East Palo Alto police were once feared and mistrusted. Listening to the community made all the difference.

Many strides have been made in the community of color, where officers and residents share mutual respect

East Palo Alto police Sgt. Matafanua Lualemaga talks to James Harris, the senior operations director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, outside of the club's East Palo Alto location on June 10. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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East Palo Alto police were once feared and mistrusted. Listening to the community made all the difference.

Many strides have been made in the community of color, where officers and residents share mutual respect

East Palo Alto police Sgt. Matafanua Lualemaga talks to James Harris, the senior operations director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, outside of the club's East Palo Alto location on June 10. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

East Palo Alto residents once held the kind of fear and mistrust of police officers found in many communities of color.

The police department in the 1990s was infiltrated by rogue cops who routinely abused residents. One notorious group, who called themselves the "Wolf Pack," beat people and shook down drug dealers.

In a story in the Palo Alto Weekly at the time, resident Elaine Crooks said she implored police officers "Please don't kill my son, let him go," after they beat her son in front of her.

"They said, 'These are new billy clubs, and you're the first we're using them on,'" Crooks recalled.

Things got so bad that the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury in December 1997 recommended the police department be disbanded.

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Pastor Paul Bains, police chaplain for the East Palo Alto and Palo Alto police departments today, recalled that misfits from other law enforcement agencies who often couldn't be hired anywhere else landed in the city.

Pastor Paul Bains joins the protest against police brutality on June 3 in East Palo Alto. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"People were very fearful because of the excessive use of power," he said.

After years of alleged abuses and harassment — together with street violence and killings and open drug dealing — the community decided to do something about it.

Now in the city of roughly 30,000, residents join with police officers on bike rides through the most troubled neighborhoods, and police Chief Al Pardini walks the precincts with officers to get to know residents.

On June 6, Pardini joined a memorial demonstration honoring Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died at the hands of police officers.

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What improved relations between East Palo Alto police and the city's residents is largely due to collaboration, community members say. After the city was labeled the country's per-capita murder capital in the 1990s, Bains and other faith leaders began working together with nonprofit groups, including One East Palo Alto, to change policing in the city.

Bains established a chaplaincy to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. Faith leaders and nonprofits ran a campaign, Promoting Life Thwarting Crime and Preventing Violence, and partnered with the police department. They ran youth summits with more than 400 young people and families and law enforcement.

East Palo Alto police Chief Ronald Davis led the department from 2005 to 2013. Weekly file photo.

Then-Chief Ronald Davis, who joined the department in 2005, focused on a community policing model. He got rid of the rogue officers. Bains and Davis met with alleged gang members who were identified as the most violent and offered them help to find jobs and resources for their families — if the young people agreed to get out of the gang life. If they refused help and committed crimes, they would be arrested and jailed, police told them.

"That program was very successful. We got many people jobs and out of gangs," Davis said.

Davis, who after more than eight years left to become executive director of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, is now a partner of a nonprofit organization focused on policing reform. He was appointed earlier this month as an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom on policing and social justice reform. He recalled what brought about changes in East Palo Alto.

"The key was not the community policing ideas that I brought. We had a very engaged and active community that wanted change. The community was the one that was leading. This police department was smart enough to lead side by side and to follow" what the community wanted, he said during a phone interview on Monday.

Despite the progress, the department had turnover at the top after Davis left, with four interim chiefs before Pardini took charge in November 2014. He inherited an understaffed department with low morale.

He told staff he would find quality people. "Not a warm body to fill the seat," he recalled.

'People were very fearful because of the excessive use of power.'

-Paul Bains, pastor

Candidates take polygraph and psychological tests. Each must have a successful interview with the chief. He restructured the department and revised the department's policies and practices manual to follow state policies and training. His officers take a 40-hour course on crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

Late last year, they began training on a simulator that teaches officers how their choices can affect the outcome of a situation.

The department hired more officers of color. About 49.4% are nonwhite — 7.8% are black — and 55% of all staff are people of color, according to department data.

Since 2015, the department has sponsored members of the community to become officers through the Community Service Aide Program, in which residents first take on parking enforcement and community aid duties and then attend the police academy for free.

Alanna Stevenson, 15, and East Palo Alto police Chief Albert Pardini share a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds with hundreds of protesters at Bell Street Park in East Palo Alto on June 3. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Pardini also worked the streets, knocking on doors in neighborhoods with his commanders and other officers to introduce himself and to listen to residents' concerns. Over time, residents came to trust the department. The tip line, which had been silent for so long, began to light up.

"Over the last five years, there's been a 60% reduction in violent crime. The community realizes they own a big part of that. The department has 38 sworn officers (and 14 civilian staff members) including me now. With people in the community involved, that has grown tentacles of hundreds of people in the community all working with us," he said.

A look at the community's response on social media posts shows the impact of those efforts. As protests of police brutality erupted across the nation in May, Mark Dinan, sponsor of the Facebook page East Palo Alto Neighbors, asked the group how they feel about their own police department. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Still, there are some who say there's work to be done. JT Faraji, founder of Tha Hood Squad Art Collective and The Real Community Coalition, a grassroots social justice organization, said East Palo Alto is probably better than most cities as far as community policing goes. But he has heard from people who have had negative interactions with officers from other cities' departments.

East Palo Alto police "don't hold other police departments accountable. They call in other departments that are racist for backup. They allow the officers to come in here, and they are terrorizing residents," he said. "How can you stand by and watch? That's your residents you are supposed to be protecting and serving."

Sometimes, he said, there is too much policing. During a recent incident involving an aggressive dog, 11 officers, including four from Menlo Park, arrived on scene. Yet no one called animal control, he said.

Pardini disputed Faraji's characterization that East Palo Alto fails to hold other agencies' officers accountable.

"I expect the same from them that I do from my officers," he said.

When there is an issue, he calls the head of that officer's agency and asks for them to look into the conduct. On a couple of occasions he has put residents who have a complaint in touch with the chief of the outside agency, he said.

He acknowledged, though, that there will always be some challenges in police departments as new relationships develop and new people come on board who must be trained.

Momentum for reform

With a nationwide movement underway to reform or defund police departments, Pardini recently put together a document to explain the achievements and objectives of the department, which has a $12 million budget.

He said he's concerned that too much is being asked of police officers. Police in recent years are performing tasks they never had to do before, like respond to mental health calls. Municipalities need to make sure there is adequate funding and infrastructure for new agencies to handle the services that officers currently provide, he said.

East Palo Alto police Sgt. Matafanua Lualemaga chats with Eugene Jackson at an East Palo Alto boxing gym on June 10. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"It's a tall order to splinter off. Who is going to come out at 3 a.m. to deal with a psychiatric emergency?" he said.

Davis said he agrees with some of the prescriptions of the 8 Can't Wait campaign, which has put forth eight policy prescriptions to reduce police violence. But as a 35-year veteran of law enforcement, he said there's also a need to break with the fundamental police culture.

"I disagree with the federal government that this is not systemic (racism)," he said.

Even the vast majority of police who are good officers are forced to engage in practices that are rooted in systemic injustice, he said.

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, police departments were a tool of oppression to be used against people of color, he said. Those practices of increased militarization and displays of police force have trickled down through the decades.

Now is the time for deep change, he said.

"To miss this opportunity would be a travesty of justice," he said. "I just hope we take ahold of it and don't lose momentum."

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Sue Dremann
 
Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats. Read more >>

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East Palo Alto police were once feared and mistrusted. Listening to the community made all the difference.

Many strides have been made in the community of color, where officers and residents share mutual respect

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jun 12, 2020, 6:53 am

East Palo Alto residents once held the kind of fear and mistrust of police officers found in many communities of color.

The police department in the 1990s was infiltrated by rogue cops who routinely abused residents. One notorious group, who called themselves the "Wolf Pack," beat people and shook down drug dealers.

In a story in the Palo Alto Weekly at the time, resident Elaine Crooks said she implored police officers "Please don't kill my son, let him go," after they beat her son in front of her.

"They said, 'These are new billy clubs, and you're the first we're using them on,'" Crooks recalled.

Things got so bad that the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury in December 1997 recommended the police department be disbanded.

Pastor Paul Bains, police chaplain for the East Palo Alto and Palo Alto police departments today, recalled that misfits from other law enforcement agencies who often couldn't be hired anywhere else landed in the city.

"People were very fearful because of the excessive use of power," he said.

After years of alleged abuses and harassment — together with street violence and killings and open drug dealing — the community decided to do something about it.

Now in the city of roughly 30,000, residents join with police officers on bike rides through the most troubled neighborhoods, and police Chief Al Pardini walks the precincts with officers to get to know residents.

On June 6, Pardini joined a memorial demonstration honoring Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died at the hands of police officers.

What improved relations between East Palo Alto police and the city's residents is largely due to collaboration, community members say. After the city was labeled the country's per-capita murder capital in the 1990s, Bains and other faith leaders began working together with nonprofit groups, including One East Palo Alto, to change policing in the city.

Bains established a chaplaincy to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. Faith leaders and nonprofits ran a campaign, Promoting Life Thwarting Crime and Preventing Violence, and partnered with the police department. They ran youth summits with more than 400 young people and families and law enforcement.

Then-Chief Ronald Davis, who joined the department in 2005, focused on a community policing model. He got rid of the rogue officers. Bains and Davis met with alleged gang members who were identified as the most violent and offered them help to find jobs and resources for their families — if the young people agreed to get out of the gang life. If they refused help and committed crimes, they would be arrested and jailed, police told them.

"That program was very successful. We got many people jobs and out of gangs," Davis said.

Davis, who after more than eight years left to become executive director of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, is now a partner of a nonprofit organization focused on policing reform. He was appointed earlier this month as an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom on policing and social justice reform. He recalled what brought about changes in East Palo Alto.

"The key was not the community policing ideas that I brought. We had a very engaged and active community that wanted change. The community was the one that was leading. This police department was smart enough to lead side by side and to follow" what the community wanted, he said during a phone interview on Monday.

Despite the progress, the department had turnover at the top after Davis left, with four interim chiefs before Pardini took charge in November 2014. He inherited an understaffed department with low morale.

He told staff he would find quality people. "Not a warm body to fill the seat," he recalled.

Candidates take polygraph and psychological tests. Each must have a successful interview with the chief. He restructured the department and revised the department's policies and practices manual to follow state policies and training. His officers take a 40-hour course on crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

Late last year, they began training on a simulator that teaches officers how their choices can affect the outcome of a situation.

The department hired more officers of color. About 49.4% are nonwhite — 7.8% are black — and 55% of all staff are people of color, according to department data.

Since 2015, the department has sponsored members of the community to become officers through the Community Service Aide Program, in which residents first take on parking enforcement and community aid duties and then attend the police academy for free.

Pardini also worked the streets, knocking on doors in neighborhoods with his commanders and other officers to introduce himself and to listen to residents' concerns. Over time, residents came to trust the department. The tip line, which had been silent for so long, began to light up.

"Over the last five years, there's been a 60% reduction in violent crime. The community realizes they own a big part of that. The department has 38 sworn officers (and 14 civilian staff members) including me now. With people in the community involved, that has grown tentacles of hundreds of people in the community all working with us," he said.

A look at the community's response on social media posts shows the impact of those efforts. As protests of police brutality erupted across the nation in May, Mark Dinan, sponsor of the Facebook page East Palo Alto Neighbors, asked the group how they feel about their own police department. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Still, there are some who say there's work to be done. JT Faraji, founder of Tha Hood Squad Art Collective and The Real Community Coalition, a grassroots social justice organization, said East Palo Alto is probably better than most cities as far as community policing goes. But he has heard from people who have had negative interactions with officers from other cities' departments.

East Palo Alto police "don't hold other police departments accountable. They call in other departments that are racist for backup. They allow the officers to come in here, and they are terrorizing residents," he said. "How can you stand by and watch? That's your residents you are supposed to be protecting and serving."

Sometimes, he said, there is too much policing. During a recent incident involving an aggressive dog, 11 officers, including four from Menlo Park, arrived on scene. Yet no one called animal control, he said.

Pardini disputed Faraji's characterization that East Palo Alto fails to hold other agencies' officers accountable.

"I expect the same from them that I do from my officers," he said.

When there is an issue, he calls the head of that officer's agency and asks for them to look into the conduct. On a couple of occasions he has put residents who have a complaint in touch with the chief of the outside agency, he said.

He acknowledged, though, that there will always be some challenges in police departments as new relationships develop and new people come on board who must be trained.

Momentum for reform

With a nationwide movement underway to reform or defund police departments, Pardini recently put together a document to explain the achievements and objectives of the department, which has a $12 million budget.

He said he's concerned that too much is being asked of police officers. Police in recent years are performing tasks they never had to do before, like respond to mental health calls. Municipalities need to make sure there is adequate funding and infrastructure for new agencies to handle the services that officers currently provide, he said.

"It's a tall order to splinter off. Who is going to come out at 3 a.m. to deal with a psychiatric emergency?" he said.

Davis said he agrees with some of the prescriptions of the 8 Can't Wait campaign, which has put forth eight policy prescriptions to reduce police violence. But as a 35-year veteran of law enforcement, he said there's also a need to break with the fundamental police culture.

"I disagree with the federal government that this is not systemic (racism)," he said.

Even the vast majority of police who are good officers are forced to engage in practices that are rooted in systemic injustice, he said.

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, police departments were a tool of oppression to be used against people of color, he said. Those practices of increased militarization and displays of police force have trickled down through the decades.

Now is the time for deep change, he said.

"To miss this opportunity would be a travesty of justice," he said. "I just hope we take ahold of it and don't lose momentum."

Comments

Councilmember Larry Moody
East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:57 am
Councilmember Larry Moody, East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:57 am

Solid article..
Thanks for meeting with a wide range of community members, leaders, stakeholders and Chief Pardini. Ron Davis is correct the community lead the charge to change in 2005-2012 With a commitment to change the relationship between Police and local residents:and continues. Much to be done but certainly on the move..


Anneke
Professorville
on Jun 12, 2020 at 9:39 am
Anneke, Professorville
on Jun 12, 2020 at 9:39 am

Another Camden, NJ, success story.

Web Link


Jeanie Smith
Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:46 am
Jeanie Smith, Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:46 am

An excellent article, thank you. I remember the "old" East Palo Alto, and applaud the turnaround that has made it into a safe community. This is a great model for reform. Happy to learn that Newsom brought Davis onto his team.


EPA resident
East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:19 am
EPA resident, East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 11:19 am

Menlo Park residents, we need your help!

Menlo Park police officers are notorious for racial profiling for traffic stops. My neighbors feel more positive toward EPAPD (maybe still not "safe") but are terrified of MPPD getting involved.

Detective Ed Soares, former EPAPD, now works for MPPD, and is known here to use unethical tactics like threatening folks, like alleged in this lawsuit (which was settled out of court):
Web Link
and this bizarre incident: Web Link

From Holly L. commenter on The Alamanac:
Also, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported on this federal harassment suit first, way back on November 27, 2013 in a front page story,
"Police Accused of Harassment in Federal Suit" by Jeremy Gordon (behind a paywall)
The Post had a disturbing detail that the Almanac does NOT have.
From the Post:
"The suit claims that Soares then interrogated Amanuel's brother about a future criminal trial in which the brother had been subpoenaed to testify.
Amanuel claims Soares threatened to toss them both in jail if the brother 'did not testify differently than he had testified at the preliminary hearing in the case.'"
This kind of incident in which someone alleges that they have been threatened by police is nothing new. Inmates from San Mateo County have been complaining about this for years.


Uplifting story. Thank you.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2020 at 12:24 pm
Uplifting story. Thank you., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2020 at 12:24 pm

I'm glad to hear our neighbors in East Palo Alto turned this around. We can learn from them. Thank you for writing this story, Ms. Dremann.


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 3:01 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2020 at 3:01 pm

I’m appreciating that the mother of a crook named Crooks was quoted in the earlier story.

Residents here endure more garbage treatment from Menlo and Palo Alto officers than our own. I wish I was seeing better leadership from Chief Pardini, but his lack if leadership is having a negative impact on his officers and our community. We deserve better.


EPA Resident
Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jun 12, 2020 at 4:55 pm
EPA Resident, Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jun 12, 2020 at 4:55 pm

This article is only peddling to the neo-liberal reformist tactics that have been shown not to work. What EPA needs and I am saying this as an EPA resident is less money spent on the police (which currently takes up 42.88%) of the budget and to re-allocate this money to mental health clinics, housing, fixing our infrastructure (too many potholes & no sidewalks) and paying our public school teachers. As the article points out EPA police are ill equipped to deal with psychiatric emergencies. Community policing is not what we need- we do not need to pay an EPA officer a 225k salary to be present in our schools or to ride along with our youth. The issue is systemic racism and no amount of reformist policies will fix that!


The Watchmen
Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2020 at 5:58 pm
The Watchmen, Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2020 at 5:58 pm

This article is dishonest and the public will see eventually but whatever.


Resident
Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:04 pm
Resident, Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jun 12, 2020 at 7:04 pm

I remember the "Wolfpack", those officers were 100% corrupt criminals.


Ho Hum
Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 8:14 pm
Ho Hum, Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2020 at 8:14 pm

Gentrification leads to lower crime rates. Yup, sets a great example for Chicago and Minneapolis -- except that law abiding citizens will never again stray within a hundred miles of those places.


Alb
Midtown
on Jun 13, 2020 at 9:29 am
Alb, Midtown
on Jun 13, 2020 at 9:29 am

Yes we used to get harassed on the daily by the police back in the early 90's and 2000!! I can name names, Fat Frey Terry brown, Sorrow, hines,Norris brothers,bird neck,Laplatt,and the list goes on!! It was rough growing in epa as a kid! Me and my brothers was playing outside back in1988 and the police listening to Nwa and the police jack us up we were 13yrs old thought we was selling dope and ask us to be informants they would by us ice cream!! Afterwards the took r Nwa tape out the radio and said it was evidence in 1993 my brother was shot In the back by a police officer!! I got some stories if you want more I can hook with you!! I could tell you about crooked epa government officials it's time for all of it to come!! Reply to message if you want more editors


Defund Menlo Park Police
Menlo Park
on Jun 14, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Defund Menlo Park Police, Menlo Park
on Jun 14, 2020 at 7:00 pm

If anyone has quotes or information about misconduct by the Menlo Park Police Department please feel free to email me at [email protected]


EPA Fireworks Burnout
East Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm
EPA Fireworks Burnout, East Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm

I heard from a neighbor the other day that the East Palo Alto Police Department is not actively looking for anyone in EPA that is blowing off fireworks. It sounded like the EPA is already too busy with covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement. The fireworks this year started in early May in East Palo Alto and they've been going strong since then. It seems like there is many many more fireworks than there have been in previous years. I can't imagine what the Fourth of July will be like here. So I plan to go stay with some friends. I really wish the police could help with the fireworks and tracking down whomever is making all this noise. also I wonder if the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department was called if they would be able to help.


East Palo Alto Resident
East Palo Alto
on Jun 27, 2020 at 8:48 am
East Palo Alto Resident, East Palo Alto
on Jun 27, 2020 at 8:48 am

Take a look at this, and check how educated, trained and are your police officers in east Palo Alto. This is the real thing, not what is writing down here. What is is writing in this article is nothing but a show.
This video shows you how the police really works, and this is when per person has a camera, imagine what happens when there are no cameras. I know it, but because there're no cameras I could tell you, but you would not believe it. I am a professional and peaceful person, but I have been there and treated like dirty by PD in East Palo Alto. Web Link


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