The Case of the Berkeley Police Chief and His Son’s Stolen iPhone
On March 9, after midnight, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan sent his department’s public information officer to the home of a reporter, with instructions that she should press him to make changes to a story he’d written that was appearing online.
That incident, for which Meehan apologized, is the subject of an outside investigation ordered by the city manager. And now another matter involving the chief has some Berkeleyites shaking their heads anew.
For an update, we turn to Tracey Taylor of KQED news associate Berkeleyside, which has been following the story.
JON BROOKS: Over the last couple of days, whenever I tell anyone about this story, they seem to almost be in a state of disbelief. But the chief and the department are defending themselves and don’t seem to think anything is unusual here. Tell us what happened…
BERKELEYSIDE’S TRACEY TAYLOR: It emerged that on Jan 11 Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan took part in an investigation that involved sending 10 officers to Oakland to find his son’s iPhone. He also went out on the call.
The incident started when his son turned up at the Berkeley police station just across the street from Berkeley High School, where he goes, to tell his father that his iPhone had been stolen. Chief Meehan had on his own phone a tracking device which one of the detectives was able to use to track the iPhone to a certain location in Oakland. The decision was made to send 10 officers to this residential block in Oakland to look for the phone. Meehan was present when the officers were knocking on doors — in one block in Oakland, several officers knocked on doors to try to locate the phone, which was never found.
Some of the officers involved were from the drug task force, and they opted to come in and help on the investigation. And four of the officers involved, property crime detectives, went into overtime, which cost the city about $740 dollars.
There was no report filed on this. It’s standard to file a report on any investigation, and the department says that was an oversight that only came to its attention when looking into the story after questions from reporters.
JON BROOKS: How unusual is it for Berkeley police to go into Oakland, to conduct an investigation in an area that is not under their jurisdiction?
TRACEY TAYLOR: Crossing the border is fairly common and they don’t necessarily always tell Oakland police they’re coming in. They sometimes tell them out of courtesy and also as a matter of safety if they’re chasing someone. In this case OPD wasn’t alerted.
JON BROOKS: Berkeleyside talked to Chief Meehan yesterday. What did he say?
TRACEY TAYLOR: He explained, in his own words, about the incident. He was very keen to stress that what had happened was not preferential treatment, even though this has been cast in the media as preferential treatment. He said that what happened when they sent out officers to try and live-track his son’s phone would be something the department would have done for anybody in the city, that it was not unusual to respond to a stolen iPhone this way.
He also said that he did not request a report because he was not the officer in charge of this particular investigation. And he did not know, until recently, that a report had not been filed – that this only came to light when the media started asking questions. BPD says it was an oversight.
JON BROOKS: And what would you say the chief’s attitude was toward this whole story?
TRACEY TAYLOR: I would say he was fairly defiant, that he thought a storm had been created around this situation, when in fact it was a fairly straightforward, not atypical investigation, and that preferential treatment was not an issue here.
JON BROOKS: How are people reacting in Berkeley to this episode?
TRACEY TAYLOR: Well a lot of Berkeleyside readers think he should step down, that this is not acceptable behavior and it shows a poor sense of priorities sending officers on something like this, which is resources and time and money people don’t think should have been spent. Or people think he should at least apologize.
But it’s exacerbated by concern over the earlier incident in which Chief Meehan sent an officer to a reporter’s house to ask him to change some things in an article. There are two independent agencies that have been hired by the city to look into that. One is from an agency brought in to analyze the Berkeley Police Department’s media relations; the other is an investigation by a San Francisco law firm, hired by the city manager. That investigation is focusing on whether the chief broke any rules. That investigation is ongoing, and the city is not intending to make the report public, because it’s considered a personnel matter. Both those investigations together will cost the city $50,000. I think that’s informing a lot of the surprise and feeling about Chief Meehan right now.
JON BROOKS What was the view of Chief Meehan before these two incidents?
TRACEY TAYLOR: These incidents aside, he’s proved to be a popular chief. He’s done a lot of community outreach, and if you did a survey, I think you’d find a lot of people are happy with him, for reasons not the least of which is that crime rates are down since he came on board. He’s also talked at meetings about wanting to have a transparent department, and about improving crime data.
But within the department there’s a lot of dissatisfaction and grumbling about his leadership and his decision making, on a level more wide-ranging than just the two incidents. We’ve heard from people within the department who say they’re not happy with his leadership style, what they call his self-involvement.
Having said that we should also point out that the police unions are currently renegotiating their contract right now, so one should take some of these things with a grain of salt.
Addendum: From Berkeleyside yesterday:
“On Tuesday, the BPD supplied Berkeleyside with examples of seven cases where anywhere between four and 11 police officers were assigned to track and locate iPhones or iPads. The cases were from the past three years. One took the police to San Francisco, and two resulted in arrests.”
A summary of the incident was provided by the Berkeley Police Department on Tuesday. Here it is:
January 11, 2012 Incident Involving BPD Chief Michael K. Meehan Son’s Stolen iPhone 052212
On January 11, 2012, Chief Michael K. Meehan son’s iPhone was stolen at Berkeley High School. The stolen iPhone was equipped with tracking software, which was providing its general location in real time.
Chief Meehan showed his own phone with the in progress tracking of his son’s stolen phone to the BPD Property Crimes Detective Sergeant. Given the active signal of the stolen phone, the Detective Sergeant decided to take his team to try to locate it. As the signal was moving into the City of Oakland, the Detective Sergeant called the Drug Task Force (DTF) to ask for some additional assistance and members of that team offered to help. Chief Meehan did not order anyone to investigate.”
The team followed the signal from Berkeley into Oakland until the signal stopped updating its position. Members of BPD attempted to contact residents at several homes in the vicinity of the last known signal of the stolen phone. The area was 55th Street and San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland. No community members in that neighborhood were able to provide any useful information and the team ended the investigation. Four detectives (One Sergeant and 3 detectives) extended their shifts for approximately two hours each and were given overtime.”
It is common for BPD officers to actively investigate an in-progress tracking signal from a stolen electronic device. (e.g. Laptops, Smartphones and Tablets) These investigations can involve a Supervisor and multiple officers depending on the circumstances of the case and the location(s) of the signal(s).” (examples forthcoming)
No report was written, an oversight that came to our attention when researching your questions. The team did not call the City of Oakland Police Department (OPD), although this is a courtesy and not required.”
BPD has long recommended that community members use tracking software on their devices or load such software in order to support an investigation and the possible recovery of stolen property. This incident demonstrates the importance of safeguarding your property, a theme continually emphasized by the BPD.”
This is a feature on the BPD website – http://www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=74160
Sergeant Mary C. Kusmiss S-6
BPD Public Information Officer