Posted by Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 4:46 am
I called in a tip when I saw a man I had never seen before sitting in a car in front of my neighbor's house because he kept walking up and down the block, as if to assess who was home. The police officer who answered the phone laughed at me and said in a very condescending way that it is not a crime to walk up and down the block. That is the last time I will bother to call in a tip.
Posted by larry, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 10:27 am
To Mom, call back & speak to a supervisor & let them know what happened, and when. That's not the way a caller should be treated. The PALO ALTO P.D. is not so very busy that they can't check out a tip. Much better for their community relations!
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 11:06 am
Just some quick feedback Mom from Old Palo Alto. Keep in mind that when you call the police department dispatch number, either for emergency or non-emergency situations, you are actually speaking with with a civilian dispatcher and not a "police officer" as you mentioned.
Regardless you should not have been treated in a dismissive manner whether or not the tip had enough merit for a police response. I agree with Larry, you should most definitely contact a dispatcher supervisor so they can look into the matter. It may prove valuable for training purposes if nothing else. Also Larry, I truly believe that you would be surprised how busy the police department really is here in Palo Alto. I went on some ride-alongs through the Citizen's Academy and again, I was astounded at the range and magnitude of the calls and investigations they handled.
Posted by Mat, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm
I am saddened to learn of this event that is 30 steps from my front door. Obviously, I wouldn't be able to see anyone doing anything nefarious since the car camper vans block out most of the street view. Wish those vans would actually move to another location from time to time and give our street a break. Oh, and Mom, I had the same dismissive response from the PA PD dispatcher so I just gave up calling too.
Posted by Nickie, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm
Response to "Mom's" comment above:
A few weeks ago I saw two men hiding suspiciously in a car in my Old Palo Alto neighborhood. I called the police dispatcher and was treated disrespectfully. I didn't mention the men's race or kind of car they were in. The dispatcher gave me a lecture on "civil rights." I asked to speak with her supervisor and surprisingly, he too gave me a lecture on "civil rights." He said it isn't a crime to be hiding in car in front of a house. I guess you have to see burglars actually loading a homeowners jewelry into a backpack before the police will listen to you. Like "mom," I'll never again call the PA police when I see suspicious behavior.
Posted by danos, a resident of another community, on Jul 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm
You should all move to Campbell. Last week I called the police for a suspicious drunk person hanging out on my neighbor's retaining wall. No condescending tone or civil rights lesson; the response was "we'll send someone over". And they did.
That is how it should work. Anything less is unacceptable.
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm
And despite the criticism of the dispatchers and their procedures, a call from a citizen in this case led to two arrests. To suggest a complete system failure, or claim to never call the police again to report a suspicious circumstance would be a bit shortsighted and unfair. As I recall there have been several other arrests for prowling and residential burglaries reported here on Palo Alto Online that stemmed from a call from an alert citizen. Let's not lose sight of the successes and be a little bit fair.
Not to say there are not cases where a dispatcher could have handled a call or situation better, but I suspect those cases are the exception and generally not the rule.
Posted by pedestrian, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm
Walking on a public sidewalk is never suspicious activity, no matter what the ethnic background of the pedestrian. If someone walks on to various people's private property and checks door knobs and windows, that is a different story.
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm
Probably a good notion to never say never Pedestrian. Nearly all if these situations are unique, and where one case might fall short of warranting a suspicious person stop another may not. I think we all agree that someone simply walking down the sidewalk by itself would not meet the criteria for a suspicious person stop by the police. Keep in mind that in order for the police to detain someone they need to articulate at lease a "reasonable suspicion" to make the stop. Conversely, an arrest is held to the higher standard of justification based on probable cause.
Say for example someone is seen walking up and down a public sidewalk, in a neighborhood where several recent burglaries have been reported, and they are observed looking down driveways and side yards for several minutes. Even if the person never sets foot on private property, under those circumstances an officer articulating these observations could very well reach the threshold to justify a stop based on the totality of the circumstances. Reasonable suspicion could be supported in this case because of the recent burglaries coupled with behavior that although legal, could certainly lead a reasonable person to believe that person could be casing houses in order to commit a crime. In this example a reasonable suspicion stop is likely to be upheld.
Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm
One has to make a guess as to whether it is worth a call to thepolice. There are a lot of scenarios.
I thought they told us to be alert and phone in suspicious activities (weren't there ads or public service announcements to this effect in our local newspapers?)
Sometimes there are pretend solicitors where you should not open your front door to them - and if you have any conversation with them it is crystal clear they are scam artists of some sort or other. There also was that thing of a meatseller claiming to have sold just down the street to one's neighbors and it was a false story. Stuff like this comes up and the police can determine what someone is up to if they are going door to door - do they have a license to sell, are they legit, are they scoping out places to rob or whatever. They can discourage outsiders and transients from being too comfortable if there is a reputation the police will make inqiries of them if they are hanging abut with no business. It is a balance.
I have a no solicitors sign but have still had people ring my bell anyway and since in the dark I can't see who is right there, I have to ask (in case it's a neighbor, for example), and I have had unacceptable answers multiple times here in PA. Question is what to do-- nothing?
I think the car camper situation is totally ridiculous and you have my real sympathy if they block your view out of your front yard.
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Jul 11, 2012 at 11:06 pm
Mom - I was really bummed to read about your experience. Of course it's not against the law to walk up & down the sidewalk. However, it's suspicious behavior when checking out other peoples' homes to see if they home or not. I'm a garden gawker when I walk. But it's pretty obvious that my focus is on a garden, not if a house is occupied.
I've had good luck here in EPA calling the police on suspicious people on foot over many years. One was wanted on warrants - & caught. A couple of them have been casing places, looking for lone women - at least one of those 2 was a registered sex offender. I recall another suspicious guy arguing w/a neighbor about his right to come pick lemons off her tree & she called the cops & he fled. I called on another weird guy, a window peeper who was a convicted rapist transient who was hard to catch. But honestly, I *never* had a dispatcher be dismissive like that.
The car campers attract other creeps. I've mentioned this before in comments - I do business in CT & am much more careful now than I used to be because it almost seems like the car camper creeps are king & the rest of us - residents & customers - get short shrift.
Posted by Yah But, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jul 12, 2012 at 10:00 am
Its good these guys are off the streets after jumping over a fence into private property, but if these guys are transients who frequently break into abandoned places to squat, that would explain the tools. Not saying they shouldn't have been arrested, but its not perfectly clear that they were intending to break into homes. Regardless, good show by all involved and it shines a light on would be burglars that its not gonna be easy pickin's around here.
Posted by Phil, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jul 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm
Stan, I believe that a combination of factors creates the current situation involving the homeless and vehicle dwellers. These factors include but are not limited to a generally liberal and tolerant community, the disproportionate number of homeless services offered in Palo Alto, and no local ordinances prohibiting overnight vehicle dwelling on public streets.
For these and several other reasons Palo Alto experiences more than its share of issues and conflict in this area. Palo Altans have a long history of not only being tolerant, but abundantly generous in reaching out to the homeless and those in need. For people living on the street and seeking these services, they can count on a community that is tolerant, sensitive, and inclusive almost to a fault.
Often time in my opinion we as a community have these very positive attributes taken advantage of by those seeking these services and their advocates. Palo Alto has been the "go to" city for decades when it comes to providing a home for these services, as well as seeking private and public financial support. No other city in our region even comes close to opening its doors and providing support to homeless outreach programs. With that comes more than our share of the problems and issues as well. Not only that, the vast majority of those seeking these services are not Palo Alto residents or have any ties to this community. It's high time that the neighboring cities in our region take on a greater share of this responsibility and burden. It's only fair.
Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jul 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm
Several years ago I phoned the police non-emergency line because some youth were walking in an area of expensive homes and to me, they didn't look like they fit in that neighborhood, based upon their clothing. The person nearly scolded me and said there is no law against walking in a neighborhood.
Recently, I saw a person who acted suspiciously like he was casing houses. And when he saw me see him, he abruptly turned around and changed his direction of walking and looked back to see if I was still watching him. The police took my call seriously.
Maybe due to the increase in burglaries, they are more willing to prevent crime, or perhaps it was that I was clear about how the person was acting suspiciously. So if you want police to take your call seriously, I suggest stating reasons for them to check out the person. Remember, they can't just question someone who is of an ethnicity not common in this city. Otherwise, the bleeding-heart liberals scream racial profiling.