Berkeley chief defends search for son’s iPhone

The Associated Press
Posted May 24, 2012, at 9:13 p.m.

BERKELEY, Calif. — A California police chief is once again under scrutiny, this time for using 10 officers — some on overtime — to search for his teenage son’s stolen iPhone.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told the Oakland Tribune that no preferential treatment was given when officers, including three detectives and a sergeant who each logged two hours of overtime, searched for the phone that has a tracking device and was taken from a school locker in January. It was not found.

Meehan came under scrutiny two months earlier after ordering a sergeant to go to a reporter’s home to ask for changes to an online story about a community meeting where people criticized the speed of a police response to an elderly man’s beating death.

Meehan later apologized for dispatching the sergeant.

In the cell phone case, a police report was never written and the officers’ search led them to parts of neighboring Oakland, unknown to that city’s police department.

Meehan told the Tribune on Wednesday that field supervisors decide how many officers to put on a case, and he’s confident the search was handled properly.

“I think it was worth it,” Meehan said when asked why so many officers searched for his son’s phone.? He noted that 11 officers responded in two other cases of stolen iPhones.

Meehan, 50, has been chief of the nearly 300-member Berkeley Police Department since 2009. He did not immediately respond Thursday to an interview request by The Associated Press.

The stolen phone search gained attention after a reporter received a tip. Meehan also has drawn criticism from a watchdog group.

“If your cell phone was stolen or my cell phone was stolen, I don’t think any officer would be investigating it,” Michael Sherman, vice chairman of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, told the newspaper. “They have more important things to do. We have crime in the streets.”

Meehan said Berkeley residents should expect a similar response if resources are available.

“It’s the chief’s son, so it’s different,” Meehan said about media treatment of the story. “But I don’t understand why it has been cast this way. The facts are very straightforward.”

Some other recent high-profile Northern California cases involving missing electronics have not drawn the same level of police response.

Last year, San Francisco’s police chief said four officers accompanied Apple investigators to a home as they searched for a lost iPhone prototype. Unlike the Berkeley case, San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said his officers were not search participants but merely on “civil standby,” a routine role in which police are present to keep the peace between private parties.

Also in Oakland last year, Joshua Kaufman said police ignored him when he gave them photos of someone he believed stole his laptop. The images were snapped by theft-tracking software installed on the computer.

Kaufman then published the pictures on Twitter and in a blog titled, “This Guy Has My MacBook.” Police called Kaufman the same day and soon arrested a 27-year-old cab driver. Police apologized to Kaufman for not pursuing his case more actively and blamed a high volume of theft calls.

In Berkeley, Meehan’s son, a freshman at Berkeley High School, noticed that his iPhone was missing on Jan. 11. He told his father about an hour later and a police search was undertaken.

As the phone’s signal moved into Oakland, a detective sergeant asked members of the department’s drug task force to help, said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, a department spokeswoman.

Information from: The Oakland Tribune, http://www.oaklandtribune.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/24/news/nation/berkeley-chief-defends-search-for-sons-iphone/ printed on November 28, 2014