A San Francisco police officer is charged with theft of public money after officials said he spent his days at home when he should have been walking a beat.
Fellow officers arrested Ronald Gehrke last December. Now his case is finally heading to court. He is charged with 10 counts of misdemeanor petty theft.
Gehrke’s beat is along Irving Street. His house is about three miles from there. Gehrke’s attorney Stuart Hanlon says his client admits to going home to relieve stress, but he adds that he was also doing work.
The attorney said Gehrke is not the only one. He says taking these kinds of breaks is part of police culture.
Neighbor Joan Kubota, who lives a few doors down from the veteran police officer, said having an officer living nearby has put her at ease. Did she ever see Gehrke’s patrol car parked outside? “Occasionally, yeah,” she said.
Investigators believe Officer Gehrke going home while on-duty was more than just “occasional.”
Hanlon said it all began with an anonymous letter to the mayor’s office last summer, which prompted an Internal Affairs investigation.
“During that six weeks they found between 10-15 hours when he was on-duty when they said he shouldn’t have been at home, and charging him with misappropriations of approximately $900 in pay and another$300 in benefits,” Hanlon said.
Hanlon said no one is disputing that Gehrke was at home, but the attorney counters that the officer lives in the police district where he works and was always available.
Gehrke lives about a mile and a half from the Taraval Police Station, which is then a little more than a mile and a half from his assigned beat along Irving Street.
As for what the 19-year veteran officer was doing at home? Hanlon says: relieving stress, applying for a new job within the department, and also working on reports.
The San Francisco Police Department says officers are only allowed to go home for their 45-minute meal break.
“Accepted behavior to have lunch is more than 45 minutes,” Hanlon said. “If you talk to policemen, and they’re honest, they’ll tell you that.”
Hanlon said Gehrke never thought he was doing anything wrong.
“He didn’t park his car block away. He didn’t do anything to hide this,” Hanlon said. “It was all, in his mind, acceptable and known, and the problem is the supervisors can’t say that because then they get in trouble.”
As for long-time neighbors, like Joan Kubota, they said they’re standing behind him 100 percent.
“He trusts us and we trust him,” Kubota said.
Attempts to reach the mayor’s office or the police officers’ union on Thursday were not successful.
The district attorney’s office says Gehrke was arrested December 19 and arraigned a week later. He’s not in jail, though he is suspended without pay.
Gehrke is due back in court next Oct. 24, his 53rd birthday, when a judge will schedule a trial.
If convicted, Gehrke faces up to a year in jail and will likely be fired from the department.