Former Palo Alto police chief Lynne Johnson, whose comments Oct. 30 prompted widespread accusations of racial profiling, will be recognized by the City Council tonight for her strong leadership, sound judgment and outstanding public service.
Johnson, who spent 34 years in the Palo Alto Police Department before retiring in December, is the subject of a special resolution that the council is expected to pass.
The resolution lists Johnson's many accomplishments and commends her for her work on the proposed public safety building, for updating of the department's policies and for creating of an on-duty workout program for all sworn personnel.
It also commends Johnson for installing video cameras in patrol vehicles and for obtaining Tasers for all officers.
The council resolution focuses on Johnson's long and largely distinguished career in the department, where she served as a field training officer, research analyst, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander and captain. It lauds her for fostering "innovative changes" and cites her community involvement, which includes membership on the YMCA Board of Directors and service as president of the Kiwanis Club.
The resolution "commends the outstanding public service of Lynne Johnson and records its appreciation as well as the appreciation of the citizens of this community for the service and contributions rendered during her 34 years of employment with the city."
Johnson spent 15 years as an assistant police chief and five years as chief before stepping down in December. Though her career spanned more than three decades, many will likely remember her for comments she made at an Oct. 30 community meeting, which focused on a recent string of street robberies.
At that meeting, Johnson said Palo Alto officers have been instructed to initiate "consensual contact" with African-Americans whose descriptions matched the vague descriptions of the robber or robbers.
She later said in a TV interview that officers would specifically question African-Americans wearing "do-rags" (head cloths) because a robber reportedly wore the accessory during a robbery near the California Avenue Caltrain station.
Johnson's comments were interpreted by many as an endorsement of illegal "racial profiling" and launched the storm of criticism that ultimately prompted her to step down -- despite repeated denials of intent, apologies for her "misspoken" wording and meetings with community groups.
The city has since commissioned the city's contracted police auditor to look into the department's policies. The department has also initiated a broad action plan that includes increased diversity training for officers and outreach to minority communities.
Ironically, within three weeks of the ill-fated community meeting, Palo Alto and Menlo Park police arrested a prime suspect in the string of robberies: Jeffrey Owen Smith, 38, of Palo Alto. Smith has since pleaded no contest to a purse-snatch robbery in Menlo Park and has been sentenced to a year in jail. The investigation into possible links to other purse-snatch robberies is continuing, but the high-frequency string of such robberies ended with his arrest.
The council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.