Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strike Two for Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan

By Robert Gammon
Tue, May 29, 2012 at 1:11 PM

At the beginning of this year, it looked as if the decision in 2009 by Berkeley leaders to hire Seattle police Captain Michael Meehan as the city’s new police chief was a smart move. Meehan was successfully reforming Berkeley’s police department, implementing a zero-tolerance policy for police misconduct while slashing costly police overtime. And his get-tough stances with the city’s police union represented a refreshing break from the past. But in the past few months, the hiring of Meehan has started to look more like a mistake, as he ensnared himself unnecessarily in two mini-scandals that raise serious questions about his judgment and his priorities as Berkeley’s top cop.

Michael Meehan
  • Michael Meehan
Meehan’s troubles began when he dispatched police spokeswoman Mary Kusmiss to pay a late-night visit to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley to demand a correction to an incorrect story that had been posted to the newspaper’s website. It was a dumb move. Although Meehan had every right to want the story corrected, he should have waited until the next business day. He later admitted as much and apologized for his actions, although questions remained as to whether the chief improperly used police resources to find Oakley’s home address.

Interim City Manager Christine Daniel — Meehan’s boss — hired an outside law firm to investigate the chief’s actions, but it appears that the inquiry uncovered no serious misconduct, because Meehan seems to have received no major reprimand. Daniel told the website Berkeleyside last week that the probe cost the city $15,000, and that “appropriate action” had already been taken against the chief.

Then came the news that earlier this year Berkeley police had dispatched ten cops to search for Meehan’s son’s stolen iPhone. The move represented another waste of city resources, and smacked of special treatment for the chief. Meehan later insisted that the sergeant in command made the decision to send the officers after the phone, not him, and that such moves were relatively routine.

But that seems like a pretty weak response from the chief. First, the sergeant-in-charge had to be influenced by the fact that the stolen phone belonged to his boss’ son. Second, if Berkeley police really do regularly dispatch ten cops, including some on overtime, to search for stolen phones that have tracking software, then the department’s priorities are screwed up.

As such, we view the iPhone incident as a second strike against Meehan. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s done a good job overall as police chief, particularly by standing up to the police union, we might be inclined to say that it’s time for Berkeley to get a new chief. But we’re not quite ready do say that — at least not yet.

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