On That Violent Death in the Berkeley Hills

There is a substantial prima facie case for charging the Berkeley Police Department with having facilitated the murder of one of the city's residents.

The case is based on the following simple, straightforward, undisputed, and well-known facts:

* At about 8:45 on the evening of Saturday, February 18, 67-year-old Peter Cukor and his wife returned to their somewhat isolated hilltop home after having dinner out.  On doing so, they saw a stranger prowling about their garage and the exterior of their house.

* They went into the house, and Mr. Cukor immediately called the police for help.

* The Berkeley Police Department did not dispatch anyone to the scene.  In fact, an officer aware of the call volunteered to respond to it but was instructed not to do so.

* Mr. Cukor left the house and walked some one hundred to two hundred yards to seek help at a fire station across the road leading down into Tilden Park.  There was no one at the fire station.

* While walking back to his house, some 13 minutes after calling for help from the Berkeley Police Department, Mr. Cukor encountered the prowler in his yard.  The prowler beat Mr. Cukor to death with a ceramic flowerpot.

* While Mr. Cukor was being attacked and crying out for help, his wife placed a second call to the Police Department.  This time there was a response.  Officers arrived on the scene about eight minutes after the Department received the second call...too late to save Mr. Cukor's life as they could have had they been ordered to respond to his initial call.

Those are the known facts, stripped of officialdom's attempted distractions, evasions, explanations, and excuses.

Rebuttal of the case that their non-responsiveness to Mr. Cukor's call for help facilitated his murder will require the police to provide satisfactory responses to numerous questions, including the following:

1. Why did the police not respond to Mr. Cukor's call for help?

Very detailed and specific information is needed on this -- not just a claim that the situation did not appear to be an emergency requiring a priority response.

At a farcical "community meeting" on March 8 (roughly three weeks after the tragedy), the police chief gave a bare-bones outline of how the department processes and prioritizes incoming calls, but he assiduously avoided relating that process to the handing of Mr. Cukor's call.

In fact, the Department to date has refused requests for access to a recording of Mr. Cukor's call or for a transcript of it.  Those refusals are based on a claim that acceding to any such request would jeopardize or interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.  That claim obviously is bogus, and no explanation has been forthcoming of how or why it might be legitimate.

2. Was Mr. Cukor advised by whoever took his call (a) that no help was or would be forthcoming, or (b) that he should remain in a safe location?

3. What position in the Department's command structure is occupied by the individual who made the decision not to respond to Mr. Cukor's call for help, and what position is held by the one who gave or authorized the instruction not to respond to the officer who offered to do so?

4. Was the patrol car in the vicinity of  Shattuck and Vine or Cedar, from which the offer to go to the scene emanated, the one closest to the Cukor residence at the time?

At the "community meeting," the chief said he did not know the answer to that question even though he claimed that the Department was going through deep introspection and analysis of its actions (and presumably its inaction) on February 18.

5. How many Berkeley police cars were on patrol between 8:30 and 9:15 p.m. on February 18, where were they, what were they doing, and what did they do during that time period?

Notwithstanding the purported deep introspection and analysis, the chief was unable at the "community meeting" to respond to those questions that bear on the priorities of the department that he heads.

That meeting was a transparent effort by the two members of the Berkeley City Council who organized it to calm citizens/voters who the council members feared might be becoming restive.  It was structured to preclude any give or take, and no follow-up questions to any response was possible.  Only written questions were allowed, and the back of the agenda -- a half-sheet of letter-size paper -- was provided for this purpose.  Any writing had to be done in the air or with the use of some improvised hard surface because no such surfaces existed at the meeting's venue.

The police chief took full advantage of the meeting's shortcomings by not responding to any questions he didn't want to answer and instead using such questions to talk only about non-controversial matters that he was comfortable discussing.

As for the council members who sponsored and structured the meeting, they proved the adage that anyone holding an office calling for its occupant to be addressed as honorable almost certainly is not.

Nonetheless, their effort appears to have been successful. Residents of the city, who react with vociferous and shrill outrage to any and all tragedies and travesties anywhere and everywhere around the globe, seem to have been assuaged by the meeting.  The good sheeple of Berkeley are docile and quiescent in their acceptance of a violent murder of one of their fellow citizens having been made possible by the failure of the Police Department for which they bear ultimate responsibility -- something about which they actually could take effective action.

Insofar as the Berkeley Police Department is concerned, they have shown the falsity of the mantra of the nation's safety and security experts that "when seconds count, the police are just minutes away."  Not so in Berkeley, where they may not be coming at all, which justifies increasingly common references to 9-1-1 as the number for "dial-a-prayer."

This is not to take anything away from the working police officers on the city's streets.  Many of them are distressed and embarrassed by, and critical of, their leaders for having made the department complicit in the death of Mr. Cukor.  Those officers contrast the lack of responsiveness to a citizen's call for help with (i) the assignment of officers to stand by to reinforce U.C. Berkeley police if and as called upon to protect University property from damage by protesting members of the Occupy movement, and (ii) the midnight dispatch of an individual officer (on some unclear mission) to the home of a news reporter whose work the chief thought was incorrect.

Finally, as one eminent law enforcement official who now is responsible for training less senior officers repeatedly states, "[p]eople have to realize that everyone is on their own, and the world is a dangerous place.  Your life is not as important to anyone else as it is to you.  So take responsibility for being prepared to take care of yourself and those dear to you.

A thumbnail biography of  Kerr Mudgeon can be viewed on his blog at http://mudgeonsmusings.blogspot.com.