Police officials from around the region gathered in downtown Berkeley Thursday afternoon to attend the swearing in of Michael K. Meehan, Berkeley’s new police chief.
Chiefs from Oakland, San Francisco, Albany Emeryville, Kensington, Sacramento, Livermore and the University of California joined FBI agents, DEA investigators, CHP officers and elected officials to welcome Meehan, 48, who previously served as a captain in the Seattle Police Department.
Meehan told the crowd gathered at Freight & Salvage that the police department must be respectful of all of Berkeley’s residents, transparent in its communications and dealings, open to criticism, and willing to listen. He also said that for too long race had been a factor in police conduct, and that had led to a “negative history” in minority communities. Meehan pledged to deliver police services to all members of the community because, he said, alienating a community is antithetical to preventing crime.
“I want you to earn people’s respect and I want you to be respectful,” Meehan told the dozens of members of the force who had come to watch the swearing in. “That means in every encounter every day.” Later on Meehan said, “When we mess up, we fess up.”
Berkeley’s last chief, Douglas Hambleton, retired in mid-2009 after serving four and a half years as chief.
Berkeley conducted a nationwide search for a new chief before settling on Meehan, according to City Manager Phil Kamlarz. “We essentially wanted someone who walked on water,” said Kamlarz. “If we couldn’t find someone like that, at least we wanted someone who could keep their head above water. That’s why we picked Mike.”
Meehan, who has a wife and two school-age sons, invoked the memory of Berkeley’s first police chief, August Vollmer, in his speech. Meehan pointed out that Vollmer and Berkeley were responsible for many innovations, including being the first department in the nation to put officers on bicycles, then motorcycles, and then in radio-equipped patrol cars.
Meehan said Berkeley has a serious crime problem, with a crime rate 50% higher than similarly sized cities. He pledged to address the issue by using a community-based policing model, technology and data gathering in innovative ways, deepening the partnerships the force has with other police departments in the region, and using force judiciously.
He also joked about the warm welcome he has received since he moved to Berkeley in December: he got two parking tickets his first day of work — while parked in front of the police station, using the police chief’s car.
“I was guilty so I paid up,” he said.
Meehan will earn $205,000 a year.