Berkeley police department appoints new spokesperson

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Berkeley Police Department has selected longtime Officer Jennifer Coats as its new department spokesperson.

Coats, who has been an officer with the department for 15 years, has served as a member of the operations division since 1998. She will replace Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, who stepped down as spokesperson on June 21 and is now a patrol sergeant in the department’s operations division.

“I think (the post) offers some unique challenges,” Coats said. “It is a position that offers a different perspective of law enforcement.”

The public information officer is considered a three-year special assignment position. Officers who apply undergo a brief selection process, although the final decision rests with the department chief, according to Coats.

Coats’ appointment foreshadows a period of potential transition for the department. In May, the city of Berkeley announced that Irvine-based Cornerstone Communications would be paid $24,000 to audit the department’s media policies and make recommendations for improvements.

Cornerstone Communications is due to deliver recommendations within 45 days of conducting the initial interviews, which began during the first week of June, according to Coats.

“I don’t know if any changes will happen or what they will be if that happens,” Coats said. “That is something that they will have to evaluate once the recommendations are made.”

The decision to hire an independent auditor was in part due to a controversial incident in March, when Police Chief Michael Meehan sent Kusmiss to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley after midnight to request changes to an article that Meehan felt inaccurately quoted him.