Ten ninety-seven

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MARCH 13, 2012

News reporters are beholden to the truth. The risk of inaccuracy is a constant concern each carries. They expect sources to inform them when mistakes of fact are discovered. But Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan’s nighttime effort to push Oakland Tribune journalist Doug Oakley for a correction was unacceptable.

Oakley originally wrote that Meehan, at a Thursday community meeting, apologized for the department’s response to a reported crime that led to a North Berkeley man’s Feb. 18 death. Rather, Meehan believed he had only apologized for the way his department handled information regarding the slaying. When the chief could not reach Oakley to discuss the matter, he sent public information officer Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to Oakley’s home at around 12:45 a.m. on March 9.

By now, Meehan has realized his folly and made profuse apologies for his overzealous drive to fix an inaccuracy. Nevertheless, what could have been an embarrassing correction for Oakley became a disastrous lapse in judgment for the department. Moreover, this incident illustrates a fundamental flaw in the way Berkeley police leaders interact with the media.

Whether or not the chief intended to intimidate Oakley is irrelevant. The implicit power police officers hold should have been enough to prevent this from appearing as a solution. Yes, the department has made recent strides to better connect with the public — including the town hall meeting that lies at the core of this misunderstanding — but it must see that regulating the news is a far cry from providing information.

Moving forward, the department must do more than review its policies and Meehan’s actions to uphold the public’s trust. Only through open, honest efforts to communicate can the police regain the goodwill lost from of this blunder.

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MARCH 13, 2012