Memo to PA Police Chief Jonsen: What are you hiding from us? And why? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

E-mail Diana Diamond

About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

View all posts from Diana Diamond

Memo to PA Police Chief Jonsen: What are you hiding from us? And why?

Uploaded: May 4, 2021
TO: Robert Jonsen, Chief of Police, Palo Alto

FROM: Diana Diamond, Palo Alto resident

TOPIC: Keeping residents in the dark about police activities

Chief, we have never met in person but I have watched you several times at city council meetings and was impressed.

As you may know, I am a long-time journalist and columnist in this city, but today I am writing as a concerned resident. Important incidents involving your department are not being made public, as they used to be, and now are oftentimes unavailable or hidden from the press – keeping me and other residents in the dark about what is happening in our town.

I don’t think this is good for we residents, our community – or your own department.

Several examples follow, which I am sure you are aware of, but which I find disturbing:

• If a reporter wants to ask the police about an incident like an auto accident, that can only be done by sending an online form to the PD’s web page, according to your recent ruling, Chief. A reporter is told an officer will get back within 24 hours. Any follow-up questions? Submit another form and wait. This process leaves much to be desired. You, Chief Jonsen, have also ruled that reporters can’t talk to police officers.

• The Weekly has been unable to get police information about a robbery at Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream and Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store. A request was submitted by the Weekly on April 5. No response yet. A small ice cream store robbery needs to be kept hidden from the public? Why?

• Because of a suit filed by the sleeping victim, a Palo Alto police officer, who is the department’s dog handler, twice had his dog attack a person sleeping in the back yard of a Mountain View house -- the police officer had not talked to the sleeper and the attack was without any warning. Mountain View police called Palo Alto for dog assistance -- they were looking for a robber. The man found sleeping was not the person they wanted. The way The Daily Post found out about it was by tracking the reason for the lawsuit, a public document. There was no previous police mention of the incident.

• A Palo Alto resident reported on Nextdoor, the local community website, that there was an accident around Middlefield Road in Midtown involving three cars – one car was on the street. one car was on its side and the third car was found hanging (?!!) in a tree. Neither newspaper in town knew about the accident and did not report on a car in a tree. I only know about it (if it’s true) through the Nextdoor report.

Chief Jonsen, why are you keeping these activities quiet, especially at a time when police departments around the country have big problems, even prompting some FBI investigations on the internal workings of cities’ police departments. Our city has a policy of transparency. Your department doesn’t seem to be following that policy.

What are the police hiding? my friends ask me. I don’t know, but it sure feels information is not flowing from your department as it used to be five years ago.

Second issue: As most of us have read, the state Department of Justice told police chiefs that 24-hour radio transmissions between dispatch and police officers on duty must now be encrypted (silenced) because certain private information (SS#, driver’s license #, maybe addresses) cannot be released. But the DOJ also said if PDs can find a way to keep the private material off the airwaves, then it is fine to continue with the transmissions.

You quickly told the council you couldn’t find a way to solve this – and threw it into the councils’ and newspaper editors' laps to find an answer. You continue to encrypt.

Surely there must be solutions. For years radio and TV stations quickly bleeped out some words, or there are short delays before the PD officers’ transmissions are released. Or privacy details could be put at the end of a police conversation and that part silenced.

The encryptions are not helping residents. Case in point: On Jan, 26, 2021, there was a big, windy storm in the evening. Usually, reporters can find out where trees are down, what roads are blocked and other problems and post information on their website. But that night, there were no police radio transmissions. Reporters could hear sirens but not find out what was happening -- and if they filled out the required police form, they would have to wait (until morning?) for an answer from a police officer.

Fellow residents, do you feel safer now in your community knowing the effect of encryption during a storm?

We have problems with getting information from our very own police department, and part of the problem is that I suspect you, Chief, want it this way. It’s easier– and “better” from a PR point of view, to cover up unpleasant incidents. Or maybe, Chief, you didn’t realize what the result of applying the state DOJ’s suggestion about encryption would have on the newspapers and residents in this town – and other communities. Maybe the DOJ also did not realize it.

Last Thursday the PAPD did release a report of a burglary of 35 guns from the garage of a residential home. That release was good, but it came two days after the burglary. If there happened to be any onlookers, the delay is not helpful in finding them. These reports previously were released within hours, not days.

Yes, the press can still get things off the police blotter – mostly bike thefts and arrests for drunken or drug behavior. But that police dog problem was never on the blotter. Neither was the car in a tree.

Way back in 1935, Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis wrote a book titled “It Can’t Happen Here.” Borrowing the title, I think depriving the public from police department information is happening right here in our fair city. And if it can happen in Palo Alto, it can happen in other cities in the United States. And when that happens, some of our democratic values disappear.

City council, you are in charge. We residents need your help. Now. Please.
Community.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

 +   7 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 4, 2021 at 11:46 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Thank you Diana. I do not like to be left in the dark about local happenings. Do our press have to wait outside the police department and fire stations to follow vehicles with lights and sirens to arrive at a scene to find out what is going on to report to residents? Do we have to get our news from Nextdoor and other social media? Are rumors and hearsay going to be the only way we get to find out things that affect us in our own community?


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Police State, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 4, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Police State is a registered user.

>> Chief Jonsen, why are you keeping these activities quiet, especially at a time when police departments around the country have big problems, even prompting some FBI investigations on the internal workings of cities' police departments. Our city has a policy of transparency. Your department doesn't seem to be following that policy. - This is a query where the answer is obvious. (1) To prevent future lawsuits against the city for police-related improprieties. (2) Pressure from the police union to discourage bad PR on the part of rogue officers. (3) Pressure from the police union to retain bad police officers. (4) Propaganda to convince PA residents that they are not safe if full transparency of questionable police activities are out in the open.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 4, 2021 at 2:14 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. The press and the police have always had a "certain" relationship. I think the press should be allowed access (time sensitive stories) but that's not the way it turned out. Did the social justice warriors alienate the police in Palo Alto? Once you alienate someone, that's all she wrote. People are human. The police put their life on the line daily, and I'm saddened by people who refuse to support them. I've spoken with convicted felons (volunteering -- helping people in need (including the homeless) who have a more positive attitude towards law enforcement than some who've never committed a crime. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself "why" you're not be granted professional courtesy. Try writing a "positive" story about the police. Thank them for their service next time you see them. Attend "Coffee with a cop" in any city. Get a feel for what they do, and how they're trying to protect us. Until your change your mindset towards the police -- continue to remain in the dark. And ask yourself if you you'd have a negative attitude towards someone that constantly belittled you. And ask yourself why criminals refuse to stop committing crimes and why they continue to resist arrest. Who is really to blame?


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma,
on May 4, 2021 at 2:36 pm

Otto Maddox is a registered user.

So we have to be super nice to the police if we want them to be professional? Really? These are public employees. They work for us. If a member of the public wants some information it should be given to them. You shouldn't have to beg for it. You shouldn't have to hire a lawyer just to find out they're stonewalling you. If a cop doesn't like the job they can quit. Enough with the concept they're risking their lives daily. Statistically speaking a police officer is safer than the rest of us. The leading cause of death for a cop on the job is traffic accidents... and guess who demanded to be exempt from the seat belt laws for some reason? Yeah.. it makes zero sense I know. I'm not anti-cop. We need policing. They provide a valuable service. It seems they've forgotten who they work for is the real problem.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Lorraine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 4, 2021 at 3:09 pm

Lorraine is a registered user.

The bullying and intimidation techniques used by most police officers (towards anyone regardless of their color) certainly doesn't earn them any admirers or friends. Most of them are misogynists, racist, and power hungry. This in turn makes for an unpleasant American experience. Judging by the news, one does not become a law enforcement officer to uphold the law. A badge and gun only perpetuates a sociopathic mentality.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 4, 2021 at 5:22 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

You don't have to be "super nice." You have to be respectful. There's a difference. You should respect authority, and if you don't -- you're only hurting yourself. And good luck if you ever need the police or you're pulled over. They have a really strong radar as to who does or doesn't respect them. And if the cop haters keep it up, no one will want to be a police officer, and we'll be in trouble.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on May 4, 2021 at 7:13 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

Jennifer -- Thanks for your comment, and you are correct that if we are "nice" to people, chances are they will, in turn be nice to us. But that is not the issue here. The police chief is withholding from the press in Palo Alto -- not just me, but also the Palo Alto Weekly and the Daily Post and the Daily News -- information about certain police-involved events in Palo Alto. like the police dog, a car hanging from a tree, etc. The public has a right to know -- and not just at the discretion of a police chief. You did not say if you had any concern about not knowing what the police are doing -- or not doing. You also said: "And good luck if you ever need the police or you're pulled over. They have a really strong radar as to who does or doesn't respect them." Is your statement really correct? If so, that's really scary! Diana


 +   8 people like this
Posted by RealityBytes, a resident of another community,
on May 4, 2021 at 7:31 pm

RealityBytes is a registered user.

@Jennifer ~ You have to be respectful. There's a difference. You should respect authority, and if you don't -- you're only hurting yourself. ^ What if the cop is disrespecting you? Respect must be earned and simply having a tin badge and a gun doesn't warrant respect, especially if the cop is being a bully, a dysfunctional woman-hater, or a card-carrying racist. ~ And if the cop haters keep it up, no one will want to be a police officer, and we'll be in trouble. ^ There are countless sociopathic individuals who want to be cops. Fortunately most of them do not become cops.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 4, 2021 at 7:31 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Diana, for addressing this issue.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by rita vrhel, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 5, 2021 at 10:39 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Great memo; thank you for addressing this critical issue. Unfortunately you may not receive an answer. Which speaks volumes! And it is not about disrespecting the police! It is about transparency and the public's right to know. The City Council must address this lack of transparency and the increasing number of Lawsuits against PA police. Transparency helps everyone "stay in line" and avoid surprises. No one is above the law, least of all the police. Want to keep the Children's Library and Theater open? Guess where some of the money needed to do so is going? Settling Lawsuits. Same police officers; they need to be terminated. These "cowboys" give ALL our police officers a bad name. Police immunity must end. Change must occur for the benefit of all. I am not anti-police but understand the reasons for the sentiment. We are accountable; that must include the police. Thank you.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by White Senior fears Palo Alto Police, a resident of Professorville,
on May 5, 2021 at 11:12 am

White Senior fears Palo Alto Police is a registered user.

My nom-de-plume says it all. I think that the police chief should be fired if he does not truly show transparency. And any officer with more than one complaint of excessive force should be fired. If not, then a desk job would keep the public safer.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Christian Scientist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 5, 2021 at 11:42 am

Christian Scientist is a registered user.

The police must beheld accountable to those they are sworn to serve and protect. Not the other way around. Defund or re-design the police departments nationwide. A 007 license to randomly kill is not public safety.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by news, a resident of Midtown,
on May 5, 2021 at 12:48 pm

news is a registered user.

Please keep up your good work Diane


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 5, 2021 at 1:19 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I think greater openness would engender greater trust in these times when there is so much mistrust. Transparency is a good thing. Forms for the press that don't generate a response for a MONTH? The press is right to make this public. That is unacceptable...and unprofessional.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Dick D., a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 5, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Dick D. is a registered user.

Loading up the need to get information from the PAPD with a pile of new red-tape is akin to the decision by PAPD to leap into encryption. Decisions made by the departments management - the same people who set the tone and nature of the police on the streets behavior - good or bad, respectful or not. The lack of CC overseeing the department and enforcing the communities standards and values is a problem with our elected officials, i.e., the CC. The avoidance of getting input from the CC by PAPD is inappropriate to say the least. That lack of oversight is also exemplified by the PAPD deciding which laws to enforce and which to ignore. An example is the CC putting in place a much touted law to stop the use of gasoline powered leaf blowers - PAPD decided not to enforce that one, not after discussion with the CC, but simply on their own. Who is in charge of PAPD - management in PAPD or our elected officials?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 5, 2021 at 3:53 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Diana, Thank you for your reply. We see the same world through a different set of eyes. As far as "withholding" you can hate and distrust the police, but there are consequences. How sad for the residents of Palo Alto. Jennifer


 +   4 people like this
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on May 5, 2021 at 4:16 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

Jennifer - I am not criticizing the PA police. A lot of them are great officers. I have supported them for years. I am talking about releasing information on police activities to the public. Chief Jonsen is in charge of that issue. I am not criticizing the police department itself. Thanks for writing back! Diana


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 5, 2021 at 4:44 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I can't and won't speak about police misconduct. The problem is going to get worse as when incidents do occur the public will only have press releases to give us information and very little opportunity for journalists to ask for information or dig deeper to see what is going on. Whether the issue is a traffic accident, a robbery at a small retail business, or something happening in our residential neighborhoods that involves police activity, the public will not be informed other than what the press release gives us. The fact that the police are not required to give press releases (as appears to be in the case of the collision with the car on its side and the other in a tree) unless they are looking for information or witnesses. Do we have to wait until there is police activity at a school, at a community center, or a shopping area such as Midtown or Cal Ave, to discover that there is nothing forthcoming to inform the public as to what has occurred? Are we leaving it to Nextdoor and Facebook groups to get information? Are we waiting until parents of a school inform us when they get email from the principal? Will we have to be satisfied with hearsay, rumor and information from our kids? Does this sound a little Orwellian?


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Andy, a resident of Stanford,
on May 6, 2021 at 2:22 am

Andy is a registered user.

It's very important the community demand police to be fully transparent with ALL information, good or bad. Police departments led by unethical leaders often hide, delay, frustrate and complicate simple requests to discourage questions and accountability. GOOD cops don't hide anything. They make sure the community and police are 100% in sync with what's happening and why. For what it's worth, I was at the Apple Store on University Avenue this week and noticed there has been a Palo Alto PD SUV parked across from it almost every day, including one day when a bunch of cops were just hanging out. I asked someone at Apple why the cops were there every day and nobody seemed to understand since the street is blocked off in that area. Was it to make sure the street is safe? Keep the area from cars? Make sure everyone is wearing a mask? If it's for the safety of University Avenue, why is a cop just sitting in his SUV for hours? Why isn't the cop walking up and down the street? It's not a big thing, BUT I am curious if someone asks the cops to explain, would they? Both Palo Alto and Mountain View have a LOT of highly paid cops wasting time on social media and other useless activities. The MVPD chief apparently spends most of his time on national groups of chiefs while making almost $300,000 per year. Let's make sure the local police are doing what they are paid to do, transparent and accountable for their activities.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 6, 2021 at 8:48 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Diana... I know this isn't what you want to hear, but the truth hurts. You're well aware that the media and the police have an adversary relationship, and if the police feel like they're being treated unfairly (crapped on) they will turn off the spigot. And they have. I've heard this from journalists and retired LEOs for years. The chief does owe Palo Altans "transparency" but someone ticked somebody off. You can't un-ring the bell. Palo Alto PD-- in my opinion are dealing with "community alienation." The social justice warriors have nobody to blame but themselves. Be sure to thank them as well.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Person, a resident of Southgate,
on May 6, 2021 at 9:48 am

Person is a registered user.

A few weeks ago, perhaps around 9pm, several police vehicles were slowly trolling our neighborhood with their lights on--one after the other. I left my house soon thereafter and drove into Old Palo Alto. (Notably, I saw two teenagers looking sketchy and guilty, running across Churchill right in front of my car.) Somewhere around Seale and Bryant, there were at least a dozen police cars surrounding a full city block, with signaling lights out and police officers standing outside some of the cars. Some were left with lights on, no officers inside, and driver door open. It was super creepy. Nothing was reported on it.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Carol Scott, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on May 6, 2021 at 11:14 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

I only disagree with Ms. Diamond's comment that the police chief is in charge. The City Council and the City Manager are in charge. Let's try focusing on them.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by The Big Picture, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2021 at 4:07 pm

The Big Picture is a registered user.

Citizens with smartphone cameras could eventually become the only transparency measures in terms of holding rogue cops accountable. Of note: the George Floyd-Derek Chauvin incident. Had it not been for the video recording of a bystander, Chauvin would have easily gotten off. The only problem is that one has to actually be there in order to capture these racist, bullying cops on video. And eventually folks recording these improprieties will probably be arrested for Obstruction of Justice by the offending cops. Reasonable Cause and Illegal Search and Seizure are other legal statutes that have been abused by cops for decades. The atypical cop mentality is an abnormal one.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Paly02, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 9, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Paly02 is a registered user.

I didn't know he forbade his cops talking to the press. I don't believe that is legally enforceable. I looked it up when the City Council made a draft manual forbidding people on public commissions from talking to the media. It was left out of the final draft. Source here: Web Link


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Local Resident, a resident of another community,
on May 10, 2021 at 10:21 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

A simple answer to an obvious question: Full disclosures are oftentimes not in the best interests of law enforcement due to bad PR and/or potential lawsuits.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 10, 2021 at 11:10 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

The Police Chief - City Manager relationship is one of the most critical (and often times most difficult) partnerships in local government. Chiefs and managers come from different career backrounds with little experience in the challenges and demands the other position carries.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 10, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Jennifer What is hateful or disrespectful about Diana's message here? It is not just OK to respectfully question things like this, it is our responsibility (yours too)! My dad was a district attorney and I had loads of cops in my life growing up. I VERY MUCH like respect and like the police. You and I can agree that every good DA and every good cop knows the job is one of responsibility, and accountability. I hope we can also agree that without transparency, neither is possible. Even when they don't love the idea, every "civil servant" works for us. All of them work IN SERVICE of the general public. My dad sure knew that and the police chiefs, sheriffs, and all the cops where I grew up knew it too. Their good reputation made their jobs easier and their earned respect made my city and county safer. I was lucky to grow up in a city with a great newspaper and, please trust me, in law enforcement the benefit of the press goes both ways. Every level of law enforcement benefits from HONEST news reporting when they do their jobs well. They also get the "bitter benefit" of learning to do their jobs better when their occasional mistake is out in the open. And, yes, even good cops can make mistakes! The "fourth estate" is essential both as an scrupulous champion and as a trustworthy backstop for all of our public interests and agencies. Their timely access to public information is essential and their freedom to access that information should never be restricted. @Diana You are wonderful Please keep it up. You make me think, you make me laugh, and sometimes you make me pound my fists. All of that is good. Thanks for what you do!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 10, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

I'll add that @Diana has a really high batting average on hier First Amendment Constitutional freedoms in this article: Freedom of Speech: Check Freedom of the Press: Check Freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances: Check If she proposes a rally and invites various religious leaders she would be batting 1.00!! I'm proud to live in a place where we are able to both celebrate and question the good efforts of those who work in our service. And, in a place where poor intentions may be publicly exposed without fear or intimidation. Both @Jennifer and @Diana are using their voices to question and help. We're lucky to have both of you. Different opinions should be what make our country work better, not worse!


Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.

Email:

SUBMIT

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox for free.

Food hall forage: What we ate at State Street Market in Los Altos
By The Peninsula Foodist | 3 comments | 9,016 views

Do we really have a housing crisis?
By Diana Diamond | 27 comments | 5,375 views

Princess Diana: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,476 views

Smart meters: The easy part and the hard part
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 2,269 views