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Seattle Captain Chosen as New Berkeley Police Chief

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 05, 2009 - 08:34:00 AM
Captain Michael Meehan of the Seattle Police Department was named Berkeley’s new police chief.
By Andrew Taylor
Captain Michael Meehan of the Seattle Police Department was named Berkeley’s new police chief.

Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz introduced Captain Michael Meehan of the Seattle Police Department as Berkeley’s new police chief in a closed session of the Berkeley City Council Tuesday, Nov. 3. 

Councilmember Linda Maio told the Planet that the council would vote to approve Meehan in open session at the council meeting Nov. 10. 

The city’s former chief, Doug Hambleton, retired on Sept. 24. Capt. Eric Gustafson has served as interm chief while the department searched for a replacement.  

Calls to Kamlarz were not returned by press time. 

Meehan, a 23-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, was transferred in July from the SPD Narcotics Section to head Violent Crimes, which includes overseeing the homicide, robbery, CSI, gang, polygraph, bias crimes and fugitive units. 

According to a blog post on the SPD website, Meehan previously commanded East Precinct, Narcotics, Vice, Field Training and Audit, Accredition and Policy. 

Maio said the council had a chance to interview Meehan Tuesday night. 

“He’s from Seattle, and he’s been the commander of an area and police unit the size of Berkeley’s,” she said. “He has also introduced a number of communication initiatives in the Seattle Police Department.” 

Maio said that Meehan had worked on immigration and medical marijuana issues, and regularly consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and sales. 

“He has a great deal of respect for the police force and has done a lot of training,” Maio said. “We hope that gets transmitted to the new recruits.” 

Maio said that Meehan also had a lot of “very interesting ideas” about training, and the latest methods or skills being used to reduce crime, including modern data systems. 

The Berkeley Police Department has been criticized in the past for the lack of a comprehensive data-gathering system. 

“He does not think prosecuting undocumented people does any good,” Maio said. “If it’s a matter of a dangerous felon, he thinks police should go after them.” 

Meehan’s work involving a community-led policing project in Seattle’s International District received attention from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, which lost one of its officers in the line of duty Oct. 31, said that the department was not aware of Meehan’s Berkeley appointment. 

“But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” he said. “We are just too preoccupied with the memorial services right now.” 

Comments on a Feb. 2009 blog catering to Seattle’s Capitol Hill area, a pre-dominantly gay neighborhood, discussed the possibility of Meehan replacing then–Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who was selected by the Obama administration to be the “drug czar,” overseeing the country’s drug-control policy. 

“I would be overjoyed to see another ex-East Precinct Commander (Mike Meehan) as the Seattle Police Chief, but suspect he’ll have to work his way up the ranks a bit first,” said Andrew Taylor, a writer on the blog. “He’s very smart, thoughtful and good with the public. And he’s very tall!” 

A PowerPoint presentation by Meehan on public safety and rescue operations during dangerous situations involving bombs and other explosives for the Health Physics Society, where he talks about federal responses as well as handling members of the media in these situations, can be found on the Internet. 

In an April 2 interview with the Seattle Times about a story on Oxycontin abuse, Meehan said that, although “his detectives investigated about 100 drug-forgery cases in 2007,” because the crime resulted “in a maximum of only six months in jail for a first-time offender there is no real deterrent for people not to forge a doctor's signature.”