!

  • batard

    Whatever, it’s still garbage because very little data is actually shared.  There is no transparency here.  

    Add up the number of calls in the weekly list published on Berkeleyside, then consider how many man-hours there are in a week..

  • bgal4

    Capt Greenwood  $183K+ salary,  are we paying him enough?

  • Bruce Love

    About 25 minutes ago called the Berkeley Police Department’s 911 line.   I reported that there is a person “asleep or passed out” on my stairs, that the person is very malodorous (unwashed),  and that I suspect but am not certain this person is a subject well known to the department and to the Berkeley Mobile Crisis team.   The person I told them it might be is (I’ve been told) a schizophrenic who sometimes stops taking their medication. I’ve witnessed this person — more than once — react violently to police welfare checks.   The person I told them this might be has been 5150′ed multiple times recently.   One such time it was because several of us had nagged for a month because this person was seen wasting away very rapidly, wandering the neighborhood soaked in feces, and so forth — it took a month to get agencies to look into that.

    The dispatcher will send an officer but informs me (actually she interrupted me half way through the report to inform me) that she won’t alert the mental health crisis team and that I should not have called 911. 

    About 21 minutes later I called back to the 5900 number, explained that I am trapped in my apartment and that I don’t know if this person is merely asleep or is passed out with a serious health problem.

    I’m told that they’re very busy today.

  • Ginnyroemer

    Bruce,

    I feel your pain.
    Especially in light of recent events. I hope that the police get there soon and
    offer some meaningful help to both you and pathetic person. I were you I would
    call your landlord and opine that the premises are not really habitable without
    access and egress. Explain that you have called the police but also consider it
    a premises safety issue and that you would like to brainstorm with the landlord
    about how this problem could be solved and addressed. Having a record of this
    wouldn’t hurt and if you want to impress the police with the seriousness of the
    incident and that you have put them on notice, ask for a police report…you
    might have to think of something criminal that is going on though. Drunk in
    public? Obstructing the sidewalk? Loitering?

    Good Luck.

  • Bruce Love

     Thanks, Ginny.  Things eventually worked out OK in some minimalist sense this time.   I’m very much looking forward to my “coffee with the commander”.   

  • The Sharkey

    Wow, so one of the street people PragmanticProgressive was telling you you should invite to your home actually found their way there? Bizarre.

  • Bruce Love

    Sharkey, there is a person in my neighborhood in serious trouble.   This is a person who has a history, known to the police and service agencies, of going off meds and behaving violently and self-destructively.    Multiple agencies are trying to help this person.   There is a legal caretaker involved who holds these responders at bay while, nevertheless, allowing these incidents to occur.    From time to time, at least historically, while the caretaker is absent, this person gets themselves into a bad state and is not safe to approach unless you are prepared to use force.    I know this because I have, indeed, interacted with this person and the caretaker to resolve problems when possible, and the police, and the service agencies when that is not possible.    It was in this context that I called the police because, by now, they should know the drill and take the risks seriously.   (So far as I know, given the limitations of privacy rules, recently all the parties of interest have tentative agreement on a longer term plan that will land this person in a much better situation.  It can’t be done overnight.  That’s another reason why nipping lapses between here and there in the bud is the right thing to do.)

    It’s callous and mean to use that person’s sad circumstance to make a snide comparison to the “burning issue” of someone sitting on a sidewalk.   That’s what comes across to me when you  write:

    Wow, so one of the street people PragmanticProgressive was telling you you should invite to your home actually found their way there? Bizarre.

    Did you try stepping outside and asking them to move before calling 911?

    HA HA HA.   How droll.  How witty of you to make light of this person’s illness and suffering by making in inappropriate comparison of the ravages of mental illness to the case of people sitting on a sidewalk.

    I think it’s impressive how you can use this incident to activate people’s fears and prejudices and with just a slight rhetorical trick link them to the sidewalk issue without needing to resort to reason.   How clever.

    As for the bums, scavangers and tramps that come through from time to time:   I’ve found that trespassers generally move along when asked or told. I’ve some of the tramps are intelligent and  interesting to talk with and have interesting stories.   It’s been a long time since I’ve had to ask scavangers not to make a mess — these few blocks seem to have hit some (no doubt temporary yet still, knock-wood, long lasting) informally negotiated peace.

    But, hey, if you want to defend “no sit/lie” by exploiting the unrelated suffering and dangers of a specific mentally ill person across town then I guess you represent the proposed ordinance, and perhaps yourself, with frank honesty.

  • The Sharkey

    Inappropriate comparison? Hardly.

    Perhaps you don’t know it because, by your own admission, you don’t go downtown or to the Telegraph area very often, but there are people like that living on those streets right now.

  • Bruce Love

     

    Perhaps you don’t know it because, by your own admission, you don’t go
    downtown or to the Telegraph area very often but there are people like that living on those streets right now.

    I know that there are mentally ill people who are a potential threat to themselves and others living on the street, Sharkey.    What does that have to do with your so cheaply exploiting the suffering of the suffering person in my neighborhood?  What does it have to do with authorizing the police to “move along” and ticket any person who sits on a sidewalk between certain hours in certain business districts?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    As I recall, Bruce’s guidance to me was to recommend a philosophical essay whose thesis was that men cannot, by definition, experience oppression.  Suffering, yes, but not oppression.

    I’m not sure what category his complaint of being “trapped in [his] apartment” falls into — maybe he can use the downtime to work that out, along with the new pricing scheme for Downtown businesses.

  • Chris

    I feel more comfortable with a police capt taking that amount of pay home than the exorbitant salaries of the executive/admin staff of our city govt.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Well, let’s see: you’re looking forward to your coffee with the commander.  You’ve made a note of Ginny’s suggestion to “think of something criminal that is going on” to keep your step clear.  Sounds pretty germane to me.  

    I’m sorry you had to go through this — sincerely — but maybe you’ll be a little more understanding toward the rest of us who want to be able to move freely about without being hassled by people who refuse services.  Yes,  yes, I know, this was “your” property and not a public sidewalk.  The fact remains that you want to be able to walk outside your place without having to step over bodies.  I want the same thing when I walk on public sidewalks.  

    Let’s not rehash the 10,000 ways in which this episode is different from the others we’ve heard about (not just mine!).  Just focus for a moment on what it feels like to have your space — however you define that — invaded like this.  And then please try to remember how that felt the next you read about others’ experiences.  

  • Chris

     You called 911 for that?!?!

  • The Sharkey

    I believe he also told you that if someone yelled at you or got in your way it was because you were giving off some kind of subliminal negative signals and somehow your fault.

  • The Sharkey

    It seems like a call to the mental health mobile crisis team would have made more sense:
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=15662

    (510) 981-5254  Telephone

    (510) 981-6903   TDD

  • The Sharkey

    Thanks. I guess I should have clarified but thought that the similarities were obvious.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Ah yes, the “blame the victim” sub-topic:  how could I forget!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    They are, but I fully expect “Bruce” to demonstrate some motivated reasoning in order to “resolve” the cognitive dissonance brought about by his unhappiness at finding himself in the situation he thinks the rest of us should endure.

  • Bruce Love

     

    As I recall, Bruce’s guidance to me was to recommend a philosophical essay whose thesis was that men cannot, by definition, experience
    oppression. Suffering, yes, but not oppression.

    I think you’d have trouble passing the course.

    Writing in the early 1980s, Frye was contrasting the feminist claim that, in our society, women are oppressed as such with the counter claim that men are oppressed as such

    Indeed, in even the concluding paragraph she speaks of the oppression of men while sustaining her thesis.

  • Bruce Love

     PragmaticProgressive anonymously defames me by writing the slander:

    You’ve made a note of Ginny’s suggestion to “think of something criminal
    that is going on” to keep your step clear. Sounds pretty germane to
    me.

    There is just no discussing this with you, PP.  You make up whatever you want to hear me say and attribute it to me then go on to argue against it.

  • Bruce Love

    Ah yes, the “blame the victim” sub-topic:  how could I forget!

    It was actually a hint about how you might become more street-smart.

    Apparently you aren’t interested.

  • Bruce Love

     Sharkey, they are one of the agencies I’ve worked with on this issue and I know the protocols they advise, thank you very much.

  • Bruce Love

     

    You called 911 for that?!?!

    For a person with self care and serious health issues, with whose situation I’m familiar, possibly lying unconscious and sprawled out on a stairway suffering some serious medical crisis? 

    Yup.  I sure did.

  • Bruce Love

    They are, but I fully expect “Bruce” to [.... random personal attacks ....]

    How do comments like this rise above the level of what an anonymous vandal might do with a sharpie in a bus station bathroom?   Is that what you think the comment section is for?

  • The Sharkey

    Is this serious, or are you having a go at us? That’s not even remotely close to slander or even an insult.

  • The Sharkey

    I believe you. But calling 911 apparently wasn’t the right course, and since you know this individual has mental health problems I wonder who else one is supposed to call in that situation.

  • The Sharkey

    You know, I would really prefer for Berkeley to be the kind of place where you don’t need to be “street smart” to go take your kids downtown to get an ice cream cone.

  • Bruce Love

    But calling 911 apparently wasn’t the right course

    If you  passed out on the street (or on my stairs) and I was the one who found you:

    Would you want me to call 911?   Would you like to wait 20+ minutes before any chance of help?

    since you know this individual has mental health problems I wonder who else one is supposed to call in that situation.

    If you know that the subject is someone known to the mobile crisis team you can let the dispatcher know that (and to do so can be helpful sometimes).   It is, generally speaking, difficult or impossible to raise the mobile crisis team directly — usually they call back in response to messages.   They are not “first responders” in the sense that police are.   I don’t recall at the moment but they may even have one of those voice mail messages that includes something along the lines of “If this is an emergency, hang up and call the damn police, you fool.”  If they do they probably phrase it differently.

    If you don’t know anything other than that mental health may be a factor in the case of the person you are calling about, you could mention that to the dispatcher. 

  • The Sharkey

    When the 911 dispatcher told you that you shouldn’t have called 911, did he/she offer an alternate that you should have called instead?

  • Charles_Siegel

    I know the issue is resolved, but maybe I can make a belated contribution to the thread that could be helpful later. 

    My guess is that you gave too long and too calm a description of the situation, and you said this is a chronic problem known to the Mobile Crisis Team.  I expect that this is why the dispatcher thought it was not an emergency that warranted calling 911. 

    I could see two ways of handling it:

    – Call 911, say that someone is lying on your stairway and that it might be a serious medical emergency.  I think they would probably send send the fire department to respond – or at least send a police officer quickly.

    – Call the non-emergency number to report someone trespassing, either sleeping or passed out on your stairway.  You would get a slower response, but the police would come and move him on before too long.

    Many years ago, we had a similar issue.  Someone was passed out on the sidewalk across the street from me, and we thought they were unconscious because of a medical emergency and called 911.  A police officer came quickly and recognized that he was a chronic drunk, and nudged him enough to wake him up and get him to move. 

    I wish others would take a break from attacking Bruce.  I know that you get so angry and frustrated from arguing with him on other threads that it is hard to resist.  But try not responding to him for a week and see how it feels. 

  • The Sharkey

    What happened to all of Bruce’s replies?
    I can see them in his Disqus profile, but they’re missing from the thread…

  • Bruce Love

    Charles I think you are quite right that I should have essentially argued with the first dispatcher and more strongly emphasized the possibility of a medical emergency.  When I called back later, I did emphasize the medical concern.   In the moment I was flabbergasted when she cut me off to admonish me for calling.  Thankfully, it turned out to be a minor incident.

    You wrote:

    My guess is that you gave too long and too calm a description of the situation

    Calm and concise (not long) is how I was trained to strive to respond to perceived emergency situations, at least when communicating with responders I expect to be similarly trained.   In the past, Berkeley dispatchers have worked quite effectively with that.

    Call the non-emergency number to report someone trespassing, either sleeping or passed out on your stairway.

    If that, even.    I know it isn’t for everyone but, to give you some sense of my general attitude:  earlier this afternoon I bumped into a homeless, somewhat “out of it” gentleman (a word I use advisedly here) who was making to inappropriately crash here.   I told him he should not.  He said something to the effect of “OK”.   I asked him if he needed help.   He said “no” and wandered off.   His form of trespass is not all that common here but that’s usually how it goes when it does.

    You wrote:

    Many years ago, we had a similar issue.  Someone was passed out on the sidewalk across the street from me, and we thought they were unconscious
    because of a medical emergency and called 911.  A police officer came
    quickly and recognized that he was a chronic drunk, and nudged him
    enough to wake him up and get him to move.

    That is close enough for our purposes to what this incident turned out to be once it could be safely dealt with.   It is a bit different from your case, I think, because of the recent local context and its multi-agency history.

  • Bruce Love

    Also, pragmatic, you said something that reminds me of an old Woody Allen joke.

    You wrote: 

    Bruce’s guidance to me was to recommend a philosophical essay whose thesis was that men cannot, by definition, experience oppression.
     Suffering, yes, but not oppression.

    You know I recently took up speed reading.

    Speed reading.

    It’s marvelous.  I’ve been doing a lot of it.

    Recently I read “War and Peace”.

    It’s about Russia.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    The difference between us is not a lack of street smarts.  It’s that I don’t LIKE these encounters the way you did until one showed up on your doorstep.  Crazy people are going to do what they’re going to do, regardless of what you’re projecting.  They should not be wandering the streets of Berkeley.

  • Bruce Love

    The difference between us is not a lack of street smarts.

    I’m pretty sure it is given that you say:

    It’s that I
    don’t LIKE these encounters [...]

    but again, you are dishonest or else deeply confused when you write stuff like:

    [...]  the way you did until one showed up on your doorstep.

    Yeah, my writings about that encounter and the police response?  It’s about Russia.

  • The Sharkey

    Do you intend for other people to be able to understand you? Is your comment supposed to be coherent? Because the way it’s written right now, it isn’t.

  • The Sharkey

    How do comments like this rise above the level of what an anonymous vandal might do with a sharpie in a bus station bathroom?   Is that what you think the comment section is for?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yeah, my writings about that encounter and the police response?  It’s about Russia.

    Perhaps if you wrote less, you’d accomplish more, “Bruce.”  One of the lessons of your encounter is surely that your tendency toward logorrhea diminishes your effectiveness, especially in an emergency.