Berkeley police representatives charmed an initially raucous mob assembled at Northbrae Community Church Thursday night to discuss last month's murder in the hills.
Three hundred angry, frightened Berkeley residents, mostly from District 6, assembled on the Northside Thursday night seeking reassurance that they would not be murdered like Peter Cukor, who was killed Feb.19 outside his mansion in the exclusive Tilden Park Hills neighborhood.
After angry outbursts from spectators threatened to disrupt the meeting, Chief Michael K. Meehan began working the crowd.
"How many of you have read that we blame Occupy Oakland for causing us to hold back officers, or that we failed to respond quickly enough? Hands went up.
"We didn't say it," the chief said.
Media said it.
"But the blame [for misunderstandings] rests with me," said the chief. "I just couldn't keep up with all the media calls. We were too slow to release" pertinent information. "Tonight, we hope to clear up" those misunderstandings.
"We're just men and woman. We've talked to other agencies to see what they are doing that we are not."
"I live in this community and my wife and kids live here," the chief said. "I care about this community, and want it be safe."
The chief denied that the department had blamed Occupy Oakland, as widely reported, for diverting police, or that mistakes were made in dispatching because protestors arrived in Berkeley at 10:10 p.m. the night of the murder.
"I am particularly proud" of our handling of the protest, Meehan said. Police had monitored the march with one squad car, near, but not in view of, the marchers, and all ended peacefully, according to the chief.
An officer on Shattuck had reportedly been diverted from Cukor's call by a dispatcher because police were "monitoring" Occupy. According to Meehan, Cukor's prowler call came in at 8:47 p.m. At 8:59 an officer on Shattuck offered to go to the crime scene, but was, reportedly, diverted.
But not because of Occupy, according to the chief, who throughout the meeting maintained that police had followed standard procedures of priorities. Throughout the evening, the chief would return to the necessity—in policing—of priorities.
"I want to make it clear that I don't blame Occupy. It was not their fault," the chief insisted.
To questions about whether the victim could have done anything differently, Meehan responded that he didn't want to blame the victim, either.
At 9:01 Cukor's wife reported her husband was being attacked by the prowler. "A sizable number of officers was dispatched," according to the chief, at 9:02, and arrived at 9:12.
"It can take ten minutes for cars to get up there," he said.
In Q&A, Meehan said, "we had reports that Oakland's F---- the police march planned to "take over" the university police station. That's why we held-over twelve officers going off shift. This gave us thirty-six officers. One squad in roll-call, and another in briefing for Occupy, and the third, on the streets.
The department has 176 officers, with 12 vacancies, Meehan said, but patrol sizes have remained the same for twenty years. "When we have to make cuts, we cut something like bike patrols."
Meehan was accompanied by Alan Lauborough, one of four police-dispatch supervisors, who addressed concerns that dispatchers had botched the police response to the victim's prowler report, and by Officer Byron White, a beat coordinator of four beats, one of which was beat 1, the crime scene, who also answered police-response questions.
Do calls, like Cukor's first call to the non-emergency number cause delayed response, and what should citizens do about prowlers and trespassers, many asked.
The chief reiterated throughout the evening that the difference between so-called emergency calls and so-called non-emergency amounted to "zero." Your calls will be evaluated, and responded to," he said.
The idea, misreported in the press, according to the chief, that Cukor's call on the non-emergency line had caused delayed response was untrue.
"Should Cukor have sounded frantic to get attention?
Labourough replied that dispatchers are less interested in emotion than they are in getting the details of the complaint.
Should the victim have stayed inside the house? "Possibly," Labourough said, but "we don't advise on that. It's your choice. There are situations where barricading yourself in a back room might be effective," but in other situations going to a neighbor's might be a better idea.
Labourough said Berkeley gets 1,000 "suspicious persons report each year. If we didn't prioritize those, we would have to divert police service from possibly more dangerous situations.
Berkeley police post instructions for dealing with most potentially dangerous situations on their website.
But, according to Labourough, if you're not sure whether your situation is dangerous enough to use 9-1-1, call 9-1-1. "It may be an emergency, and it may not. Could be a middle area. We'll figure it out.
Berkeley police post instructions for dealing with many potentially dangerous situations on their website.
Pressed for more information about the killer, Meehan would only say that he told them he had walked from Oakland. Asked about motive, the chief replied that "we have no idea what was on his mind."
I asked him later about the imaginary fiance, Zoey, or Zooey, which was reported in press accounts, and he replied that the suspect was not saying much to police, and that, besides, the investigation was on-going. More on this here.
Meehan made numerous references to his department's achievements, going back to August Vollman, and drew applause. By meeting's end, the once-angry crowd was applauding frequently.
__________________________________________________________________ Ted Friedman usually reports from the dangerous South side, which has not yet had a murder this year. The year is young.