News

In pursuit of reform, Palo Alto looks beyond armed officers

City prepares to hire more community service officers, partner with county's behaviorial health professionals

The Palo Alto Police Department is looking to hire more community service officers to deal with parking violations, noninjury car accidents and nonviolent crimes. Embarcadero Media file photo.

As Palo Alto prepares to enact police reforms, an idea that continues to gather momentum on the City Council is shifting some of the Police Department's workload from sworn officers to social workers and other unarmed employees.

But despite general support for the idea, council members and department leadership have yet to reach a clear consensus on what type of model to adopt. The agency is looking to join Santa Clara County's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) program, which partners a county clinician with a police officer for calls that involve mental health issues. Some members of the council, meanwhile, believe the city should go even further and explore removing certain types of calls from the department's purview altogether.

The council debated the various options during Monday night's wide-ranging discussion about police reform, a topic that has taken on increased urgency since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer. The topic will return to the spotlight on Nov. 2, when council members are set to approve various revisions to the department's use-of-force policies. The changes include an explicit prohibition on techniques that restrict blood and air flow to the head or neck and a more robust section on de-escalation techniques.

On Monday, the council wrestled with broader questions pertaining to police accountability and the department's service model. While the council didn't take any formal actions, council members generally supported expanding the scope of the independent police auditor and shifting some responsibilities away from armed officers.

Some of that is already happening. Assistant Police Chief Andrew Binder said the department is going through the process of being included in PERT and that it plans to have a clinician working with officers by the end of the year. He said the PERT program creates a model that many law enforcement agencies are turning to.

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"It's the way to go," Binder said.

The partnership is far from certain, however. Because PERT is a county program, the city doesn't know what kind of resources it will receive.

"The only downside I can think of is the county has only so many slots and only so much money and only so many bodies they can give us," Binder said.

In addition to seeking PERT participation, the department is looking to hire more community service officers to deal with low-level calls. This includes responding to a noninjury car accident, signing off on citations, investigating parking violations or taking a report about a crime that had occurred.

"We have two right now and we're definitely prepared and going through the process of getting more on board, especially in light of these conversations," Binder told the council. "We see value in them and what they can add to the service to the community."

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While council members generally lauded these moves, some argued that the city should consider more dramatic changes. Council member Lydia Kou suggested that the city further explore the service model used in Eugene, Oregon, where clinical professionals replace police officers in responding to calls that involve mentally ill or intoxicated individuals under a program known as CAHOOTS.

Council member Alison Cormack proposed shifting some 911 calls away from the police and toward the Community Services Department, which already has partnerships with various community nonprofits that provide social services.

"I'm not convinced that if we do have social workers, that they should be part of the Police Department," Cormack said. "In the same way as when you call dispatch you might get a fire resource, you might get a police resource, perhaps you would get social services resources. … I want us to think broadly about how that might be structured."

The Monday discussion marked the council's transition from the "data gathering" phase of the complex effort to a new stage in which the members identify gaps and flaws in existing policies and programs. The council is scheduled to formally adopt changes to some of these policies on Nov. 16.

One idea that the council has already discarded is the prospect of combining the police and fire departments into a single "Department of Public Safety." Several council members, most notably Greg Tanaka and Liz Kniss, expressed some enthusiasm for such a model in June, though after further exploration they concurred with staff that such a change would not be suitable for Palo Alto, which is one of few cities in the area that runs its own ambulance service.

According to a report from City Manager Ed Shikada, the Fire Department's medical transport service "does not lend itself to easily consolidating public safety line level staff."

Several council members also said Monday that they would like to expand the scope of the city's independent police auditor, OIR Group. Currently, OIR Group reviews only those use-of-force incidents in which an officer shoots someone, deploys a Taser or is involved in an incident that leads to a complaint. Palo Alto is also the only city on OIR Group's list of clients that excludes internal conflicts within the department from the auditors' scope, auditor Michael Gennaco told the council on Sept. 28.

While the council didn't specify on Monday what kind of changes it wants to see in the auditor contract, Vice Mayor Tom DuBois suggested having the OIR Group conduct annual performance audits on department operations, while Kou recommended having the auditor review the city's agreement with its police unions.

DuBois and Cormack had also previously supported expanding OIR Group's contract to involve more types of force, including incidents that don't involve formal complaints.

DuBois has also been working with Council member Eric Filseth on reviewing the department's policies on transparency and accountability. Both said they had some concerns about how well officers are complying with a department policy requiring them to report incidents in which they witness a colleague using excessive force.

Each alluded to the 2018 arrest of Gustavo Alvarez at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, which led to a $572,500 settlement from the city. Surveillance footage from the arrest showed Sgt. Wayne Benitez slamming Alvarez's head on the hood of a vehicle. Neither he nor any of the other officers involved in the incident had reported that force was used during the arrest (Benitez, now retired, is now facing misdemeanor assault charges relating to this arrest).

"I don't think either of us believes there's a systemic culture of violence in our Police Department or anything like that, but the Alvarez case is concerning … Had it not been for this video that surfaced months later, no one would have even known about it," Filseth said. "We'd like to understand, how do we make sure that was a one-off thing and an outlier, and not something that goes on every week?"

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In pursuit of reform, Palo Alto looks beyond armed officers

City prepares to hire more community service officers, partner with county's behaviorial health professionals

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 27, 2020, 12:31 am

As Palo Alto prepares to enact police reforms, an idea that continues to gather momentum on the City Council is shifting some of the Police Department's workload from sworn officers to social workers and other unarmed employees.

But despite general support for the idea, council members and department leadership have yet to reach a clear consensus on what type of model to adopt. The agency is looking to join Santa Clara County's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) program, which partners a county clinician with a police officer for calls that involve mental health issues. Some members of the council, meanwhile, believe the city should go even further and explore removing certain types of calls from the department's purview altogether.

The council debated the various options during Monday night's wide-ranging discussion about police reform, a topic that has taken on increased urgency since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer. The topic will return to the spotlight on Nov. 2, when council members are set to approve various revisions to the department's use-of-force policies. The changes include an explicit prohibition on techniques that restrict blood and air flow to the head or neck and a more robust section on de-escalation techniques.

On Monday, the council wrestled with broader questions pertaining to police accountability and the department's service model. While the council didn't take any formal actions, council members generally supported expanding the scope of the independent police auditor and shifting some responsibilities away from armed officers.

Some of that is already happening. Assistant Police Chief Andrew Binder said the department is going through the process of being included in PERT and that it plans to have a clinician working with officers by the end of the year. He said the PERT program creates a model that many law enforcement agencies are turning to.

"It's the way to go," Binder said.

The partnership is far from certain, however. Because PERT is a county program, the city doesn't know what kind of resources it will receive.

"The only downside I can think of is the county has only so many slots and only so much money and only so many bodies they can give us," Binder said.

In addition to seeking PERT participation, the department is looking to hire more community service officers to deal with low-level calls. This includes responding to a noninjury car accident, signing off on citations, investigating parking violations or taking a report about a crime that had occurred.

"We have two right now and we're definitely prepared and going through the process of getting more on board, especially in light of these conversations," Binder told the council. "We see value in them and what they can add to the service to the community."

While council members generally lauded these moves, some argued that the city should consider more dramatic changes. Council member Lydia Kou suggested that the city further explore the service model used in Eugene, Oregon, where clinical professionals replace police officers in responding to calls that involve mentally ill or intoxicated individuals under a program known as CAHOOTS.

Council member Alison Cormack proposed shifting some 911 calls away from the police and toward the Community Services Department, which already has partnerships with various community nonprofits that provide social services.

"I'm not convinced that if we do have social workers, that they should be part of the Police Department," Cormack said. "In the same way as when you call dispatch you might get a fire resource, you might get a police resource, perhaps you would get social services resources. … I want us to think broadly about how that might be structured."

The Monday discussion marked the council's transition from the "data gathering" phase of the complex effort to a new stage in which the members identify gaps and flaws in existing policies and programs. The council is scheduled to formally adopt changes to some of these policies on Nov. 16.

One idea that the council has already discarded is the prospect of combining the police and fire departments into a single "Department of Public Safety." Several council members, most notably Greg Tanaka and Liz Kniss, expressed some enthusiasm for such a model in June, though after further exploration they concurred with staff that such a change would not be suitable for Palo Alto, which is one of few cities in the area that runs its own ambulance service.

According to a report from City Manager Ed Shikada, the Fire Department's medical transport service "does not lend itself to easily consolidating public safety line level staff."

Several council members also said Monday that they would like to expand the scope of the city's independent police auditor, OIR Group. Currently, OIR Group reviews only those use-of-force incidents in which an officer shoots someone, deploys a Taser or is involved in an incident that leads to a complaint. Palo Alto is also the only city on OIR Group's list of clients that excludes internal conflicts within the department from the auditors' scope, auditor Michael Gennaco told the council on Sept. 28.

While the council didn't specify on Monday what kind of changes it wants to see in the auditor contract, Vice Mayor Tom DuBois suggested having the OIR Group conduct annual performance audits on department operations, while Kou recommended having the auditor review the city's agreement with its police unions.

DuBois and Cormack had also previously supported expanding OIR Group's contract to involve more types of force, including incidents that don't involve formal complaints.

DuBois has also been working with Council member Eric Filseth on reviewing the department's policies on transparency and accountability. Both said they had some concerns about how well officers are complying with a department policy requiring them to report incidents in which they witness a colleague using excessive force.

Each alluded to the 2018 arrest of Gustavo Alvarez at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, which led to a $572,500 settlement from the city. Surveillance footage from the arrest showed Sgt. Wayne Benitez slamming Alvarez's head on the hood of a vehicle. Neither he nor any of the other officers involved in the incident had reported that force was used during the arrest (Benitez, now retired, is now facing misdemeanor assault charges relating to this arrest).

"I don't think either of us believes there's a systemic culture of violence in our Police Department or anything like that, but the Alvarez case is concerning … Had it not been for this video that surfaced months later, no one would have even known about it," Filseth said. "We'd like to understand, how do we make sure that was a one-off thing and an outlier, and not something that goes on every week?"

Comments

Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Oct 27, 2020 at 6:52 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 6:52 am
27 people like this

Oh, yeah. This ought to work out well. Keep us posted.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2020 at 8:47 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 8:47 am
53 people like this

If this concept is implemented, dispatch and/or the watch commander will have to make an expeditious & key decision (sight unseen) on who to send out (a social worker/health care professional or a cop) to resolve matters.

This could prove problematic in situations involving domestic violence & public disturbances where some derelict is whacked-out on meth & potentially armed.

Taking reports of home burglaries & signing off petty citations is feasible.

On the other hand, this program would also require expanding the fleet of city-owned vehicles (at taxpayer expense) + liability insurance & maintenence costs.

In this time of much-needed municipal fiscal restraint (due to lost business tax revenues via the pandemic), is adding additional city personnel
along with their benefit & pension packages + training costs a value-added & progressive reform measure?

Why not simply retrain PAPD officers to respond accordingly & dismiss the ones with a bad track record?




Legalized Excessive Force
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:13 am
Legalized Excessive Force, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:13 am
14 people like this

Alvarez a one-off? What? DeStefano’s use of force on the man at Happy Donuts proves otherwise.

The video and documents in articles makes it clear this stop didn’t even need to be made, then it wasn’t de-escalated as it could and should have been without seriously injuring yet another Latino man.

It ended at Stanford Hospital, with no charges but evidence of a failure of policy and practice by the PAPD, including to use force when avoidable.

That the PAPD investigated and cleared itself of any wrongdoing in this case shouldn’t then lead to the one-off conclusion in this article. Instead it should lead to shock that PAPD systemic policies and practices justified this use of force.

This case is an example of a systemic problem within the PAPD that the council says it’s committed to ending. But if it isn’t even recognized, how can it be corrected?



Ardan Michael Blum
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:17 am
Ardan Michael Blum, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:17 am
14 people like this

[Post removed.]


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:50 am
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:50 am
3 people like this

I do not comprehend Cormack's remark about policing and social workers. The police are the first responders and need to asses the situation in real time. The police need more education. The city has to lessen the influence of the police unions who have covered up unjust and violent behavior on the part of the bad apples. Again, more training, education and community policing are needed in our town.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:04 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:04 am
24 people like this

WE now have continual reports of robberies and home break-in - even when the people are in their house. Now I read the police blotter section in the paper - all papers that report. There is a crime spree in process - from catalytic converters to computers.

I attribute that to the current confusion as to what the police roll is in the city. I also attribute that to the "progressive" current movement to derail police protection in favor of "what?" The current "groups" are working first to tear down existing norms but they have no game plan on what to replace it with. It is just tear down what ever is there now. That includes housing.

Please let the police in the county in total work together to arrive at a plan that all can work with. We will need them to support each other in tough situations. .


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:09 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:09 am
30 people like this

>"...evidence of a failure of policy and practice by the PAPD, including to use force when avoidable."

>"...it should lead to shock that PAPD systemic policies and practices justified this use of force."

>"This case is an example of a systemic problem within the PAPD that the council says it’s committed to ending. But if it isn’t even recognized, how can it be corrected?"

^ The police unions have a very powerful lobbyist force in Sacramento & this in turn circumvents progressive measures to curb what many consider 'police brutality', inherent racism, & bullying tactics.

The majority of PDs in California subscribe to a consultant-based manual called Lexipol which provides advisements on municipal police policy.

The problem...the police unions are steadfastly against their members being held accountable for civil rights violations (via judicial immunity) & as a result, police departments ignore a host of Lexipol recommendations.

Total abolishment of police unions & associations is the first step towards progressive police reform.

Defunding PDs & channeling certain duties to social/health care professionals is utter folly & a waste of taxpayer dollars.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 8:41 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 8:41 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2020 at 8:48 am
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2020 at 8:48 am
2 people like this

The use of community service officers is an old idea in Palo Alto, and their use was only reduced due to budget cuts a number of years ago. They seem like a a perfectly good "force multiplier," although the only interaction I've had with them is, an officer accusing me of parking in a ranger spot at Arastradero OSP, even though it wasn't my car. A motorist with an apparent bathroom emergency was the culprit, and I didn't stick around to see if the community service officer was able to resolve the issue without needing to call in a urologist for guidance on how to handle the situation.

As for PERT and the focus on psychiatric issues, how much of an issue is that, really? As others have mentioned, there does seem to be a crime spree going on, and the City Counsel seems to want to avoid dealing with reality of home break-ins, car thefts, etc, and instead wants to talk about police shootings in other cities and mental health, almost like they're virtue signaling. I haven't been to the meetings, but I hope ALL policing issues are being discussed, not just the ones BLM likes to promote.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2020 at 9:08 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2020 at 9:08 am
6 people like this

Yes - the above is so true. Bad situations occur on the east coast / other cities and we go into melt-down. WE have cities tearing themselves apart in a reactionary mode and those crises are not in their own city. It is like opportunity time for the people to go in and rob the stores and set things on fire. What is even sadder is that they are ruining their own cities that provides their jobs.

The last thing we need here is allowing reactionary elements to disrupt our city and use crises in other cities to take over how we do business here. We have some bad apples but they are isolated. Manage the overall force and weed out the bad apples but do not in the process put the residents at further risk. I am concerned and check the street for cars that do not belong here.


Jimmy
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 28, 2020 at 9:13 am
Jimmy, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2020 at 9:13 am
4 people like this

Great idea. Time to try something new. I worked for the LAPD in the 90s. I can see the pros and cons. For a city like Palo Alto this can work. San Fran or LA or NYC not so much. Dont forget to VOTE.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2020 at 12:10 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2020 at 12:10 pm
20 people like this

Another option...utilizing the volunteer PAPD reserve officers to carry out some of these proposed duties.

Since they are also 'sworn' police officers, there must be more for them to do other than direct Stanford football traffic at the intersection of ECR & Embarcadero.


instaberry
Registered user
Fletcher Middle School
on Oct 29, 2020 at 2:38 am
instaberry, Fletcher Middle School
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2020 at 2:38 am
Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:15 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:15 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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