Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan used the department’s police forces and assistance to search for his son’s stolen cellphone, according to a department statement released Monday.
Meehan’s son’s iPhone was reportedly stolen at Berkeley High School in January, but a report was not immediately written up following the incident. Meehan originally showed his own phone tracking his son’s stolen phone to the department’s property crimes detective sergeant, according to the statement issued by department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, which said tracking software played a role in locating the phone’s whereabouts.
One sergeant and three detectives from the department extended their shifts for approximately two hours each and were given overtime pay to look into the stolen cellphone, according to the statement.
“Given the active signal of the stolen phone, the Detective Sergeant decided to take his team to try to locate it,” the statement reads. “As the signal was moving into the City of Oakland, the Detective Sergeant called the Drug Task Force to ask for some additional assistance and members of that team offered to help. Chief Meehan did not order anyone to investigate.”
Police Chief Michael Meehan insists that no preferential treatment was involved in the case. According to Meehan, the fact that the department was able to track the stolen iPhone in “real time” using an iPhone application called Find My iPhone was the determining factor behind the response to the stolen phone.
“Given the circumstances at hand and the available resources, I would expect the same level of service from our people in any case,” Meehan said. “Sometimes we’re busier, it’s not something we can guarantee in every case.”
According to Oakland Police spokesperson Johnna Watson, the Oakland Police Department does not have a policy that requires an outside agency to notify the department while officers are in the city limit.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said the issue comes down to whether Meehan’s son received preferential treatment in recovering the stolen item. Wozniak said he plans to ask the city manager to put together a report regarding the incident for the council.
“It doesn’t sound like the chief ordered anyone to do it,” said Wozniak. “I hope we would have shown similar interest in anyone else who reported a stolen phone.”
According to the statement, the department also did not notify the Oakland Police Department — although it is considered a courtesy to do so — when the recovery effort for the phone led Berkeley police into North Oakland at 55th Street and San Pablo Avenue.
“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,” reads the Berkeley police department statement.
None of the community members questioned were able to provide the officers with any useful information, so and the team ended the investigation, according to the statement.
“It’s pretty outrageous that (Meehan) would spend Berkeley citizens’ money that way,” said Berkeley resident Jane Welford, who has been involved with Berkeley Copwatch, a volunteer organization that monitors police actions in the city.
In March, Meehan ordered Kusmiss to Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley’s home in the middle of the night to request changes on an online story, a move the department and Meehan were later criticized for nationwide. Interim City Manager Christine Daniel announced in a statement in March that the city had initially begun investigations and hired San Francisco-based law firm Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai to look into the incident.
Earlier this month the department also decided to hire an additional communications firm located in Irvine to audit its policies for the next six months. The audit will cost the department $24,000.
The department statement also said it is common for officers to actively look into tracking signals coming from stolen electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets, and the investigation could involve any number of officers depending on the location and circumstances of the case.
Anjuli Sastry is an assistant news editor.
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