One day after Police Chief Lynne Johnson acknowledged that department officers have been asked to make "consensual contact" with African-Americans and Hispanics, city leaders denounced her comments as troubling and unacceptable.
Johnson made her comments during Thursday's community meeting focusing on the city's recent string of robberies and burglaries. After the meeting, she stirred more controversy when she told TV news reporters that officers will be particularly on alert for individuals with do-rags because a witness described a robber near the California Avenue train station as being black and wearing a do-rag head covering.
"If my officer sees an African-American who has a do-rag on his head, absolutely the officer will be stopping and finding out who that person is," Johnson told KGO-TV.
On Friday, Mayor Larry Klein denounced Johnson's do-rag statement, calling it "unacceptable, unconstitutional and un-American."
And City Council member Pat Burt, who attended Thursday's meeting, said he was concerned about Johnson's comments after the meeting.
"Wearing a do-rag is not a fitting description of a suspect," Burt said. "It's a clothing style. I'm very concerned as a Palo Altan who cares about our community being diverse and respectful and welcoming."
Johnson made her comments at a community meeting organized to discuss crime prevention. The meeting focused particularly on the city's "spike" of recent robberies, even though total robberies are lower than last years. Burglaries have increased, however. Since mid-June, there have been 16 street robberies in Palo Alto. In 10 of those, the robbers were described as black, one was described a black or Hispanic, one was described as Hispanic and three were described as white one was not seen.
Johnson acknowledged that the department's officers are instructed to initiate "consensual contact" with African-American individuals.
Aram James, a frequent critic of the department, questioned the department's "consensual contact" policy and asked Johnson at the meeting what the department is doing to make sure it doesn't create an atmosphere of fear in the city.
Police officials were scrambling Friday afternoon to prepare a "clarification" statement on Johnson's Thursday-night comments.