In the wake of the abrupt departure Tuesday of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, Acting Chief Andrew Greenwood says his short-term goals are to hire more officers and keep the department focused on the future.
“Calm, steady, forward movement is the way to go,” Greenwood told the city’s Police Review Commission on Wednesday night. “That’s kind of where I’m at.”
Greenwood was at the PRC meeting to give the regularly scheduled chief’s report and discuss the mid-year crime report, but the first topic that came up when the meeting began was Meehan’s sudden departure, announced Wednesday, and what will happen next.
Commission Chair George Perezvelez called Meehan’s resignation the elephant in the room, and noted that the leadership change — which put Berkeley native Greenwood at the helm — is “effective immediately.”
In Meehan’s resignation letter, he said his last day with the city would be Oct. 14. But he clarified Wednesday that this will be due to admin and vacation time.
In his resignation letter, Meehan wrote that, though there is no good time to leave the agency, “there is a right time and… the time is now.” The resignation has been characterized by several people familiar with the situation as a “personal decision.”
No further details have been released, but the leadership change came just weeks after reports surfaced about widespread criticism within the department of how Meehan approached his work internally and interacted with his employees.
Meehan told Berkeleyside that, at least for now, he plans to leave any comments about his resignation to the city.
Perezvelez said Wednesday night that all command decisions and departmental responsibilities related to day-to-day operations at BPD have already been handed over to Greenwood.
“You are in charge,” he said to Greenwood.
“That’s correct,” Greenwood replied.
“Chief Greenwood, welcome to the hot seat,” Perezvelez quipped a bit later in the evening.
Greenwood said BPD will now “take a collective deep breath” as he works to collect input from staff about how to proceed.
“I’m always concerned about … a sudden change,” he told the commission, adding that he believes in his department and says his employees are fully capable of moving forward as a team.
Greenwood told Berkeleyside after the meeting that, despite his long tenure at BPD, he never expected to be chief.
He said earlier in the day Wednesday that Meehan’s resignation “came as a complete surprise” to him, and that it had been a “whirlwind five hours of figuring out” all of the logistics of the transfer of command. “I’m sure it was a really difficult decision for him and his family,” he added.
Greenwood said he is still getting his bearings and had started his workday Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. to get a jump on everything that needs to happen. He told commissioners he also planned to have an early-morning meeting Thursday with his command staff to find out what their priorities are in the short term to keep operations “running smoothly” and see what other “urgent short-term planning” is needed.
He told commissioners his primary internal focus right now will be to find qualified applicants to hire at BPD. He said improving staffing levels is “vitally important” to the agency.
Greenwood said the department’s authorized staffing is 176, but that it has been tough to meet that goal in the past due to a number of factors. This week, during the crime report to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday evening, city officials reiterated their support for BPD “over-hiring” to be able to actually meet the 176 goal.
In the past, BPD has not been able to keep the numbers up in the face of retirements, leave and other factors that cause fluctuations in staffing. But council support for over-hiring — above the 176 number — might allow BPD to catch up.
The main challenge now, Greenwood said, is to find and recruit qualified applicants and get them into the pipeline. He told the commission he will report back about what BPD can do to actively recruit candidates, particularly because applicant numbers have dropped significantly in recent years across the board.
In response to questions from PRC commissioners, Greenwood said BPD is moving ahead with a pilot project to purchase body-worn cameras for some officers, and is working on the proposal to seek bids for that effort.
“It will remain a priority and I look forward to getting the pilot program on board,” Greenwood told the commission, after Perezvelez emphasized that the pilot needs to move ahead “regardless of how crazy everything is.”
Greenwood said plans are also in the works to switch from a 14-beat system to a 16-beat system, which will make the beats smaller so that — ideally — officers spend less time driving from call to call, or driving to the station to write up reports, and more time “on the beat.”
Greenwood said he hopes to see officers being able to have more community contact with merchants and residents as a result of the move to 16 beats. He said he hopes that change might happen “fairly quickly,” possibly in early November, but that it will depend on some “technical work” and computer upgrades that are still being finalized.
Said Greenwood on Thursday about his plans for the future: “It’s certainly an opportunity for me to see what we can do here. I’m appreciative of that.”
Greenwood said he is “focused on a day at a time, a week at a time,” adding, “It’s very heady stuff. People are really enthused.”
Several officers have told Berkeleyside this week that there has been a palpable feeling of optimism for the future in light of the recent leadership change. Officers said they only learned of Meehan’s resignation Wednesday morning due to the city manager’s memo; the chief sent out no internal goodbye email or other communication when he left the building Tuesday.
Proclamation in the works to recognize Meehan’s contributions
Commissioners also took some time Wednesday night to express their appreciation for former Chief Meehan. Perezvelez said he particularly appreciated the chief’s work putting in place a general order related to interactions with transgender individuals, and his efforts to make data readily available about pedestrian and car stops conducted by officers.
“I certainly do wish Chief Meehan godspeed,” Perezvelez said.
Commissioner Alison Bernstein said she appreciated the chief’s response to community concerns about racial justice and policing, and his efforts related to de-escalation training and the mentally ill.
“These efforts should be recognized,” Bernstein said.
And Commissioner Terry Roberts said he valued how responsive Meehan always had been to input from the PRC.
Perezvelez suggested that commissioners might want to craft a proclamation — as it has done for BPD retirees — to recognize Meehan’s contributions over his nearly seven years leading BPD, and no-one raised any objections. The item is set to come back on a later PRC agenda.
Meehan is the fourth Bay Area police chief since May to leave his or her department. As reported by KQED, former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned in May “after a string of controversial police shootings. Former Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent resigned with a late-night email June 9 amid a police sexual exploitation scandal that has since spread to multiple Bay Area law enforcement agencies. Hayward Police Chief Diane Stuart was placed on paid leave Aug. 29 while that city manager’s office conducts a personnel investigation.”
“It’s a particularly bad time for police chiefs in the Bay Area,” Mayor Tom Bates told KQED on Wednesday.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Thursday afternoon there are no plans at this time to launch a national search for the chief role.
“Acting Chief Greenwood was appointed to take on all duties as chief,” he said. “In skills, experience, relationships and other ways, he is very well-positioned to lead the department at this time. He and the department will do well.”
Sgt. Christian Stines, of the Berkeley Police Association, told Berkeleyside on Thursday he’s looking forward to seeing what comes next and wishes Meehan well in his future endeavors.
Stines said, too, he is confident City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley has the department’s best interests at heart.
“We, the association, have a whole lot of faith in Dee’s ability to be visionary and to make sure that our police department is moving in the right direction,” he said. “Although it’s a difficult transition, we have a lot of faith in the people who are in place here to get us through it.”
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