BERKELEY, Calif. - Six University of California at Berkeley police officers have been fired for allegedly slacking on the job and lying about it.
The terminations have been brewing for months, and became final Tuesday, even though the officers still have arbitration as a recourse. Because the terminations are a personnel matter, and still pending, university administrators had no comment. The East Bay Times was the first to report the story. The officers' lawyer also did not return a comment to the Times.
"It's dumb mistakes, some officers making really dumb mistakes," observed retired officer Matthew Meredith, who served on the city of Berkeley Police Department for 30 years. "You have a great paying job with great benefits but when you make a mistake like this, you've screwed your career."
An investigation determined that some officers on the overnight shift made a habit of hanging out, even sleeping, in the ground floor library of Evans Hall.
The building, in the center of campus, houses the math, economics, and statistics departments.
Investigators conducted a sting operation, with hidden camera and microphone, which confirmed the officers were lounging on the couch or two upholstered chairs, on a regular basis.
"Once you lie about it, you lose all credibility," noted Meredith, who believes the officers could have escaped with reprimands if they had been forthcoming from the start. "Over the years, there are times when a cop needs to take a nap and usually a partner is there doing paperwork, and if there's a call, someone can go out, but what gets you in trouble is when you're dishonest."
The six unnamed officers were found to be dishonest, even though multiple security cameras could track their comings and goings after the library closed for the night.
"Well I think we all sleep everywhere we can on this campus," said one student, expressing sympathy for the officers. "They encourage us students to take naps, so maybe police officers should too!"
But most students were rankled by the news, especially learning the the on-duty officers radioed in false information about their whereabouts, claiming to be out checking other buildings when they were actually kicking back.
"They shouldn't be sleeping on the job, or hanging around a library," said UC Berkeley senior Terry Park, who pointed out the overnight hours are when the campus is most dangerous. "Just the other night, I heard someone through the window, before I went to sleep, yelling for help because they were being robbed."
The decision to terminate was made by Chief Margo Bennett and upheld by a hearing officer.
The officers have been on paid leave since last fall.
It is challenging to lose six officers from a sworn force of 60.
"Everybody's short-handed here in the Bay Area, for law enforcement," said Meredith, "so when all of a sudden you lose a group of people it's a huge hit."
But it's also an impossible situation: keeping officers whose credibility can be challenged on the witness stand.
"If you lie about this, do you lie for something else?," posed Meredith, "and so any kind of case they're on could be jeopardized."