When Robert Jonsen took over as Palo Alto's police chief in January 2018, he found himself overseeing a department that was struggling with vacancies and that had been without a permanent leader for a year. He made it clear right away that he hoped to strengthen the department by both hiring more people and getting the community more involved in policing.
"Public safety is not the responsibility of one individual or one entity," Jonsen said during his swearing-in ceremony. "It's a collaborative role and we all have a role to play."
To that end, Jonsen created a new citizens advisory group, revived a traffic-enforcement team and relaunched National Night Out block parties.
But while these efforts have seemingly borne fruit and serious crimes remain relatively rare, the department also faced criticism over the past year for several high-profile incidents in which officers used force during arrests (one of these led to a settlement), for an incident in which the department's response lagged during a medical emergency, and for a conspicuous absence of police-audit reports.
On Feb. 27, the Weekly sat down with Jonsen at his office to discuss these issues, as well as recent car break-ins, Proposition 47, the public's growing expectation of the release to camera footage and the biggest challenges facing the department.
Weekly: The first thing I was curious about, which I was happy to learn about in your annual report, is that you're down to eight vacancies.
Jonsen: It's probably one of the most exciting things right now for us because — you haven't been privy to all the conversations I've had over the last two years, but many have had to do with our ongoing struggle with vacancies. The council — the prior times I've had conversations with them — I've had to tell them that. We're having a hard time. We stayed at 13 from the day I came in — really, really consistent — until the last couple of months where we're catching up and moving forward. Because we're not having the egress that we've had years back, meaning people lateraling out of the system. We still have consistent retirements each year. But it was the combination of exodus and retirements — we couldn't keep up. And when I say 'we.' I mean organization as a whole.
By not having people leave to other organizations, that's really helped us turn the tide. And the recruiting team has been phenomenal in setting the stage for people and creating an environment where people want to work for us.
They've taken the approach of really ... How do I say it? It's like a college recruiter who really wants that star athlete. Sometimes the head coach personally goes out instead of the recruiter. ... It's a process, and it's a very long process, and there's numerous star athletes out there being recruited by all the different agencies, and many of them are a lot closer than Palo Alto to where these individuals live.
James (Reifschneider) and his team have done just that from the very beginning. They set the mindset, "We'll work with you through the process so there's no lingering, no doubt where you're at, where you stand." They stay connected with them until the day we hire them. That's really helped.
We do one more final interview with me, and one of the things I tell every applicant that I highly recommend — because even after we've sat down, there's still a few weeks before they officially sign pen to paper — between those two weeks, if I feel comfortable this would be a good member of the organization, I tell them, "Take advantage over the next few weeks of really getting engaged with us. Do more ride-alongs, do more sit-alongs, do more interactions to make sure this will be the right fit for you." Because there's a lot that gets invested in this.
Sometimes people go through the process where we hire them and they realize, "Ah, this really isn't what I was thinking." And I really want it to be where from Day One, when they walk in, they know, "This is an organization I want to be working for for many years." I think the combination of all these things has worked really well for us because, like I said, once we get these individuals hired, they're staying with us, and that's good. It enabled us to get some momentum.
What have you been able to do with having more people and more sworn officers?
The community may think, "They have five more officers." No, we don't. By the numbers you can say we have more officers, but that doesn't mean they're accessible to the community yet. When I say we filled a vacancy — what that means is ... I can't hire behind that spot. But that person will still have to do a six-month academy; then when they get out of the academy, they have to do a six-month field-training program, and then they have to start integrating. So it's at least a year to 18 months before they're actually serving the community in an independent capacity.
Even with the lateral moves?
Now, we have four individuals on patrol training — those are laterals — they will just go through the standard training program and get there a lot faster. They'll be able to fill some of those spots. The five I mentioned are presently in the academy. Those are the ones that are taking our true vacancies — those are the ones that have to go through the academy, go through field training. We won't see them in the community for a year. Those are the ones who, when they all fill the spots, I can start adding to the traffic team, to the bicycle team, some of the areas where the council members would like to see us grow on. And I think we'll be able to do that.
So you planted the seeds, but it will be a year before we see some on-the-ground impact?
We have the seeds, which is the beginning, now planted. And they're learning and growing. It's an exciting time. They're really excited about it.
Car break-ins and other community concerns
Last time we chatted was before you implemented the new (Advanced) Citizen's Academy and the chief's advisory group. You mentioned one of the values of the advisory group was identifying some of intersections that the traffic team should look at. In what other ways does it provide value to you?
I think it's an ongoing relationship and engagement — face to face. I don't think it's a secret that there's a lot of layers in a police organization. It's just the way we're structured. A lot can be going on in the street, and if I'm not engaged and communicating — not only inside the building but outside the building — little things can be missed. That's where I think the value is of having both groups — the inside group (is the) command staff, network supervisors, those ongoing meetings.
But I can also have ongoing meetings with representatives from neighborhoods. Because if something really is not going well, I'll hear about it. In one of those silos — I'll hear about it. The organization may say, "Everything is going great." But then I'll be at a neighborhood meeting and they'll say, "We still have concerns or issues about this" — whatever "this" is. That's when I can go back to my side
What are some of the "this"?
Originally, a lot had to do with traffic. I heard it from council members on a 10,000-foot level that traffic is a concern in Palo Alto. Really, for me, one of the toughest things coming into this organization two years ago is the fact that I didn't grow up in this organization or in this community. I had both of the things I had to learn — not only the culture of the organization but the pulse of the community. Now that I've been here two years, I'm feeling much better about both sides of that, but if I didn't have that ongoing connection with the community, I'd still only be hearing about only the bad things that are happening. I wouldn't be hearing about the positive impacts of having the traffic team actually addressing specific locations in the neighborhood that were identified by residents.
Anything else besides traffic?
Car break-ins has been a common theme at community meetings. When you go back and look at the data, this isn't really a new problem. It's definitely a concerning problem. What I had was an article — back from 2012 — about how Palo Alto, far before I got here, was dealing with break-ins. I printed it out. Property theft has been an issue in Palo Alto for many years, it appears.
The vehicle break-ins, the smash-and-grabs are definitely without question regional. I know Councilmember (Greg) Tanaka said there was a downward trend. I'm still a little curious on where he's getting that data because it appears most agencies and cities throughout the entire region are impacted by vehicle break-ins.
Is there anything you can do about it, given that it's so quick that by the time you get the call (offenders are gone). How can the department respond to that?
We do have the data. We have a crime analyst, so we're well aware of how frequently they're occurring, where they're occurring in the city. We get this data; we send it out to our patrol officers. We do put operations in place to try to offset it. ... But I also think these crews are getting increasingly sophisticated and realizing that it's about opportunity — not really about risking getting apprehended. So if they see a patrol car anywhere in the area, they'll just go a couple of streets over and hit that street because they know they can hit another street. They're not going to do it while we're there. Because I really preach high visibility. I think it's important as a deterrent mechanism and it does work, but it's not going to prevent it.
Some of the things that I think will prevent it, if we're serious about that kind of crime, is we have to as a culture look at our laws. Prop. 47 did reduce the penalties for a lot of these theft-related offenses and the standard on those. That's why it's become so prevalent. Because the consequences — even if they're apprehended — are not as severe as they once were.
So what would happen to a typical person who is in one of these crews and gets nabbed?
We'll use the grab-and-runs as an example — which are the same kind of concept — the situations where they go into Victoria's Secret, Apple store, the Lululemon, grabbing merchandise and walking out. Smash-and-grabs pertain more to vehicle break-ins. Consequences for the most part are the same. If they get captured, because of the standard, a lot of the times it would be considered a property crime, and the penalties associated with property crimes — and I'm not going to speak for the DA, but we're sensing — they're not as significant as they once were.
It's very, very common that someone who is apprehended for a property-related offense alone is most likely going to be released within a day or two, and they'll be out and probably doing it again.
And the same thing goes for even the reclassification of some of the lower-level offenses pertaining to drugs. You heard one of the speakers talk about it on Monday night. ... Some of the lower-level offenses — whether under the influence or possession of narcotics — those have been reclassified so that those individuals, when we capture someone from under the influence or possession of cocaine, if it's simple possession it's considered a misdemeanor and they're really receiving a citation exactly like you would on a traffic violation. It's a promise to appear.
A few years ago, before Prop. 47, if somebody is under the influence and an officer would arrest them because they're under the influence of a drug — at least that person would be taken to jail, have time to sober up a little bit and maybe get resources they needed right then and there. But now, we're literally just giving them a ticket, allowing them to continue to be under the influence.
Those are the individuals that may go steal something because they need to go back, find something to pay for the narcotics that they want to continue to do. So it's a cycle that doesn't seem to be working.
Would I be wrong to say you're not a fan of Prop. 47 based on what you just said, or is that going too far?
No, it's not going too far. I think there was some positive thought behind it. If you look into it, there were some measures in there, hoping to get people who have drug addiction get the service that they needed to get off the addiction. And I don't feel — and this is something you'd probably have to investigate further — I don't feel those mechanisms are reaching the people who really needed them because the process is just not there anymore. I don't feel they're getting that direct access, the accountability that requires them to get these services.
It just seems to be a cycle — a revolving cycle. If someone is under the influence, they can stay under the influence for a long time now before someone finally says, "We're going to hold you accountable." And that would be the court system and that could be a year down the road.
So good intentions but not always good consequences?
Good intentions but the outcomes I think have prompted us to say — we may not have to go back to the way we were pre-Prop 47, but — let's start holding people a little bit accountable for their behavior and (address) the property-related offenses.
They've grown from something that's needed for survival. If someone used to go in and they'd steal something because they're down on their luck and they just needed food or something like that — petty theft, and shoplifting ... I understood it was considered "lower level." But they're taking the system now into a business model — because these thefts aren't done by individuals who need that iPad or that laptop. They're doing it to sell it for the business.
That's why we call them crews — because it's rarely one individual that's involved in a smash-and-grab or grab-and-run. There's multiple individuals going in and grabbing stuff with the driver ready to go, so they can get in the car and exit.
That's the other part of the equation that I know other agencies battle with. When you ask me what can be done — the criminal enterprise has realized our policies related to pursuit ... most agencies do not pursue property-related offenses alone. We pursue individuals who have committed a violent act, a life-threatening situation. But rarely would we pursue a property offense only.
What do you mean by "pursue"? If someone steals something but doesn't hurt that person, you wouldn't investigate?
We'd investigate. ... If you walk up to a car, smash the window and someone calls in and says, "This guy just broke my window and is running down the street," and we get there and see you jump in your buddy's car and you take off ... we see that you committed a crime, and we'll investigate that crime. But whether we'll pursue you — meaning, lights and sirens, and get involved in a vehicle pursuit — is a whole story.
What we're seeing is that these individuals know that if they get to their car and they take off, we're probably not going to risk apprehending them over the protection of the members of the public because those pursuits can be very dangerous.
But that causes a lot of frustration because there's numerous times where we get to that point. We see you get in that car, we know you committed a crime, you take off but you take off so recklessly that we say, "Another day," which is probably the right approach. ...
It's too dangerous to be chasing people down the street, especially in the city of Palo Alto, where congestion and traffic flow patterns are unlike any other city I've ever been a part of.
Not to mention the traffic circle on Ross Road.
I'm not going to bring in the traffic circle, but you know where I'm going. There's too many risks associated with it, and at the end of the day it's just property. It's not that we don't take these crimes as important. We're doing our best to apprehend people when we can safely, and we'll continue to do that. It's just an unfortunate time we're in because it all starts lining up in the criminal's favor more than in the public's favor.
Allegations of excessive use of force
You made a point at the meeting and at your annual report that use of force is extremely low? 0.008% (in 2019) is what you cited. But when It happens it tends to be big. Partly because it's so rare. But also because the two most recent publicized cases had both happened in the same area and involved at least one of the same officers: Agent (Thomas) DeStefano. The attorney for victims has said repeatedly that this guy shouldn't be on force, that there's a big problem with police brutality. Realizing that you can't get into personnel issues too much, is there any assurance you can offer to the community that you are seriously investigating incidents in which force is used in Buena Vista, especially when it causes injury that leads to lawsuits. As far as the public can tell, he's on the force and he's been involved in three cases that involve lawsuits.
I can't get into specifics, especially the cases you're referring to because both are still ongoing in one capacity or another. What I can say and will say and have always said is that I do hold my people accountable. And I make it very, very clear both inside the building and outside the building: My expectation of professionalism and respect is very clear, explicitly clear, and that I will not tolerate when we do not treat people with respect.
I'm also a realist in that we do not live in a world where everybody always obeys the rules of law and the orders that officers may have the authority to impose on them. The fact of the matter is that there are people who do commit criminal acts, and when our officers go to detain individuals, in a perfect world both sides would be completely respectful of the process. That's what I expect of my officers — know your authority, be respectful all the way through that interaction and do your job.
In both of these incidents, the reality is the individual on the other side did not do what the officers were asking them to do. I'm not getting into the details on the outcome of either one — we're still in a process — but that's how we look at things as a whole. When they come to my desk I look at the incident from start to finish — all aspects.
I'm looking at it: Did he start with respect? Did he have authority to impose anything over this individual? Was it lawful, was it legal, was it righteous from there? I also look at the other individual's behavior, whether they complied with the request being made. Were they resisting? Were they physically assaulting? Was there a verbal confrontation and was the response reasonable?
Was the response reasonable in those cases in your opinion, knowing that limited portions of the videos are out there?
That's exactly the thing. I won't get involved in the second one, near Happy Donuts. That's still being reviewed in a lot of different ways, and we're looking at that.
But I've seen this in every organization I've been in, whether in Los Angeles, Menlo Park or Palo Alto. There are officers that are very engaged in protecting this community, and they gain an expertise on who is committing the crimes in this community, the community they serve, and they'll focus on people they have arrested in the past, who they know are on probation, they know are on parole, they know are connected to criminal activity. They know those individuals because they're out there, and they're doing what we've asked them to do. The frequency of engagement with these individuals can be very high.
If you take those kinds of officers who focus on those specific demographics — and some of them, that may be their job, they may be assigned to a special enforcement team that's really targeting criminal offenders — you put them in those situations, they're not dealing with normal individuals; they're dealing with individuals that are most likely involved in criminal activity, most likely are or possibly under the influence of an narcotic or involved in sale of narcotics, or most likely are involved in some kind of criminal activity. Those individuals do not want to be detained; those individuals don't want to go back to jail. So at times they resist that interaction, and that's when problems start to unravel.
It's because you have an officer who has the legal authority to detain somebody, and if that other person does not comply with that detention, it eventually is going to start to escalate. With all that said, our officers do a phenomenal job — I've seen it time and time again — in actually interacting with all levels, from the most complying individuals at a traffic stop to the most hardened parolee who's just been apprehended for a vehicle break-in. And they've been able to get those individuals in custody without use of force.
It's understanding all the totality of all that goes into that particular interaction on whether it was reasonable, justifiable and lawful, and that's what I have to look at — all of it.
To go back: Do I feel that the outcome of the Alvarez was what I expect of my officers? I'd say no. That started with a respectful interaction; it did not end with a respectful interaction. You know what I'm talking about in particular is the apprehension of him at the very end. The way he was arrested and what was said afterwards. That was not respectful; that does not meet my expectations.
I'm also a realist, and I know our officers and I've seen it — they'll start off with respect and, by gosh, that suspect does not care, he does not go along with the program. They're going to have to take him to the ground; they'll have to get him in handcuffs. And that's what I also look at. The moment those handcuffs are on and once he's clearly in our custody and complying, we better be back to 100% respect and making sure his well-being is being taken care of. So that's also a new clock.
It's because I understand — respect here, they had to use force to detain him — as long as it was lawful, justified and reasonable, that's good. But I also expect — once it's over, it's over, and we're back to ensuring everybody is back to the professional expectation I adhere to and that we're doing that.
And in that particular incident, I don't feel we met that standard.
What about the Juan Arevalo incident? His orbital bone was shattered and he lost consciousness during arrest.
I will say this — and the public doesn't like to hear this. I don't think any officer goes out there with the intent of breaking a bone. They don't. But again, there comes time when they have to use force. And if it's a takedown, their intent is not to break a bone, their intent is to gain control over an individual.
Yes, at times when people go to the ground in a controlled fashion, they're going to get abrasions, they're going to have things happen. I can't have an officer ... When they take someone to the ground, they're taught how to do that in the most controlled fashion possible, quickly and effectively, in hopes of getting control over that individual with the least amount of force. They're not evaluating at that point in time — in the split second decision-making — what the outcome is going to be. Their hope is they get compliant and (the officers) don't have to use any additional force.
In that particular case, yes, he took the individual to the ground, but everything after that particular point was 100% professional. He did what we expect him to do. He made sure he got medical treatment and checked on his well-being immediately. Whether you see it in that video or not, he's caring for that individual to make sure he's OK. He realized as soon as he had taken him down, he'd gained control of him, that now he has to take care of him. That meets my expectation.
I'm not going to get into the outcome of that because I don't have all of that, but from what I've seen and what I know, would that have met my standard at that particular time, that particular moment? That would be my expectation. Once you gained control, take care of the individual, make sure he's OK.
What some people are concerned about is it's the same officer involved in the same cases. ... Is this the effect of the fact that he has to deal with this beat and has to deal with high-profile cases, which seems to be the suggestion of your previous comments? If you see the same name popping up, you have to ask, "What's going on here? Why is he still here?"
I'm not naïve. I read the papers, I listen to the community. I read it. But what I want to caution people about it: Don't judge until you know all the facts. ... Don't be naïve in thinking that everyone complies with what we do. If this was an individual pulling you out of a wing window over at a traffic stop, I'd have concerns. But I'm also looking at what the individual was doing to prompt the action.
And I've seen this in every organization I've worked for. I've watched and seen very hardworking officers focused on a particular type of criminals — who are the most probable ones for not going along with what we asked them to do. So their probability of being involved in use of force will probably be higher than an officer assigned to traffic enforcement because the people he or she is coming in contact with — they may not be happy about getting a ticket but they'll most likely get the ticket and be on their way. So I'm looking at all of it.
That 0.008% — that's only the number of uses of force in apprehension and arrest, but if I were to take that number and spread it out and add in all the interactions these officers have had, all the calls they've responded to, the number would be far lower.
That's the thing that the public (should know). They think everyone is happy to see us. No one is ever happy to see us. For the most part, when people call the police it's because something did not go well. We have a lot of our officers do a phenomenal job responding to calls for service where residents, or people who made the call, aren't in the best state of mind. They're upset, they're frustrated for whatever reason. They're a victim of a crime or they're upset with a neighbor or having a family dispute, so our officers have to mitigate all these things all the time.
When I say that the number of use of force incidents is very, very rare, it is very, very rare, when you take all of that into consideration.
Delayed reporting by the Independent Police Auditor
One of the safeguards Palo Alto has in the Independent Police Auditor (IPA). It's been a long time, since October 2018, since we've had a report. It's been misunderstood by many, including myself, on why it's taken so long. I've heard a variety of answers from (auditor) Mr. (Michael) Gennaco, from the city attorney, from yourself speaking to the council. Can you explain to me why it's been a year and four months since the last report?
When I walked into the door, the auditor was already in place, which I have no problem with because I worked with Mike Gennaco and his office down in Los Angeles — the Office of Independent Review — and was a big fan of having that outside auditor and the working relationship. He knows my outlook on this relationship, which I do feel is a positive one and a necessary one, which I'm not opposed to at all. From our department, we know what to send him and we send him those reports. We let him know when we get a complaint from the public; we send him those complaints when we're done with them for him to review and report on.
The reporting process is not mine to be concerned about. That is the relationship between Mike Gennaco, the CMO (city manager's office) and the City Attorney's Office. Am I happy that we're still waiting on the 2018 report? No. Because for me as a chief, I'd prefer we'd be a lot faster with those reports and have them be a lot more relevant to the time. Instead of continuing to tear the Band-Aid.
There's things that always come up in these reports, these areas where we can improve on, suggestions. But it's two years old now and there's a lot of things that we've probably already done. But when the public reads the report, they think nothing is being done. In two years we've done a lot to make sure that we address the issues that were identified in this incident from two years ago. One of the things that continually comes down is a case that occurs well before I arrived here regarding a manager of this department.
The incident from 2014?
The 2014 case. What I'm going to say as chief of this department today — how something was handled in 2014 is not my concern. Do I have a concern about behavior today? Absolutely. Will I hold my people accountable today? And as I mentioned at the study session: at all levels, respect. There's not debate about it. Inside the building, outside the building — everybody is held to the same standard.
It's frustrating to be a chief where people are saying, "You've got to do something about this" — based on something that happened six years ago. That was something for the prior chief to address. How they addressed it was up to them; how they dealt with it was up to them.
I'm not holding you responsible for what happened in 2014, but the incident gained publicity just the last couple of years, and some people believe that incident is tied to the IPA report and to new rules regarding IPA reports.
It's the process, and I would agree there was room for improvement. I think we talked about it — me, the city manager and the city attorney — when they went to council for a new contract (for OIR). There were areas where we felt ... I don't like areas that can be seen as a loophole, and I think that was a case where people thought, "That was done there, so it looks like it was done there so no one here would know about it." If HR was going to investigate something, that's their prerogative. If they're going to handle internal city matters — that's their silo, their area of expertise. I have no problem with that.
My relationship to this community is: If a community member files a complaint about our personnel and we investigate it, I am not as a chief going to send it upstairs or somewhere else without having full responsibility about the outcome of that. That's when I'm trying to make sure there are no loopholes.
I want the community to be very assured. If they have a complaint about the way we do things, they file it with me — the Police Department — and they still have the right to go to HR (and) they still have the right to go to Mike Gennaco's office and file it directly. But if they file it with me, I am not going to be shipping it off somewhere else and telling them to deal with it. I will still ... have investigations conducted by outside investigators, just because of their nature, but I'm not going to delegate my authority over that. Meaning, they can do the investigation, but it's coming back to me and it will ultimately go back to Mike Gennaco's office.
But I feel like under any circumstances, you would still have authority to investigate these conflicts because Gennaco investigates your investigations in addition to other stuff. By changing the rule last December, I feel like it narrowed the cases that would go there and keep them out of public eye.
I think there was confusion. I don't think they narrowed it; they clarified it
But internal conflicts will no longer go there (into OIR reports). I've seen various examples of past internal conflicts that did go there.
That's perhaps an area where the HR department, the City Attorney's Office and the city manager... That's an area — where I feel that if there's a nexus to the public, I truly believe it needs to go to Mike Gennaco's office. If it has to do with an employee's beef with another employee over a promotion or an eval, that's an internal type of complaint that I feel falls into another area, and I don't feel that's something that needs to be reported to the public because that is some of those cases had to do specifically with complaints about relationships or processes within the organization, which had nothing to do with the public nexus.
In which bucket then would you place the Capt. Perron incident? It's beef within the department, but the implications are that there are attitudes that could spill out into community work.
At times, the public gets a piece of information and the piece of situation without knowing all of its context. It's really, really important. Really important to decide. If you were to go back and look into that particular case...
I spoke to the officer who was involved and who corroborated what was reported in (Daily) Post. So I have no reason to think he's lying.
I'm not even asking that. From some of the articles I read, he was the one who filed the complaint and that spiraled things; maybe some people think the comment was made to him.
What I'm trying to get at is, you have to have all the information before you just start saying, "Something needs to be done." That's something that was addressed six years ago, so I'm not going to get into it.
Even not knowing all the context, I can't think of a context where that comment would be OK.
I'm making it very clear. I'm not saying it's OK either, in any context. But your question is, "Is there a nexus to the public?" In that particular case six years ago, I wasn't privy to it, so I won't comment on it. But today — and I'll make it very clear — a comment like that made today under my command would not be tolerated. Period. I'll just keep it that clear. Period. It would not be tolerated.
But I'm frustrated because I'm still being asked why I'm not doing anything about something that happened six years ago under another command. It's not within my authority to do something — it's already been addressed. It's already been handled. But today as a chief, yes, it would not be tolerated.
So is there a nexus between that incident and the IPA (report) delay and the new rules?
I think we're getting back on track. I'm hoping we're getting back on track.
Just to be clear, my question is: Does the incident have anything to do with the rules? Because that's the suspicion you heard Aram James talking about it (at the Feb. 24 council meeting on community policing)— like you're protecting.
It's not that incident alone. It's the processes we were trying to look at, and the timing. As a new chief coming in, understanding the relationships, not knowing the processes — and I take full responsibility for not having a thorough grasp of it from Day One. Because again, we're talking cases from 2017. We're trying to get the final report for 2018 out.
I was trying to get an understanding of the process. Who does what, when they do it and what the outcome was. It was the combination of trying to work through all of that, so moving forward we can have a clear understanding of what my silo is, what HR's responsibility is, what the City Manager's Office's is. ...
My commitment to this community and to Mike Gennaco (is) — and I want to make it very clear — that if they file a complaint against a member of this organization, we will look at it, it will be thorough and it will be fair — I don't care what rank — and it will be processed. I want to get to a point hopefully where we're moving forward. I want to get to a point where we're more up-to-date and more consistent.
I think what the community can expect this year is you're going to get these reports much faster and, unfortunately for us, you're going see probably three reports come out in close succession of each other because we've been continuously providing Mike Gennaco with our obligation of these complaints, these investigations, these uses of force. He has them all the way through 2019.
Now it's just a matter of getting back on track, putting them out. I hope we won't have to wait two years for the final report of 2019.
I hope so too. You heard Aram James ask: Will this apply retroactively — to 2014 case — will IPA consider that case or is it now viewed as outside the scope of IPA?
I don't believe it does (apply). I think we're sticking with where we were. What we're going to start providing. We're not going back to 10 years ago, six years ago, things of that nature. At some point as a community we have to say, "Let's start fresh." And I'm not trying to cover anything up, not trying to block anything. I, as chief of this organization, just want to get back on track so we can provide the community with the current, up-to-date status of the things that we're involved in.
I think the frustration is that it's kind of hard to move on when people don't have the information about what's been done, if anything. If people think, rightly or wrongly, that there's been misconduct of any sort and there's been no information provided to them suggesting that anything that's been done, they can assume rightly or wrongly that nothing's been done
We're probably not going to get past that. That's a reality.
The public's access to video recordings
But including things in an IPA report like the 2014 episode would probably be a step.
If it was my world... Honestly, if it was my world, Bob Jonsen's world, we'd probably have all body camera video accessible from the minute it's downloaded. ... That's just not the way the system is set up. And when I say system — I mean something much broader than Bob Jonsen and the Palo Alto Police Department. Some of the protections police officers have throughout the state — I can't as chief say, "I'm just going to ignore all of this." These are well-established laws, policies and protocols that protect officers' information.
We as a society are starting to go on the road of opening the door a little more, of making it more accessible with the passage of Senate Bill 1420 and some of these transparency laws that are now in place, that we're going to adhere to. We're getting there to what the public really wants, which is immediate accessibility to everything we do.
With all that said, I'm not sure if the public is even ready for that. And it's unfortunate because what we're about to see — and when I say "we" I'm talking about the law enforcement family, the country and especially California. ... I'm happy these laws have been passed, I think it's good for us; it's good for transparency and good for relationship with the community — but what the community is going to see are worst-case scenarios. They're going to be those officer-involved shootings. They're going to be those use-of-force incidents that resulted in great bodily injury, if not death.
They're not going to see the thousands of times that law enforcement officers throughout this country take people into custody peacefully.
Last time Palo Alto had an officer-involved shooting, the video was made available and it showed that the person who was shot was with a knife in the middle of the street. It helped people understand why the person was shot. In some cases, even it's the worst-case scenario, it can make the community feel better.
They're going to see the worst and only the worst. There are so many cases where an officer takes people into custody peacefully and voluntarily, which is great. That's how it should be done.
What I was getting at when I said they're "not ready for it" is that we have 160,000 files of our interactions. If we open the door — and please don't say I'm against it because I'm not — if the society decides we want the door open to all of it, immediately, they also have to be willing to go to where — when I stop you at a traffic violation, you know you'll be accessible to the world in how you interact and behave.
That's where I'm not sure if we're ready as a society to say: "Do I want my dispute with my significant other, where officers responded, being released for the world to see and evaluate?"
Everyone is comfortable with officers being on tape; not everyone is conformable with themselves being on tape and visible to others.
And that's the direction that someday is going to be the fine line. If you're asking us to open the door, OK — let's also show all the things that we do very professionally and respectfully. But that means ... interactions with everybody, now just the people we take into custody.
I want to ask you about a 911 case that we wrote about from June 2019, where it took a long time for a woman to get medical help. City Manager Ed Shikada told the council that there's been steps taken after that to revise some of the procedures about these responses. Can you tell me what, if anything, has changed since then?
That's another one we're still doing a lot of review of. We've immediately put some mechanisms in place to make sure we're providing the best services possible and the fastest responsible times possible. And the first thing we looked at was our staging protocol. If you remember, it was an incident where fire was staged (away from the patient). Officers were responding. And it was the transition between how the call came in and how the different pieces of information were coming in. They weren't 100% sure if it was a psychological or a medical response. So because of the two different response protocols, they kind of got blended together.
My hope as chief is I want people to get the best care they can as fast as possible. We made sure working with (the) fire (department) that we're on the same page in response protocols so next time a 911 call comes in, we don't want the person who is receiving the call to be figuring that out because they're only the recipient of what's being told to them. If they feel that it's a medical emergency, we're going to respond and we're not going to tell anyone to stage. We're going to be proactive, get there and stage it.
Do you have training documents or memos, or any documents that we can get?
I'm pretty sure ... there were modifications to the policy. Whether they've been updated into a public portal — I'm not sure if they had.
We've had trouble getting body camera footage from Adrienne Moore? We got a letter from the city saying it doesn't exist. Do you know what happened to that, given that you said at the Monday meeting that camera footage is almost always available and this one is missing.
I'd rather refrain from commenting because it's one of the cases we're still looking at. What I will say, for the public's benefit is: We look at every incident and we look to see if it was captured and that policies were adhered to.
What I think is important and I think I addressed it slightly on Monday night — my goal is to make sure an incident is adequately captured on some camera, whether it's a body camera or an in-car system. ... When I look at incidents, I want to make sure every incident is captured. Do I expect it to be captured by every officer who responds to that scene? That's probably not going to happen 100% of the time. But was it captured enough for us to evaluate what happened out there? That's really the bottom line
Was it in this case?
Absolutely. That is unequivocal. That incident was captured from start to finish.
Given that it was captured from start to vision, is it not really your concern that her camera wasn't on and that the footage doesn't exist?
I don't want to address whether it's my concern or not because I don't have all the information yet. But I'll say that in any situation, it's a concern of mine if the incident is not captured. Then, I want to know what happened and what do we need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.
If we have an incident that is captured, but maybe not captured by every single officer, does it give me concern? Not as much, as long as we captured what happened out there, who was involved and what we did to help that individual.
So you don't think her camera would necessarily add too much because there were other cameras that captured everything in that particular case?
That would be my hope in any case — that we have enough. And the lack of one officer's camera not being on would not change that. For every incident, it's important for you and the public to know (that) what I look at — for any incident, and we can use that incident — we will look at all camera footage. And there's many incidents where there's five or six officers present. We don't just look at officers involved in the force. We look at the videos of every officer that's there.
The only reason we do that — I can tell nine times out of 10 — if I'm the officer dealing with Gennady, I can capture that interaction pretty thoroughly. I also want to make sure we captured it well enough. ... That's the key — did we capture the incident in its entirety to where we're comfortable saying, "This is what happened," accurately. In this case, I would say definitely that occurred.
Public records and a move toward wellness
You talked about transparency and accountability on Monday — which was music to my ears. I've had a hard time getting documents — not even about specific cases, but about communication between IPA and police. ... I hope in the future that can be better process than three months of delays followed by almost nothing
When state legislation passed all those laws, the floodgates opened on PRA (California Public Records Act) requests. It's a capacity issue, but it's clearly a concern of mine. ... We're getting requests from news agencies, local and far away. The floodgates have been opened and our staff is inundated with these requests. It's just not possible for them to keep up with all of them. So we are having a hard time.
I'm hoping to get a full-time position to deal with public records requests because when the Legislature passed all of that, they didn't give us resources to deal with it. It's a big issue for a lot of agencies and we're relatively small. It's something on our radar and I'm hoping to get it accomplished this year.
It's not just the delay. It's getting nothing in advance. ... I wanted to ask you about mindfulness and wellness, things you talked about when you were just getting started ...
These are the two things. That's a great book (hands reporter a paperback copy of "The Upside of Stress" by Kelly McGonigal)... And I'll give you another one, by Matthew Walker (hands reporter a paperback copy of Walker's "Why We Sleep").
I'll probably have to give them back to you, but I'll check them out.
That's fine. The issue for me is resiliency. We want our officers to serve our community for many years in the best way they can, and they have to be well to do that. I think if they're well that's going to naturally correspond to how they interact with anybody in any situation.
Have you introduced any new programs to foster that?
We have the Courageous Heart program — a spinoff from Stanford's Cultivating Compassion program. We've been offering that to all sworn personnel and department personnel since I've been here. The city has taken that program and now offers it to all city employees. It's an ongoing eight-week program, once a week, two hours, where we talk about compassion for ourselves, compassion for others and difficult situations in your life. And I think it's been extremely well-received, but it's probably a conversation for another time.