Nearly a month after a Berkeley resident was killed outside his home, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan stood in front of approximately 200 people Thursday night and explained what happened the night of the homicide.
On Feb. 18, Peter Cukor, 67, was beaten to death outside of his home in the Berkeley Hills. After it was revealed that police did not respond to Cukor’s first call to the department saying he saw a suspicious person outside his home, some members of the community were upset, and blamed police for Cukor’s death.
While Thursday evening’s town hall, called by Councilmember Susan Wengraf — who represents the district where Cukor was killed — saw a few outbursts of anger from the audience, it mainly proceeded smoothly, with most leaving with their questions answered.
“It is absolutely, positively, our responsibility to do everything we can to keep this community safe,” Meehan said at the beginning of the meeting.
When Cukor first called in to the police department around 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 18, the department was only responding to in-progress, emergency calls because they were preparing for Occupy Oakland protesters who were marching to Berkeley. When the department received a second call just after 9 p.m., it was from Cukor’s wife who said her husband was being attacked.
But over the past few weeks, this explanation from the police department has made Occupy protesters feel like the police were blaming them for Cukor’s death.
At Thursday’s meeting, Meehan repudiated media and Internet-fueled misinformation that the police had blamed the Occupy movement or that officers had been placed on standby — crediting the spread of misinformation to a slow police news response.
Meehan said that the department was in fact keeping a large contingent of officers at the department headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Way because they had been told the Occupy protesters that were headed towards Berkeley from Oakland might occupy the police station.
He apologized for the police department’s lack of information about their response to the Occupy protest and to Cukor’s initial call, which he said fueled much of the negative press about the police department.
“Once we got behind that media curve we couldn’t catch back up,” Meehan said. “That’s my fault. I accept full responsibility.”
Meehan also acknowledged that an officer did see Cukor’s first call in the dispatch cue and had offered to respond but was told not to. However, Meehan added that if the officer had left upon receiving notice of Cukor’s call, they still would have arrived after the second call was placed simply due to the distance from where the officer was to Cukor.
Moreover, Meehan emphasized that Cukor’s first call was not an emergency call — merely a suspicious one. The patrolling officer was also in an area where he was immediately next to another suspicious call that had been phoned in, Meehan added.
“I think (the town hall) went very well,” Wengraf said after the meeting. “We got to address every question that was submitted.”
Meehan said he hoped to look further into questions asked during the meeting and to have the case reviewed by people from outside the Berkeley Police Department to look for possible changes that could be implemented.
For many residents, the meeting was a good opportunity to get more involved in public safety.
“I’m interested in public safety, especially in the neighborhood,” said Tom Edwards, a Berkeley resident for 42 years.
Many others left satisfied with the overall level-headed nature of discourse.
“The tenor of the meeting was very good,” said Berkeley resident Evelyn Fisher.