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How Long Before Park Hills Murder Were Berkeley Police Priorities Influenced by Occupy? (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Friday April 06, 2012 - 02:12:00 PM
Feb. 18, day of Park Hills murder. Where were police?
Ted Friedman
Feb. 18, day of Park Hills murder. Where were police?
Don't let the smoke fool you. This was the finale to a peaceful Occupy demo the night, Feb. 18, odf the Park Hills murder.
Ted Friedman
Don't let the smoke fool you. This was the finale to a peaceful Occupy demo the night, Feb. 18, odf the Park Hills murder.

Were priorities that kept cops off telegraph all day on February 18 set so early they could not respond to Peter M. Cukor's plea for help, a response that could have saved his life? 

That's the question Oakland Trib reporter Doug Oakley and I should have asked the chief at the public safety meeting Mar. 8 at Northbrae Community church. 

Then the chief did something stupid that re-framed the story. Only hours after the chief had tamed an angry mob at the church, he, inexplicably sent his public info officer, reportedly armed, to Doug Oakley's home at 12:45 a.m. 

Within hours after reports of the BPD home-call, the story went viral. 

Oakley and I were drowning in sugar-coated details at Northbrae that the chief spit out at the speed of sound. The chief has the mind of a philosopher coupled to a rapid-fire delivery system--spreading info at Gatling gun speed. 

Oakley sought clarifications, and the chief demurred. He was already quagmired in the morass of his own details. I was a silent witness, unable to interrupt another reporter, buttering his bread. 

When I did get in a question, it was a softball about what the alleged killer had told police. 

It has only taken me a month to get to the core of the matter. 

In previous stories, I've asked where were the cops on Telegraph the Saturday Occupy Oakland walked into Berkeley with its new bosom-buddy, Occupy Cal. That was good policing, as a police clash with protesters could have started a riot. 

In the past, police have let small demos develop on the avenue, but at least watching from across the street until they could determine public safety was not threatened. 

But during a Bank of America demo the day Peter M. Cukor was murdered there were reasons to keep a police eye out. Here's what I saw that day that I did not report. The BA protest began around noon outside the Caffe Mediterraneum, often spilling into the street, and blocking side walk traffic. 

When the crowd was sufficiently worked up, it headed for BA on Telegraph, where demonstrators beat on the ATMs and the bank's glass doors. Berkeley has an ordinance banning close-proximity to an ATM by non-customers. Beating on bank glass doors might not have found favor with police, either. 

The BA security guard later told me he had considered calling police but didn't. But what if protesters (I was among a small group admitted inside) had jammed the BA lobby, instead of exiting politely out a side door? 

Rev. Billy told me privately that he had discussed with his wife whether he should get arrested in Berkeley, as he had been in Manhattan. He was not trying to get busted, he said. But might have in the heat of the moment, especially if police had moved in. 

The protest, which was more guerilla theater than protest, went smoothly. ( day went well for everyone, except the Park Hills murder victim. Occupy staged a peaceful protest, and Rev. Billy's traveling roadshow was a four-star production. 

It's hard to believe police would not have been interested. I well remember noticing the eerie absence of cops that day, and made a point of looking for them. Never around when you need them? The situation that day was beyond normal indifference, and I noticed that. 

I was on Telegraph all day, and did not see my first cop until 12:20 a.m. when a lone officer in a squad car responded to a robbery near Moe's. Unusual for a Saturday on the ave. 

University police were also sequestered in their nearby headquarters, braced for the Fuck the Police march their "intell" had told them might have turned ugly. 

But was it good policing to set a crimes-in-progress priority so early--eleven hours early? 

Both departments must ask themselves how much public safety they want to defer while girding for an anticipated protest. 

I know better than to ask police this question and now there may be legal issues. in fact, at a recent police review commission, the Chief showed up with an attorney, and would only take written questions, to be answered later. 

This article is an attempt to smoke BPD out on this issue. Perhaps Planet readers could contact the chief with my question. I know he'll have a good and thoughtful answer, but watch out for the rapid-fire mind of the chief. 

Be seated when you call, you may become dizzy when you get the Chief's answer. 

Planet reporter Friedman stalks police from the Southside.