Newly hired Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen plans to establish a community advisory committee to obtain public input on police policy as soon as June or July, he said at a Human Relations Commission meeting last week.
Jonsen, who created a similar committee while he was Menlo Park's police chief, said the new group would provide feedback to the department and help staff to be more accountable.
"It's important to have that openness. With a community advisory committee, we get to hear straight from the residents. With Menlo Park, we were very open to anyone who lived or worked in the city. We tried to have a representative for every neighborhood in the city," he said.
Jonsen said he plans to recruit advisory members from among the 400 residents who went through Palo Alto's Citizens Police Academy, as well as from other sources. The 15 to 20 members of the committee would be geographically representative of the city's 36 neighborhoods, he said. He envisions five to six neighborhood clusters — grouped by their proximity or by similar characteristics — with two representatives from each cluster. It's likely the members will be asked to enroll in the police academy, he added.
"Those academies provide really good insight into the police department," he said.
In concept, an advisory committee would help the police understand how they are perceived by the public. Menlo Park's committee advised the department on load-bearing vests, in which equipment is worn around the front of the body. The department wanted to learn if the vests appeared too militaristic, he said.
Palo Alto's committee also could play an important role by reviewing the department's audio/video policy and its usage of body-worn cameras. The department recently completed a pilot program of 10 body cameras and is poised to expand the technology's use to the whole force, pending the City Council's approval of a draft audio-video policy. The draft is an update of a policy that's been in place for 11 years, which was adopted to govern the department's use of car-mounted cameras but which must be tailored to include body-worn cameras.
The draft was reviewed in March and April by the city's Human Relations Commission, some of whose members wanted to involve the public the policy's examination due to potential community concerns over privacy, accountability and access to the recordings.
However, at the April 5 meeting, Jonsen said the draft policy is fundamentally the same as the existing one in terms of transparency, who can view the camera images and policies related to privacy.
But he suggested that to-be-formed community advisory committee could be tasked with reviewing the policy after it is adopted by the City Council.
The commissioners, on a 5-0 vote, recommended the council adopt the draft policy so that the department could deploy the cameras — but asked that the council revisit the policy after receiving input through the community advisory committee within two years after putting the body cameras into practice.
Jonsen said the community commission would neither replace nor duplicate the Office of the Independent Police Auditor, which reviews complaints, investigations of misconduct and internal affairs investigations and makes recommendations to the police chief.