Police Chief Michael Meehan

Following the release of the latest quarterly crime report, Berkeleyside spoke to Berkeley Police Department’s Chief Michael Meehan about the encouraging trend, with violent crime down 17% compared to the first nine months of last year, and property crime down 7%. The department had established for itself a goal of a 10% drop in crime.

“I’d say the results were solid,” Meehan said. “It was a fairly aggressive goal, but any modern police force needs specific goals.”

Meehan was particularly encouraged by the trend in violent crimes, but he said Berkeley continues to deal with a particularly high number of property crimes. The two, he said, can’t easily be separated.

“When we work the property crimes, many times we find we’re dealing with the same offenders,” he said.

Although Meehan said the progress so far was “solid”, he stressed that there was a lot more to do. “I wish I had more hours in the day,” he said. “It’s never good enough. You can never sit back and relax.”

In the quarterly report, Meehan cited the department’s reorganization as a key element in the improvements. The report stated: “The overall purpose of these changes is to improve communication and information sharing across functions and to coordinate and align resources where they can most effectively reduce crime and victimization, enhance crime prevention efforts, and respond to community concerns.”

“The reorganization is not something you can measure,” Meehan said yesterday. “If you improve our communication and information sharing, that’s going to help us.”

The report also focused on the use of Comp-Stat, or comparative statistics as a critical tool for the police. Meehan reiterated the importance of using data effectively. “All of our staff are focused on the things that are making the most difference,” he said.

Among the responses to Berkeleyside’s coverage of the crime report was a comment suggesting that an effective community mobilization structure was the missing piece in Berkeley. What did Meehan think?

“We can improve in working and outreach with communities,” he said. “We’re weak on information sharing with the community. Part of the problem is technology.” Meehan said he often is asked about local crime statistics, but it currently takes him six weeks to get the data. The city, however, was supporting his efforts to improve the department’s technology.

Meehan also raised the issue of neighborhoods with particular problems, following Berkeleyside’s story on Tuesday about the long-running Oregon Street saga and various comments to that post. “There are no perfect tools out there,” he said. “You can serve a search warrant, you can arrest someone, but they don’t lose the house. Eventually, they’ll come back to that house. The police only have so many tools.” Although Oregon Street predates Meehan’s arrival at the police department in December of last year, he said, “My sense is the city learned something from it.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...