Denying that his son received preferential treatment, the Berkeley police chief Wednesday defended using 10 officers to knock on doors in search of the teen's stolen cellphone.
Chief Michael Meehan distanced himself from the decision to use 10 officers, including four -- three police detectives and a sergeant -- who each logged two hours of overtime during the search in January that took them into Oakland. He said field supervisors decide how many officers to deploy based on how busy police are and available staff.
The move has dragged the chief deeper into controversy that began when Meehan sent a sergeant to a reporter's home about 1 a.m. March 9 to demand changes to an online story.
The city is spending $20,000 to make sure its Police Department's media policies are up to speed. It also has paid a private law firm roughly $25,000 to investigate Meehan's move that night. The results of that probe have not been released.
Meehan did not respond directly when asked if he felt his job was secure in light of the second controversy.
"That's a great question for the city manager," he said during a phone interview Wednesday arranged at his request.
Meehan said he is confident that his detectives worked the stolen phone case in the proper way. Berkeley residents should expect the response that his son received based on the resources available at the time, Meehan said, especially if they have a tracking device that can help officers. He did not have statistics available on police staffing and responses during the hours when his son's phone was taken.
But in two other cases of stolen iPhones, 11 officers responded, Meehan said.
Six patrol officers, a crime scene technician and several detectives responded to the theft of an iPad, he said.
"I think it was worth it," he said, when asked about the cost of deploying so many officers to find his son's phone.
As to why the incident has provoked media attention and criticism from the Berkeley Police Association and the Berkeley Police Review Commission, a watchdog group, Meehan said, "It's the chief's son, so it's different."
He added, "But I don't understand why it has been cast this way. The facts are very straightforward."
Neither the police union nor the commission returned calls for comment Wednesday.
On Jan. 11, Meehan's 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 about an hour later and the search was launched. The phone was not found.
But 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 with the Berkeley police drug task force were in North Oakland knocking on doors looking for the phone.
The incident only came to light when a reporter, working on a tip, asked about the missing phone 10 weeks ago.
The chief did not respond to a reporter's phone calls seeking comment Monday.
Meehan said the missing report was an oversight.