Council member calls town hall meeting in wake of homicide

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In the wake of a homicide that shook the Berkeley community last month, community members are coming together for a town hall meeting Thursday to discuss public safety and police response in emergency situations.

The meeting was called by Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf — who represents the North Berkeley neighborhood where Peter Cukor lived and was killed Feb. 18 — after concerns were raised about Berkeley Police Department’s response that Saturday night.

Cukor first called in to the police department’s nonemergency line at 8:47 p.m., saying that there was a trespasser in his garage. But at the time the call was made, dispatchers were only responding to in-progress, emergency calls because officers were preparing for Occupy Oakland protesters who were heading toward UC Berkeley later that evening, according to Berkeley police Lt. Andrew Greenwood.

Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that, based on tapes of police communication from that night, an officer volunteered to respond to Cukor’s call — as well as another regarding a suspicious person that had been added to the dispatch cue — just before 9 p.m. but was advised not to by a dispatcher.

Just a few minutes later, Cukor’s wife made a second phone call to the police, this time to 911, saying that the trespasser was attacking her husband. After this second call, police sped to the site near Cukor’s home at 2 Park Gate Road and found Cukor barely alive. He soon after died at a nearby hospital.

While they have faced criticism for their response that night, police authorities say they have extensively reviewed their course of action and maintain that they acted in accordance with dispatch protocol.

Greenwood said that although trespassing is categorized as a crime in progress, it is not an emergency situation, so dispatchers did not respond to Cukor’s initial call immediately.

The speculation surrounding the police response to Cukor’s call, along with the tragedy of the killing, has prompted Wengraf to call for the community discussion. Berkeley police chief Michael Meehan and his colleagues will speak to city residents about the police response to the Cukor incident.

Wengraf said the community has had a positive response to the meeting and is thankful that someone at the city level is taking leadership action on the raised issue of public safety.

Wengraf said she is also concerned about the public health of the Berkeley community, specifically dealing with the mental health of citizens. Daniel DeWitt, who has been accused of killing Cukor, has a history of mental illness and, according to police, was searching for his imaginary fiancee Zoey in the Cukor house on the night of the homicide.

“The larger issue at hand is how we can help those people and not endanger our community,” Wengraf said.

The town hall will be held Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Northbrae Community Church.