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Chief Responds to PRC Concerns on Drug Evidence Theft

By Judith Scherr
Friday November 09, 2007

While Berkeley Police Chief Douglas Hambleton agreed with many of the Police Review Commission recommendations aimed at preventing criminal activity among police officers, he took issue with a few. 

In a written report issued Wednesday afternoon, the chief said he disagreed with the commission’s assertion that an investigation into drug evidence theft within the Berkeley department had been insufficient. 

The commission report entitled Evidence Theft Within the Berkeley Police Department was issued Oct. 12 by a committee of three PRC commissioners and two community members in response to two instances of police misconduct: one was the theft of drug evidence from the locked evidence vault by former Sgt. Cary Kent. Kent pleaded guilty to three felonies, served a year of home detention and is now on probation.  

The second was the alleged theft of property of arrestees by a Berkeley police officer charged by the Berkeley Police Department and no longer with the department, but whom the district attorney declined to charge. 

The committee report, approved by the full commission at its Wednesday evening meeting, was intended to address “the systemic failure of a department to identify and remedy major lapses in security, personnel management and administration.” 

Hambleton’s written response to the various recommendations was available to the commission only a few hours before its meeting. The commission discussed it preliminarily in the presence of the chief, city manager and deputy city manager. A more thorough discussion of the chief’s responses is scheduled for the Dec. 12 commission meeting, 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center at Hearst Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The City Council will address the report and its recommendations in January. 

Among the most controversial committee findings was that the investigation into the Cary Kent case was insufficient.  

“Valuable evidence was not secured in a timely fashion, and no other individuals were investigated to determine what, if any, knowledge or involvement they may have had in the illegal movement of drug evidence. Police made no effort to determine whether Cary Kent was involved in illegal drug dealing after he was placed on administrative leave,” the report says. 

In his response, Hambleton said he disagrees with the finding, noting he had conferred with other current and former police chiefs, the Alameda County district attorney and others on the question of whether the investigation was adequate. “The investigation has been concluded,” he wrote. “Kent has been prosecuted … [and] has served his sentence … There is no need to reopen the investigation at this time.” 

While praising the chief for his willingness to work with the commission on its recommendations, Jim Chanin, an attorney and a community member of the committee that wrote the report and Commissioner Sherry Smith, also a member of the committee, took issue with the chief on this question. 

While the chief said that no more evidence was necessary for criminal prosecution, Chanin pointed out that this question goes beyond the Kent case. Chanin wanted to know why investigators failed to address the questions of what Kent might be doing with the drugs beyond personal abuse, and whether other officers were involved in the theft. 

“Our ongoing concern in the subcommittee was something like 289 envelopes. It seemed like that was rather much for a single felon to have absorbed,” Chanin said, referring to the number of envelopes investigators said had been tampered with. While investigators noted the number of damaged or opened envelopes, they looked only at how much drug evidence was missing from a handful of them. 

It seemed relatively easy to find out the difference between the amount of drugs an officer reported having taken from a suspect and put into the envelope, and the amount of evidence remaining in the envelope at present, Smith said. 

“There’s nothing here that indicates that any further investigation was done other than of Sergeant Kent and that gives us the heebie-jeebies because of the 289 [envelopes],” Smith said, underscoring that “others had access.”  

Smith said the commission hadn’t seen anything that showed that the other officers who also had access to the drugs were investigated and cleared. Some continue to work in the Special [drug] Enforcement Unit. “We’re not looking to have the Cary Kent case reopened,” she said. 

“No one knows how much drugs were taken,” Chanin said, arguing that other officers may have been involved, but there was no investigation into that possibility. 

Responding to the issue in his written report, Hambleton wrote that some individuals working with Kent had been transferred, while others remain in the same unit. “Since there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of these employees, it is not appropriate to make transfers that could be viewed as punitive,” says Hambleton’s response. 

Chanin spoke directly to the purpose of finding out how much drug evidence is missing. “[There was no] figuring out whether this was for personal use or for other than personal use,” he said. 

In his written response the chief said “the exact information was not needed for the criminal prosecution.”  

He said it would require reopening the case and involve the crime lab and “considerable time and expense. Due to resource issues, the county crime lab generally will not become involved in an analysis that is not related to a pending prosecution.” 

Chanin also expressed particular concern about the lack of clear policies regarding supervision by friends and relatives that has “disastrous consequences for the department.” The committee found that, in large part, the problem of recognizing that Cary Kent had a drug problem was that his appearance and poor work performance were overlooked by friends. 

While the chief agreed that such supervision could be problematic, he said city administrative regulations address the problem of near relatives. “It is not practical or realistic to restrict personal friendship within the city’s workforce,” he said. 

Among the recommendations with which the chief agreed were creating better early warning systems to identify officers whose behavior could become problematic for the department, putting in place an improved system to track entry into the evidence room, moving responsibility for cash accounts out of the police department and creating better systems to monitor seized asset funds. 


The report and the chief’s responses are on the Police Review Commission website at