Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Apr 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm
The offense of prowling, a misdemeanor, may occur both at night or daylight hours. The law does not limit the crime by time, so it's not really odd in the least. The crime of prowling essentially takes place when someone is in the private area, not normally accessible to the public, of someone's home or property, and, not having any legitimate reason for being there. A reasonable person would normally not allow someone to pass through a side gate and access their rear yard. One would expect a solicitor to knock on the front door, but certainly not the rear yard of residence of someone they don't know. Another consideration is that residential burglars commonly use the solicitation approach as a ruse in order to see if anyone is home. This would certainly heighten the suspicion surrounding this person's behavior and justify the prowling charge.
As far as the punishment goes, assuming you're not being entirely sarcastic, would not involve any form of hard labor. I suspect the exposure to any significant jail time would also be limited. This case does highlight the fact that it is essential for we as the public to report any suspicious people to the police department. The more alert eyes and ears out there the better.
Posted by labarbe, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 10:21 am
I watched the confrontation. Palo Alto is certainly on heightened alert with the rash of burglaries, but did it really take SIX patrol cars to speak to one young woman? That's how many were here at one point. Two stayed only a short time, but FOUR patrol cars? Really? Maybe the PD could explain it's rationale for that kind of use of resources. Frequently see 2 or 3 or 4 cars for what looks to be a minor situation. Can we really afford that? And doesn't it leave the rest of the city without coverage?
Posted by Silly, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 10:43 am
Hey, at least the Fire Dept. didn't send in a few vehicles, too.
Typical Palo Alto waste of resources. At $150K per officer, that came to how much money? Speaking of which, did anyone else see the published list of Los Altos employees? They only had two people making more than $200K, unlike our fair city.
Posted by midtowner, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 11:34 am
Sometimes in the middle of the day, I've seen cars driving down the street very, very slowly and stopping for a few seconds in front of a house before proceeding at the same slow tempo down the street, and making similar 15 second stops; can't help but feel that they are observing which houses have cars parked in the driveway, and which have gates unlocked. Neighbors should be watchful. We've had a lot of burglaries this year.
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 11:57 am
> The offense of prowling, a misdemeanor, may occur
> both at night or daylight hours.
Thanks for the information. The dictionary definition seems to have been augmented somewhat for this legal definition of "prowling". However, it would seem that it overlaps with "trespassing"--which would seem to be a less sinister charge.
While the police have every right to consider this young woman's activities as typical of someone who is "casing out" a neighborhood, they would need proof--such as her having been previously arrested for similar activities. Since she was supposedly handing out fliers, was the business one she was offering, or for an established company? The police claim that they will be investigating this, but it's doubtful we will ever see anything in the papers about the resolution of this case.
> six police cars.
Yes, that is a problem for Palo Alto. Not too long ago I was downtown when a medical emergency occurred at a facility that caters to seniors. There were 11 City/private personnel on the scene--two (or three) ambulances, three-four police cars and two motorcycle cops .. all pretty much standing around and talking to each other. This entourage was blocking two lanes of traffic for about thirty minutes. From my vantage point, the lady seemed ambulatory. Since I moved on, I don't know if she was transported to a hospital, or not. However, I was amazed at the number of emergency people who appeared for this situation. Given that Stanford Hospital is less than a mile away from downtown, one can only wonder why all of this need for $150K/employee is needed?
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 11:58 am
Since none of us were there presumably, here's one scenario that I learned about police response that might shed some light. A call like this would automatically require a two officer response, and more often than not, a supervisor. There's three cars already, at minimum. Those two officers would be required to remain with the person being detained or about to be arrested for safety reasons and per policy. It sounds like there was at least one or more witnesses. If that was the case, then other officers would have to meet with them and eventually take them to where the person was stopped to see if they could identify them. Those in-field identifications with victims or witnesses have to be conducted separately in order to maintain objectivity and independence. If that was the case, then there is your fourth officer. Other officers have specialty training in evidence collection, photography, or screening for drug influence. If that expertise was required, then that could explain the need for additional resources.
Where people see waste of resources, I often time see the police department having to do more with less. I learned from my exposure with the Citizen's Academy and several ride-alongs that the business of police work is more complicated and challenging than most might assume. Yes, even in a town like ours. People are free to criticize on this forum without having any understanding of how police work is done, or possessing little or any knowledge of the event they're being so critical of. The reality of police work cannot be drawn from watching a television program or movie. It just doesn't work that way. The old adage holds true I guess. The least informed and knowledgeable are often time the biggest critics.
As for the salaries you refer to, the majority of the police personnel in that salary range are not the officers who make up a majority of the department, but supervisors and managers. The officers, who earn well below the figure you throw out in salary, might earn that much with overtime which is required to either maintain minimum staffing levels or due to events that require additional time and resources. Events that cannot be planned for and completely out of their control. With that said, also keep in mind that the salaries of Palo Alto PD personnel are in the lower third on the list of benchmark cities that both the city and police union refer to for comparison and contract negotiation. I believe the list is comprised of 16-18 cities in the greater bay area of similar geographic size and population. Palo Alto PD has never risen above the mid-point on that list.
Additionally, Palo Alto PD is operating with 15-20% less officers than they did two decades ago, all due to budget cuts. They are also attempting to fill 14 current vacancies. Hence my reference of trying to do more with less. Despite that, they still have made numerous arrests and cleared several cases for burglaries and robberies. They have a difficult job. Even more difficult with the uninformed criticism and unreasonable expectations.
Posted by Jerryl, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm
In a case of possible burglary or even prowlers I WANT our police to swarm in large numbers if no other emergencies are happening at the time. It improves the chances of catching the crooks who run away or accomplices waiting in the wings.
Police are carrying radios and can be dispatched from wherever they happen to be so I fail to see the loss of efficiency.
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm
And for Wondering, trespassing, like prowling is also a misdemeanor offense with similar punishment. One instrumental difference in applying the two offenses is that prowling would almost always take place at a residence, and in a place there would not be public access. Like in this case, a rear yard that was accessed through a side gate. Most of us would agree that definitely crosses the boundaries of where a solicitor would go. The limitation of access goes without saying. No reasonable person would go into someone's backyard under normal circumstances unless there was a good chance they were up to no good, especially because it is occurring in someone's private domain.
As for trespassing, that would typically apply to say a fenced in lot, or a public swimming pool after hours, when signs are posted prohibiting any access. Trespassing also commonly occurs in a business or office open to the public. For example, a coffee house has prohibited an individual from entering their establishment because they shoplifted or created a disturbance of some type. That person, for a justifiable reason, has been told not to return. If they do breach that understanding, then they could be subject to a trespassing arrest as well.
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm
> Since none of us were there presumably,
This opens an interesting issue. What’s to keep the police from using video, mounted on cars, and possibly on head-ware to record the audio/video of the situation? Certainly the military does—so why not the paramilitary here in Palo Alto?
> A call like this would automatically require a two officer
> response, and more often than not, a supervisor.
Why do we need a supervisor? What does he/she do that the responding officers can not? Is it to insure that proper procedure is used, such as not beating suspects, or otherwise abusing them?
> and per policy.
And who makes these policies? Are they open to the public for vetting? And if not, why not?
The Palo Alto Police Department has never been audited, as a whole, along the lines of good polices/bad policies, and what “best practices” might be, as found in other police agencies.
> Those in-field identifications with victims or witnesses
> have to be conducted separately in order to maintain
> objectivity and independence.
This is probably a reasonable point, but do these investigations all have to go on instantaneously simultaneously? (Keeping in mind that all that was involved in this case was one, non-threatening, 19-year old girl.)
> I often time see the police department
> having to do more with less
And you have a problem with this? Anyone who has any association with organizations that have been taken over by labor unions knows that unions drive up the cost of labor and drive down the productivity of the workers through complicated, often hobbling, work rules. The same can be said for police unions.
The police have integrated some technology into their work flow—certainly this should reduce the burden on the individual officers and allow them to do less with more—just as in the private sector. So, why are you opposed to reducing the cost of local policing—which stands at/about $30M this year?
> with overtime which is required to either
> maintain minimum staffing levels
And what about outsourcing some of this overtime to the private sector? Certainly paying a sworn officer overtime to drive a police car around the neighborhoods—just for the sole purpose of increasing police presence, with little hope of actually catching thieves in the act, would be more cost-effectively done by private security people.
> Despite that, they still have made numerous arrests
> and cleared several cases for burglaries and robberies
Well .. yes .. but why? How much of that success was because of support from the credit card companies, and from the cell phone providers and from GPS tracking hardware/software that now is becoming ubiquitous in all of our personal electronics? Doesn’t all of this external technology help, in its own way, in solving these crimes? So—when will the Palo Alto police give some credit to all of these helpers that are scattered all of the landscape, and in orbit (GPS satellites)?
Posted by Cid Young, a resident of another community, on Apr 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm
I live in the boonies -unincorporated San Mateo County, and when the "cops" get a call they respond quickly (San Mateo County Sheriffs). That is a blessing! When a bunch of hem show up, I always say, they're just bored because we have so little crime, they wait all day for something to happen. It's likely human nature, you're trained in law enforcement, you want to "catch" someone.....except down in FLA, where they let the good old boys go, it seems.
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Apr 3, 2012 at 9:12 am
The Palo Alto PD are equipped with mobile audio/video in their patrol cars. They are one of only a few agencies in the Bay Area that have this capability. This case would be a circumstance that the cameras and recording devices would have been used, unless anyone has a reason to think they wouldn't have been. As for mobile cameras actually being attached to the officers, a few police departments have experimented with the technology but an affordable, mainstream system has yet to be developed. PAPD officers are equipped with personal, mobile microphones that work in conjunction with the cameras in their cars.
A supervisor would typically respond to an arrest type situation to not only oversee the operation and maintain quality control, but also to make specific assignments, determine what follow-up investigation needs to be conducted, and assign any specialty work that needs to be done. Supervisors need to have more first hand knowledge in cases involving an arrest because ultimately they will have to review and approve the final reports that are submitted. In this case, considering the rash of residential burglaries that have taken place, I can definitely see why a supervisor would have heightened interest. If it was determined that this suspect might be involved in this activity, the supervisor might also have to coordinate further investigative efforts with the detective bureau or even outside agencies. These are all possibilities that I would think they would have to consider.
Again, not quite accurate on the topic of audit and review of the police department's policy and procedures. The policy manual is audited and reviewed annually and approved in accordance at the local level, as well as with the State of California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Outside agencies and legal firms are utilized in establishing and updating their policies. Not sure if the manual is available to view on-line, but we had full access to it through our participation in the Citizen's Academy. I'm curious as to why someone would state emphatically that the police department has never conducted an audit or review when nothing could be further from the truth.
The issue of how many officers are needed to get the job done safely and effectively is open for debate. What I hope for is that the police department has the necessary time, staffing, assets, equipment, and training/expertise to get the job done safely and effectively. A department trying to do more with less may have diminished results in these areas. As far as comparing the demands and expectations of a police department to the private sector, well, let's just say that their task has much more at stake. What job in the private sector compares with police work? Personally, for obvious reasons, I don't want my police department doing more with less. Budget cuts have already eliminated nearly 20% of their work force in the last twenty years. Numerous specialty assignments have been slashed, some that would have been geared toward working crime trends like these recent burglaries we've been having.
On the topic of outsourcing private patrols as a preventative approach, sure, I see some value in that. Any additional eyes and ears on the street is a good thing. Beyond the determent of their mere presence, a security officer does not have the same power to detain and arrest a suspected criminal as a police officer, certainly not in a public place. They do not have the training, preparation, legal knowledge, and tactical knowledge that it takes to provide the optimum results, nor do I want to see our city rely on more security people and less police officers. The minimum staffing levels that the police department operates on is already surprisingly low, and I wouldn't want to see that diminished any further.
I can absolutely agree on the fact that the police alone do not solve crime and keep our communities safe. It is definitely a team effort, whether that be an alert citizen calling in suspicious activity, someone stepping forward and willing to be a witness, or the many advances in technology. All of these things play into success. I'm also grateful and recognize that the police department also has the task of managing all of this information, conducting extensive investigations, and ultimately having to apprehend dangerous criminals is no easy task. Police work isn't conducted and wrapped up within the confines of a one hour episode of your favorite police drama, where unfortunately so many people seem to draw their perception and opinions from. So yes, I truly believe they need to hear the accolades and appreciation, especially considering the amount of unfair and often time uninformed criticism they receive.
In closing, I'm afraid you're not quite accurate again with the suggestion that the police do not recognize citizens and other entities with the contributions they have made in solving crimes, saving lives, and just being good citizens. Over the past several years, I have attended personally at least two occasions when the police department honored citizens who provided invaluable assistance in ceremonies in the council chambers.
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 4, 2012 at 10:22 am
> The Palo Alto PD are equipped with mobile audio/video in
> their patrol cars. They are one of only a few agencies in the
> Bay Area that have this capability.
This point has been made several times—but to what end? The issue of evidence tampering, public access, and retention periods, of video files has been brought up several times. Yet, no answers to any of these questions has been presented.
Moreover, with 50-75 individual police jurisdictions in the greater Bay Area, it would be difficult to know, with certainty, what any of them do. So—what is the source of this information about how many agencies have/used video cameras in their cars?
> As for mobile cameras actually being attached to the officers,
> a few police departments have experimented with the technology
> but an affordable, mainstream system has yet to be developed
Really? And what is the source of this information? Can you produce any technical reviews from any police agencies that prove there is no "affordable, reliable equipment on the market"? Googling “police head camera” produces a number of hits, such as the following:
Motorcycle Cops Use Helmet Cams To Keep Roads Safe:
It does not pay to believe what the Palo Alto police say about other agencies—since they really don’t have firsthand information, not to mention that with the advance of technology’s current pace, anything that was true six months ago could easily not be true today.
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 4, 2012 at 10:54 am
> Again, not quite accurate on the topic of audit and review of the
> police department's policy and procedures. The policy manual
> is audited and reviewed annually and approved in accordance at
> the local level, as
> well as with the State of California Commission on Peace
> Officer Standards and Training.
Perhaps this is a fair point. The term “audit” is very vague, and all too often means different things to different people. Generally, one assumes that an “audit” is conducted by an “official” entity (such as the Office of the State Auditor, or the City Auditor), which is authorized to review/probe/question the activities, finances, etc. of the organization under review/audit. Reviews are generally thought to be internal, and do not carry the weight of an audit. Review results are generally not made public (particularly if the results are unflattering to the reviewed entity.
The commission cited above, seems to be associated with POST, but little about its charter, or the availability of its results, are made known to the public via its web-site:
And there does not seem to be an archive of review/audit results posted on the Palo Alto Police Department web-site, either.
There are many kinds of audits—operational audits, financial audits, compliance audits, records audits, safety audits, training program audits, etc. Given the scope of any police department’s responsibilities—it’s not difficult to see why most small City government Auditors are reluctant to audit their police departments—so the years turn into decades, and the public is denied access to fundamental information about how police departments function, or how effective they are.
> conducted an audit or review when nothing could be further from
> the truth
In large part, the Palo Alto Police do not provide the public access to these on-going review results. As to an Audit by the City Auditor, no such Audit has ever taken place. There was a review by the SC Grand Jury some years ago of the Property Room/management. This was posted on the SC Grand Jury’s web-site, but don’t think it was posted on the Palo Alto Police web site. The police responded to the GJ Report, but since the GJ’s don’t follow-up on their investigations (typically), there is little public understanding of just how well our property room is being managed.
The Palo Alto Auditor may have audited overtime hours of the police once, but not on an on-going basis.
So, the basis of the comment was: transparency, and availability of review/audit results.
BTW—one of the problems with most Audit Offices is that they do not have the power to refer problems of a possibly criminal nature to the DA. It is possible that they could confer with the DA and then the DA, as an independent law enforcement agency, conduct its own investigation that might lead to criminal charges against individual police officers, but these sorts of things just never happen, leaving the public recognizing that very little oversight is ongoing in any California police department
Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 4, 2012 at 10:59 am
Thanks for your insightful post. FYI, I believe the $150K/year number wasn't specified to be salary but total annual cost (including contributions to retirement and health benefits which seem to be spiraling up nowadays).
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 4, 2012 at 11:06 am
> I'm afraid you're not quite accurate again with the suggestion that
> the police do not recognize citizens and other entities with the
> contributions they have made in solving crimes, saving lives,
> and just being good citizens
If you say so. It is true that the PA Police do acknowledge contributions of individuals, from time-to-time, but the point of the comment was a response to the claim that “the police solved …”.
While the police have been fairly effective solving crimes that involve domestic violence, when the scope of the crime crosses jurisdictional boundaries—life becomes more complicated. Moreover, there are many outside agencies now utilized by all police departments—the SCC Crime Lab, the FBI Identify Theft Laboratory (or some such name), the FBI’s NCIC Crime Database, as well as increasing use of automated fingerprint, and facial recognition, systems. Even Facebook is a tool for tracking possible criminals, these days. The one murder that was handled by the PA Police last year involved us of cell phone records, that provided location data to help disprove the claims of the accused.
Can you point to a press release where the police admitted that they could not have solved a specific crime without resorting to all of these external resources? What we are left with is the question as to why we continue to fund numerically small, and geographically-limited, police agencies—when a regional force would be easier to manage, fund, train, and share in all of the resources available to law enforcement, in general?