Bay Area police turmoil spreads to Berkeley

Police carA tumultuous year in Bay Area law enforcement continued last week when Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan abruptly resigned after six years on the job.

Meehan won national attention — and rebukes — for a 2012 decision to send an officer to an Oakland Tribune reporter’s home after midnight to try to get him to make changes in an unflattering story. He was also in the news that year for treating the theft of his son’s stolen iPhone as a department priority, assigning 10 officers to the case.

But the years since have seemed quiet — until last month. That’s when an online publication, berkeleyside.com, obtained emails that revealed Meehan was facing withering internal fire from individual officers. A survey completed by more than half of employees of Berkeley PD featured complaints about “weak leadership, low morale, insufficient staffing and inconsistent communication,” berekeleyside.com reported.

Meehan took the criticisms hard, according to the publication, telling staffers he was plainly not doing his job well. Captain Andrew Greenwood will fill in as chief while Berkeley elected leaders decide how to name Meehan’s replacement.

San Francisco loses one chief; Oakland, three

Meehan’s exit comes after months of turmoil in larger neighboring cities.

In May, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned at the request of Mayor Ed Lee following the third police killing of an unarmed African American since December. Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin was named interim chief.

San Francisco police are also facing a federal probe over the discoveries last year and earlier this year that a total of  17 different officers had sent racist and homophobic text messages.

fullsizerender-9In June, the Oakland Police Department went through three police chiefs in nine days — aftershocks from a sordid scandal involving a teenage prostitute who goes by the name Celeste Guap (pictured). She told the Bay Area News Group that she had sex with two dozen police officers from five different local departments, in some cases while she was underage. A majority of the officers were from Oakland, including one who committed suicide in 2015 and left a note that triggered an internal probe.

The first chief to go was Sean Whent, who left the Oakland force after 19 years after being viewed as botching the investigation of his officers’ relationship with Guap. Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa lasted two days as interim chief before leaving for unspecified reasons, although Oakland Mayor Libby Shaaf indicated he was not caught up in the scandal and would resume his previous role as an OPD lieutenant. Schaaf then named Bay Area Rapid Transit Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow as interim chief, but he was gone after a week after city officials learned of a sex scandal from Fairow’s past.

The Oakland Police Department has been run since mid-June by a civilian: City Administrator Sabrina Landreth.

Teen prostitute sues Oakland for $66 million

Guap has sued the city of Oakland for $66 million, likening her treatment by officers to “modern day slavery.” Her sexual encounters with city officers while underage “constitute unlawful forced labor, trafficking into servitude and sex trafficking of a child by force, fraud and coercion and have caused [her] to suffer unimaginable abuse, pain, and suffering that she and her family will endure for the rest of her life,” according to a report on the lawsuit by NBC Bay Area.

Guap was also in the news earlier in September after she pleaded no contest to assaulting a worker at a Florida rehab center that treats drug abuse and sex addiction.

The Oakland police force has been under federal oversight since 2003. The oversight was a requirement stipulated in the settlement of a massive civil rights case involving four OPD officers who allegedly assaulted and planted evidence on 119 plaintiffs. All but one was black.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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