By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
A Berkeley City Councilwoman wants police to answer questions about how calls for help were handled after the beating death Saturday night of a man who lives in her district.
"The residents of Berkeley need to know that public safety services are available to them 24/7," said Councilwoman Susan Wengraf. "I need to reassure my constituents that the Berkeley police are there for them."
Wengraf is asking for a police timeline of events and more details on the response. Her request through the city manager's office came a day after police said the first call for help from the victim, 67-year-old Peter Cukor, came in on a nonemergency line, and he was calmly reporting a person trespassing on his property.
Police did not immediately respond because, at the time, "patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor (an Occupy) protest," and only "criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service," police said Monday.
A few minutes later, when a call came in on the 911 emergency line about an attack in progress, police responded immediately, authorities said. A 23-year-old Alameda man, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, has been arrested on suspicion of beating Cukor to death outside Cukor's home on Park Gate Road about 9 p.m. Saturday.
"I know the police were geared up to monitor the march from Oakland to UC Berkeley," Wengraf said. "I need to know what that means in terms of deploying our police force."
In a statement to media Tuesday, Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan said the department is "carefully reviewing the circumstances of this case in depth to ensure everything possible was done to properly respond to this tragic event."
A timeline of the incident included in the statement said that about 9 p.m., one Berkeley officer noticed several pending calls for service, including two "suspicious circumstances" calls, and offered to respond to one of them. He was told no, however, because only emergency calls in progress were to be dispatched.
About two minutes later, police received the call of an attack in progress at the victim's Park Gate home. Officers were dispatched within a minute of receiving that call, and an officer arrived on the scene within five minutes, the statement said. Additional officers responded soon thereafter, the statement said, and the suspect was arrested nearby at 9:22 p.m.
Wengraf said she knows Cukor from working in city politics for 20 years, and their children went to elementary school together.
On the other side of town in west Berkeley, City Councilman Darryl Moore said that the inability of police to immediately respond to the first nonemergency call points to the need for more police officers in the city.
The department has 11 vacant positions and 162 officers, according to the city. Since 2009, budget cuts have forced the city to reduce its workforce by 210 employees, mostly through attrition.
During a Feb. 6 public meeting on burglaries in his district, Moore made a prophetic pitch to residents for more police officers, and he said Tuesday that his comments apply to Saturday night's attack.
"We need more officers," Moore said. "There is an argument that we need more officers on Shattuck Avenue and on Telegraph Avenue, but it is our neighborhoods where they are needed most importantly."
Wengraf said it's easy to talk about needing more officers, "but if we are going to have more officers, we need to find a way to pay for them."
"We need to find a way to adjust our budget to get more officers on the streets," he said. "Public safety should be our highest priority."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.