BERKELEY -- When Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan's son's cell phone was stolen in January, 10 police officers were sent to track it down, with some working overtime at taxpayer expense, police said Monday.
A police report about the theft of the teen's iPhone from a school locker was never written and the Oakland Police Department was never notified that officers on the department's drug task force were in North Oakland knocking on doors looking for the phone. Three detectives and a sergeant each logged two hours of overtime.
"If your cell phone was stolen or my cell phone was stolen, I don't think any officer would be investigating it," said Michael Sherman, vice chairman of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, a city watchdog group. "They have more important things to do. We have crime in the streets."
The excessive use of resources comes at a time when Meehan, 50, is under intense scrutiny for his actions over the last several months. The city is spending $20,000 to make sure its police department's media policies are up to speed after the chief was widely criticized for sending a sergeant to a reporter's home about 1 a.m. on March 9 to ask for changes to an online story. The Berkeley police union criticized the move, saying Meehan's actions "do not represent the will, spirit or sentiment of the membership of the Berkeley Police Association" and called for an independent investigation.
The city has paid Rennie Sloan Holtzman Sakai law firm in San Francisco roughly $25,000 to investigate Meehan's move that March night. The results of that probe have not been released.
On Jan. 11, Meehan son, a freshman at Berkeley High School, found that his iPhone, equipped with the Find My iPhone tracking software, was gone from his unlocked gym locker. The boy alerted his father and Meehan pulled out his own cell phone and showed a property crimes detective sergeant the real time movement of the stolen phone.
Given the active signal of the stolen phone, the detective sergeant took his team to try to locate it. 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, said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, department spokeswoman.
Meehan did not respond to a request for comment.
The four sergeants followed the signal to the area of 55th and San Pablo avenues in North Oakland, where they contacted residents at several homes looking for the phone. It was never located.
When a reporter, working on a tip, asked about the missing phone 10 weeks ago, a police report could never be located. When more questions from news reporters surfaced last week about the incident, Kusmiss released a statement Monday about the theft and the chain of events that followed. Kusmiss said the lack of a report was an "oversight that came to our attention when researching (reporters) questions."
Sherman took issue with that.
"At minimum there should have been a police report. If a department is going to put people onto an investigation, they should have a police report,'' he said.
Kusmiss said it's not "uncommon" for patrol officers to track a stolen phone if they get an active signal while on the streets.
"It depends on the circumstances. If we had an active phone or laptop or tablet signal, there may be occasion when a group of officers would get overtime to work an in-progress crime," she said.
Oakland police would not comment on the case other than to say that many police agencies work in the city everyday and there are no set standards that mandate that outside agencies alert Oakland police when officers are within city limits.
"Depending on the type of law enforcement activity, sometimes agencies will, as a professional courtesy, notify Oakland if they are doing some type of law enforcement action where they might need assistance," Oakland police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said.