The Palo Alto Police Department is vehemently denying claims made by three anonymous officers in an NBC Bay Area report that there is strong pressure within the department to meet "unofficial" ticketing quotas, which they say has harmed public safety in the city.
The three officers heavily disguised when shown on camera accuse the department of being more focused on creating a positive public image through generating statistics than on public safety.
"You have officers more concerned with writing tickets and keeping stats up than apprehending suspects -- for instance, catching residential burglars, patrolling neighborhoods," one officer says in the report.
"At some point, you either have to stop complaining or stand up for what you think is right," another says.
Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron said Wednesday that quotas do not exist within the department.
"We have not, do not, and will not endorse quotas of any kind," he said.
Under both California law and department policy, it is illegal to require officers to meet any sort of arrest or citation quota.
The NBC report draws on the results of January 2013 internal survey -- administered by the Palo Alto Police Officers' Association (PAPOA), the union that represents the department's officers, agents and sergeants -- which allegedly showed numerous officers complaining about the department's "unofficial quota" and "fear or concern about 'getting in trouble' with administration."
Perron said that, at the time, the survey was not something that was regularly done.
"The survey provided an opportunity for the police administration and the PAPOA Board of Directors to have more open lines of communication about any issue of mutual concern," Perron said.
The results were promptly reviewed by Police Chief Dennis Burns, Perron said. As a result, the police administration and PAPOA board of directors began meeting on a monthly basis.
In a June 4 press release provided to NBC Bay Area, PAPOA said the organization did not release the "outdated internal survey" to the media and that it is "not reflective of the views or opinions of the Association or its members."
"The Association strives to create a positive relationship with the police administration to better serve the community and will have no further comment on this matter," the statement read.
On Wednesday, the union released a second statement, calling the TV news report "misleading" and unfair, as well as refuting the quota claims.
"The Association is unaware of any quota official or otherwise that has been established by the Palo Alto Police Department. To the contrary, Association members work tirelessly to protect the citizens of Palo Alto in a professional, ethical, and honorable manner."
The city's contract with PAPOA expired June 30, and city management and the union are currently negotiating the terms of a new contract.
Perron said Wednesday that the department does not know who the three anonymous officers are and has not initiated any investigations to uncover their identities.
Palo Alto police officers who want to voice concerns always have the option of going straight to their sergeant their direct supervisor, Perron said. He added that management, however, has "long had an open door policy."
"If the employee feels as though their issue merits going above their direct supervisor, they are welcome to approach any member of the command staff," Perron said.
The PAPOA board could also bring up, anonymously, any complaints voiced by its members, Perron said.
Employees also have the options of going through city channels such as the Human Resources Department, City Manager's Office or City Council. The city maintains an anonymous hotline for employees to report fraud, waste or abuse. The City Council also contracts with an independent police auditor who has the authority to make recommendations to the police chief about internal investigations and also reviews such investigations for "objectivity, thoroughness and appropriateness of disposition," Perron said.
Perron said the department has not changed its patrol or ticketing strategy in the last few years. In 2012, the department had a total of 8,864 traffic citations and warnings notices; in 2013, 9,939; and through June, 30, 2014, there have been 6,131 total, according to department data. Perron partially attributes the rise in citations to an increase in staffing since 2012. (The department was short about 14 or 15 officer positions and also had to disband its "Traffic Team" of motorcycle officers in 2012; most of the positions have since been filled and the team reinstituted and expanded, he said.)
Perron added that the department does not distinguish between traffic tickets and warnings, so, for example, an officer who wrote 10 warnings and one who wrote 10 tickets would be considered as issuing the same number of "citations."
"No matter how the officer decides to conclude the stop, he or she is out there enforcing traffic laws and making a positive impact on the safety of our roadways," he said.
Perron added that contrary to the NBC report, residential burglaries have actually decreased since 2012. According to department data, there were 226 residential burglaries in 2012; 131 in 2013 and 77 as of June 30 of this year. He said NBC Bay Area used inflated numbers that combined residential with commercial burglaries from 2010 to 2012.
View a PDF detailing residential burglary data since 2008 here.
Regarding the alleged pressure to issue tickets, Perron also said officers are expected to work hard but have discretion.
"For as long as I've worked here (16 years), the command staff has always had an expectation that each officer fill their work basket with something that benefits the department, the City, and our community," Perron said. "Each individual officer is granted a great deal of discretion over what can fill up that work basket."
This could range from criminal investigations or traffic enforcement to special assignments like SWAT, crisis negotiations or public information, Perron said.
"When officers are not otherwise assigned to calls for service, we expect them to be contributing to their overall basket of work by drawing from any one or more of these areas as they see fit. We have made it clear that doing nothing outside of responding to calls for service is unacceptable," he said.
Officers also claimed in the TV report that department administration has encouraged them to say they're on a crime scene when they're really not in order to document response times as being shorter than they are.
"That allegation is completely inaccurate and likely resulted from a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of what they were told," Perron said.