The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Police Chief Sends Sergeant (Armed) to Reporter's Home at Midnight to Complain about a Story

By Becky O'Malley
Saturday March 10, 2012 - 08:45:00 AM

Now here's one that's truly unbelievable, but it seems to have happened. It appears that Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan ordered Sergeant Mary Kusmiss to go to Bay Area News Group reporter Doug Oakley's house at 12:45 a.m. to complain about errors in a story he'd just filed about Meehan's appearance at the North Berkeley forum which discussed the recent hills murder. Here's the story:

To his home? After midnight? What could the chief have been thinking? And what was Mary Kusmiss thinking? Couldn't she have talked him out of it? She works Monday through Thursday, and technically this incident was early Friday morning, when she too should have been home in bed.  

And it's not like Doug Oakley is some dangerous radical. He's an excellent, serious reporter of the old school, and we in Berkeley are lucky to have him on our beat. Frankly, police chiefs are a dime a dozen, but good reporters are mighty hard to find. We don't need our police bullying them if they make minor errors in coverage. 

This is an incident of a serious temperamental lapse in judgement comparable to the time Tom Bates threw a bunch of Daily Cals in a trash can because they endorsed his opponent, but of course it's much worse. Presumably Bates didn't take time to think before he lost it, but Meehan and Kusmiss had a fairly long chance to reconsider and they blew it. Also, they carry guns, not what we want to have in the hands of people who can't control hostile impulses.  

The sad thing about all this is that the general word around Berkeley is that Meehan's been doing a pretty good job overall. Most observers have concluded that the police handled the hills murder situation as well as could have been expected, given the circumstances. We'll see next week how the acting city manager and the city council deal with the situation. There's already a closed council meeting to discuss personnel issues scheduled for Monday, so they should add this serious problem to the agenda.