Following a two-week period of intense public scrutiny, Palo Alto Police Department released on Tuesday its 2018 Annual Report, which indicates a drop in major crimes and highlights recent changes in the department.
According to the report, crime rates dropped or remained the same between 2017 and 2018 in six of eight major categories: robberies, rapes, assaults, larceny and vehicle thefts (the number of homicides was at zero in both years). The two categories where there has been an uptick were arson (nine in 2018 versus six in 2017) and burglary (234 in 2018 versus 215 in 2017).
"While crime tends to be cyclical in nature ... one thing that remains constant is that Palo Alto is a safe city that continues to have a very low rate of violent crime per capita," the report states.
The report also showed the number of arrests in Palo Alto has ticked down slightly, from 2,631 in 2017 to 2,602 in 2018. At the same time, the number of traffic citations rose sharply, from 5,807 to 8,245. The report attributes that to the return of the department's full-time traffic team, which Police Chief Robert Jonsen reintroduced in July 2018. The report notes that the team will be expanding this year, with the addition of a motorcycle-riding traffic sergeant to supervise the team and act as its third member.
The team made an extra effort to ensure bike safety and issued a record number of citations for children failing to wear bike helmets, the report states. As a result, the December 2018 "bike diversion" class was the first such class in over a decade that reached its attendance limit, with 53 students attending the class to have their citations dismissed.
The report's release follows a two-week period in which the department has been under a bright spotlight, for better or worse. On July 24, an attorney for Gustavo Alvarez, a resident at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, released to the Weekly surveillance footage showing Palo Alto officers insulting Alvarez and slamming him onto the hood of a car during a February 2018 arrest. Alvarez is now suing the city in federal court for illegal use of force and for violating his civil rights.
On Monday, several residents attended the City Council meeting to voice concern about the police conduct in the Alvarez case. Some cited comments from the officers at the scene, including an officer referring to people like Alvarez as "lowlifes." One resident, Ava Lindstrom, said she was terribly concerned about the officers' conduct and that it warrants further investigation. Caitlyn Marianacci, who had previously worked at the Palo Alto Art Center, said she was "horrified" by the officers' conduct, which she called "reprehensible and inhumane."
Despite the recent lawsuit over Alvarez's arrest, police say use of force is extremely rare. Of the 2,602 individuals who were arrested in 2018, officers exerted force in 11 incidents — a rate of 0.004%, according to the annual report. The low number, the report states, "is a testament to the professionalism of our officers and their ability to de-escalate tense situations and gain compliance without using force." (That said, in at least one case, that of Alvarez, the use of force was not reported in the police reports).
Jonsen said the 2018 document marks the first time the department has produced an annual report in many years. When asked to respond to residents' comments at the Monday meeting, Jonsen pointed to his message in the report, which lays out his expectations for the department. This includes being "excellent in everything we do."
"I expect us to proactively enforce the law and to serve this special community with professionalism and respect," Jonsen wrote. "I expect us to positively engage our residents, business owners and visitors whenever we can. All of these things will help us to build trust and legitimacy."
The new report also offers information about the department's services and divisions, many of which were involved during last weekend's 29-hour standoff with a man who is accused of domestic violence and barricaded himself inside a Charleston Meadows home. The man, who police said wielded an unregistered gun loaded with an illegal high-capacity magazine, was taken into custody after a coordinated response that involved the department's SWAT and Crisis Negotiations teams, police canines and the use of tear gas and less-than-lethal force on the man. No one else was hurt.
During the standoff, residents thanked officers for securing the area and keeping them secure. After the incident concluded, many took to social media to thank the department, said Janine De la Vega, the department's public affairs manager.
"It was a very tense situation and they were able to resolve it peacefully. ... People were thanking us that the situation was able to be resolved peacefully and they counted on us," De la Vega said.
The agency released the report just in time for National Night Out, an event that Jonsen brought back last year and that culminated in about 300 community members attending a block party in front of the police station — one of about 12 neighborhood events that took place in the city on Tuesday evening.
Editorial Intern Maya Homan contributed to this report.