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Berkeley Police Officers Express Concern About Chief's Action

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday March 12, 2012 - 10:26:00 PM

Berkeley police officers are expressing concern about Police Chief Michael Meehan's decision to send an officer to a reporter's home early Friday morning to demand a correction to a story about a community meeting on a recent high-profile crime.

Members of the Berkeley Police Association, which represents the city's officers, said in a statement that they "stand with our community and share in their concerns about the appearance and correctness of the chief's orders."

They also said they "are gravely concerned about the impact his actions will have on our ability to maintain the vital trust of the community we serve."

Police union members said, "We are committed to providing the best possible service to the community, and protecting the constitutional rights of the citizens of Berkeley to whom we ultimately answer."

They said, "We do not believe that the actions tak en by Chief Meehan represent the will, spirit, or sentiment of the membership of the Berkeley Police Association." 

Meehan and Berkeley City Councilmembers Susan Wengraff and Laurie Capitelli held a community meeting Thursday night to discuss the Police Department's response to a Feb. 18 incident in which a man who's been described as mentally ill allegedly entered the property of Berkeley hills homeowner Peter Cukor and killed him with a flower pot. 

After midnight, Meehan sent police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to the home of an Oakland Tribune reporter to demand a correction to a story the reporter had posted on the newspaper's website late Thursday night. 

Meehan later issued a statement saying, "I sincerely apologize for my actions." 

He said, "I have apologized to the reporter personally and I take full responsibility for this error in judgment. I was frustrated with the department's ability to get out timely information, but that is no excuse." 

Meehan added, "My actions do not reflect the values of the Berkeley Police Department. I deeply appreciate the importance of an independent and thoroughly informed media, and how they assist us in making our community aware of important events and information." 

Meehan pledged to arrange for "an independent review of the department's policies and practices regarding release of information to the media." 

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said in a statement, "I take this situation very seriously. We understand and appreciate the depth of response to this incident." 

Daniel said, "There was no justification for contacting the reporter in this way and the chief understands that the more appropriate response to his concerns about inaccurate statements in the article should have been to wait until the following day and make contact by phone or email." 

She said, "The chief has acknowledged his lapse in judgment and assured me that nothing like this will happen again." 

A spokeswoman for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he agrees with Daniel's comments about the situation.