News

An Alternative View: Palo Alto police have shut their doors

The Palo Alto Police Department's new encryption policy was among the topics discussed during the City Council's study session on policing at its April 5, 2021 meeting. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

On Monday, April 5, the police chief of Minneapolis, Medaria Arradondo, was testifying at the George Floyd trial about his professional view that defendant Derek Chauvin's actions in the case were unethical and against police policy. That same day, Palo Alto's Police Chief Robert Jonsen was also under his City Council's scrutiny concerning the loss of police department transparency in a city that demands police openness.

Jonsen imposed a new encryption policy on Jan. 6 without public or city council knowledge. He was acting, he said, on a state Department of Justice (DOJ) order that police encrypt all personal information (license number, date of birth, police background) from any radio transmission. The DOJ order also said if a way can be found to omit that private information from these radio transmissions, encryption was not needed. Jonsen opted for total encryption, which prevents the press from listening to daily police activity.

Without access to police radio broadcasts, it is hard to find out about police conduct. How does the press or the public get to know what's happening in town? Such lack of access to the police is, in my estimation, against the First Amendment.

At the Monday, April 5, council meeting, to the dismay of many of us, Jonsen kept on saying that any change from the current status was "complicated," would take a long time, would be very hard to do, would endanger our relationships with other cities, etc. In other words, he didn't want to do it. Even toggling (jumping for one communication channel to another) was "a very complicated approach."

Yes, he wanted to keep his new self-imposed encryption policy intact. The City Council is the policy maker in most instances, but it has let the police department do its own thing. Despite a declaration of a transparent department, it is getting more opaque.

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There are several incidents within the last couple of years (Jonsen took over as chief in 2018) that show the police department closing its doors to the public and press — all very upsetting and inappropriate for this community:

• Encrypting all police radio transmissions to the press and public. Such police exchanges have been available for years.

Diana Diamond is a longtime Palo Alto journalist, editor and author of the blog "An Alternative View." Courtesy Diana Diamond.

• "Police dog bites man": Mountain View police were looking for a suspect and called in the Palo Alto police dog and handler, Officer Nick Enberg. The dog sniffed something in the backyard. Enberg saw a sleeping person in a shed and told the dog to attack. The sleeper — Joel Alejo woke up with a snarling dog in his face. He stood up and then Enberg told the dog to attack again, never saying a word yet to Alejo, whose leg by now was bitten.

Mountain View police arrived and told Enberg that Alejo was not the person they were looking for. Alejo sued.

The incident was never made public, but the suit was, and the public learned about it in the Palo Alto Daily Post about four months later. Why not a police report? Palo Alto police said the man was not injured enough to report it. But if you read the police blog, all sorts of incidents are reported — stolen bikes, fender benders, etc. Why in the world keep something like a police dog bite closeted? Because, I suspect, it's embarrassing for the police department, and Jonsen doesn't want that. Nothing happened to Enberg, who is still on staff working as a dog handler.

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• To find out about a crime or an incident, a reporter typically talks to a lieutenant or the press officer on duty. Well, Jonsen has declared that the press can no longer talk to any police officer — they must submit their question online to the department, and "someone will get back that day or the next." Do you know what that means if you are reporting a story? "Was anyone killed in a big accident on Middlefield?" I might ask. Or, "Why are the burglary rates increasing so much?" If a reporter gets an answer that needs more clarification, he or she cannot call the police but must submit a new question to the department and wait for another reply in 24 hours. So, the public might not find out about the big accident until four or five days later.

• The police had to cut its budget, and one of the jobs Jonsen eliminated was the public communications slot. Public communications? Sure sounds like another way to eliminate press access to the department.

• There's much more. A 2019 report from the outside police auditor was not made public until earlier this year. A council member asked why. No response yet that I know about.

Bravo to the questions and suggestions from Mayor Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Pat Burt on Monday. They seemed truly concerned with what was happening, as did Council member Greer Stone, and their suggestions for what to do next were good ones.

City Manager Ed Shikada was at the meeting. I may be reading him wrong, but it seems that he agreed with Jonsen that it would be difficult and complicated to change things. But Shikada hasn't done an outstanding job in having the Utilities Department provide any detailed information about all the recent power outages.

So, what happens next? DuBois indicates there will be a council meeting covering this topic, which is good. But we need more than that because the opaque cover of city business is getting darker and darker. I don't think the council can do the investigation by itself — maybe a panel of community experts can contribute.

People, we have a problem in this city. We need to recognize that and work hard to solve it.

Diana Diamond is a longtime Palo Alto journalist, editor and author of the blog "An Alternative View," which can be found here. You can email her at [email protected].

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An Alternative View: Palo Alto police have shut their doors

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 9, 2021, 6:58 am

On Monday, April 5, the police chief of Minneapolis, Medaria Arradondo, was testifying at the George Floyd trial about his professional view that defendant Derek Chauvin's actions in the case were unethical and against police policy. That same day, Palo Alto's Police Chief Robert Jonsen was also under his City Council's scrutiny concerning the loss of police department transparency in a city that demands police openness.

Jonsen imposed a new encryption policy on Jan. 6 without public or city council knowledge. He was acting, he said, on a state Department of Justice (DOJ) order that police encrypt all personal information (license number, date of birth, police background) from any radio transmission. The DOJ order also said if a way can be found to omit that private information from these radio transmissions, encryption was not needed. Jonsen opted for total encryption, which prevents the press from listening to daily police activity.

Without access to police radio broadcasts, it is hard to find out about police conduct. How does the press or the public get to know what's happening in town? Such lack of access to the police is, in my estimation, against the First Amendment.

At the Monday, April 5, council meeting, to the dismay of many of us, Jonsen kept on saying that any change from the current status was "complicated," would take a long time, would be very hard to do, would endanger our relationships with other cities, etc. In other words, he didn't want to do it. Even toggling (jumping for one communication channel to another) was "a very complicated approach."

Yes, he wanted to keep his new self-imposed encryption policy intact. The City Council is the policy maker in most instances, but it has let the police department do its own thing. Despite a declaration of a transparent department, it is getting more opaque.

There are several incidents within the last couple of years (Jonsen took over as chief in 2018) that show the police department closing its doors to the public and press — all very upsetting and inappropriate for this community:

• Encrypting all police radio transmissions to the press and public. Such police exchanges have been available for years.

• "Police dog bites man": Mountain View police were looking for a suspect and called in the Palo Alto police dog and handler, Officer Nick Enberg. The dog sniffed something in the backyard. Enberg saw a sleeping person in a shed and told the dog to attack. The sleeper — Joel Alejo woke up with a snarling dog in his face. He stood up and then Enberg told the dog to attack again, never saying a word yet to Alejo, whose leg by now was bitten.

Mountain View police arrived and told Enberg that Alejo was not the person they were looking for. Alejo sued.

The incident was never made public, but the suit was, and the public learned about it in the Palo Alto Daily Post about four months later. Why not a police report? Palo Alto police said the man was not injured enough to report it. But if you read the police blog, all sorts of incidents are reported — stolen bikes, fender benders, etc. Why in the world keep something like a police dog bite closeted? Because, I suspect, it's embarrassing for the police department, and Jonsen doesn't want that. Nothing happened to Enberg, who is still on staff working as a dog handler.

• To find out about a crime or an incident, a reporter typically talks to a lieutenant or the press officer on duty. Well, Jonsen has declared that the press can no longer talk to any police officer — they must submit their question online to the department, and "someone will get back that day or the next." Do you know what that means if you are reporting a story? "Was anyone killed in a big accident on Middlefield?" I might ask. Or, "Why are the burglary rates increasing so much?" If a reporter gets an answer that needs more clarification, he or she cannot call the police but must submit a new question to the department and wait for another reply in 24 hours. So, the public might not find out about the big accident until four or five days later.

• The police had to cut its budget, and one of the jobs Jonsen eliminated was the public communications slot. Public communications? Sure sounds like another way to eliminate press access to the department.

• There's much more. A 2019 report from the outside police auditor was not made public until earlier this year. A council member asked why. No response yet that I know about.

Bravo to the questions and suggestions from Mayor Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Pat Burt on Monday. They seemed truly concerned with what was happening, as did Council member Greer Stone, and their suggestions for what to do next were good ones.

City Manager Ed Shikada was at the meeting. I may be reading him wrong, but it seems that he agreed with Jonsen that it would be difficult and complicated to change things. But Shikada hasn't done an outstanding job in having the Utilities Department provide any detailed information about all the recent power outages.

So, what happens next? DuBois indicates there will be a council meeting covering this topic, which is good. But we need more than that because the opaque cover of city business is getting darker and darker. I don't think the council can do the investigation by itself — maybe a panel of community experts can contribute.

People, we have a problem in this city. We need to recognize that and work hard to solve it.

Diana Diamond is a longtime Palo Alto journalist, editor and author of the blog "An Alternative View," which can be found here. You can email her at [email protected].

Comments

felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2021 at 7:39 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 7:39 am

This is spot on.
The PAPD has become less transparent in other ways under Chief Jonsens leadership as heard Monday night.

Our City Council must lead to ensure Jonsen stops and reverses his predilection, not just with encryption, but in the many other ways he is shutting down transparency.


Jason Whitman
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2021 at 7:42 am
Jason Whitman, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 7:42 am

This radio encryption measure and the official explanation behind it is ostensible...in other words, it has nothing to do with ensuring better police work or productivity.

It is merely a means of cloud-covering various police improprieties that the department does not want the general public and media to be further aware of.

Examples include (1) police brutality, (2) racist, misogynistic and homophobic commentaries, (3) wrongful detainment, (4) racial profiling, and (5) questionable shootings.

The chief is simply protecting his officers so they can embellish and lie on their police reports which in turn, absolves the city of any potential lawsuits.

So the PACC vote count will be simple from the standpoint of who supports this measure and who is against it.

There is absolutely no middle ground on this issue.

And anyone who actually believes that criminals are sitting by their scanners and actively plotting crimes based on various police radio transmissions are either (1) incredibly naive, (2) avid TV viewers and fans of 'Cops' or, (3) all of the above.


Mavis Williams
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:33 am
Mavis Williams, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:33 am

The police are a reactive force. They do do not prevent crime per se, they respond to suspected crime oftentimes taking whatever measures they see fit, regardless of legalities.

Thus, full accountability for their actions is critical, from police body cams to radio communications.

And far too often, it is a civilian account that lends truth to what actually occured via their cellphone videos.

Now why is that? Most likely because law enforcement does not want the public to know what actually transpired, especially if the officer was doing something wrong or illegal.

A civilian police force made-up of community residents would eliminate a lot of police-related improprieties.


Mavis Williams
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:34 am
Mavis Williams, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:34 am

The police are a reactive force. They do do not prevent crime per se, they respond to suspected crime taking whatever measures they see fit.

Thus, full accountability for their actions is critical, from police body cams to radio communications.

And far too often, it is a civilian account that lends truth to what actually occured via their cellphone videos.

Now why is that? Most likely because law enforcement does not want the public to know what actually transpired, especially if the officer was doing something wrong or illegal.

A civilian police force made-up of community residents would eliminate a lot of police-related improprieties because law enforcement would then have to answer to one's fellow residents and neighbors.


resident
Registered user
Stanford
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:18 am
resident, Stanford
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:18 am

This is not a time to opt for secrecy over transparency. The Police Chief was hired by the Palo Alto City Manager and his hiring was approved by the Palo Alto City Council. The Palo Alto City Council needs to answer the question whether this is the right person to lead the Palo Alto Police Dept at this time in history.


pearl
Registered user
another community
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:35 pm
pearl, another community
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 8:35 pm

Diana Diamond:

What does the Minneapolis Police Dept/George Floyd case have to do with PAPD? What are you trying to insinuate here?

You said, "Jonsen imposed a new encryption policy on Jan. 6 without public or city council knowledge." The PAPD encrypted their police radio transmissions by order of the DOJ. Police transmissions are encrypted for the safety of police officers and victims because BAD GUYS listen to police transmissions all the time!

You said, "Yes, he (Chief Jonsen) wanted to keep his new self-imposed encryption policy intact." Again, it wasn't "his new self-imposed encryption policy", it was by order of the DOJ. ​

Eliminating the public communications slot was a smart budget move; the person in that slot had no experience or background in law enforcement.

You tried to make it sound like the PAPD was being unreasonable by asking people to fill out a form with the information they wanted. Police departments across the nation use this same format.

You said, "Bravo to the questions and suggestions from Mayor Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Pat Burt on Monday. They seemed truly concerned with what was happening, as did Council member Greer Stone, and their suggestions for what to do next were good ones." Really? What are you insinuating here? What, specifically, did DuBois, Burt, and Stone say? You don't provide us that information.

I have a question for you: Why are you trying to paint such a bad picture of the PAPD? These men and women put their lives on the line for you every single day. Have you ever worked in police work? If not, I suggest you sign up for a job in law enforcement to get the whole picture of what the field of law enforcement is all about.

Your article is filled with insinuations and suppositions about PAPD, and boils down to nothing more than biased and irresponsible reporting, in my opinion. You have no credibility with me.


Jason Whitman
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2021 at 7:32 am
Jason Whitman, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 7:32 am
Preserve American Society
Registered user
another community
on Apr 10, 2021 at 8:09 am
Preserve American Society, another community
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 8:09 am

To protect and better serve the public, law enforcement should not be overly scrutinized by excessive watchdog advocacies.

Accidental police shootings and killings will occur from time to time and it simply comes with the territory.

No different than an occasional bad haircut and we must never lose sight of the big picture which is to get criminals off the streets.

The preservation of traditional American society is dependent on this consideration.


Lester Devins
Registered user
Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2021 at 9:42 am
Lester Devins, Barron Park
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 9:42 am

* The preservation of traditional American society is dependent on this consideration.


The preservation of what?

The police harassing citizens and shooting randomly at people of color will preserve traditional American values?

And to go unchecked via closed-off radio communications?

Then the only safe places in town will be a Winchell's or a Krispy Kreme outlet.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:37 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:37 pm

Thank you for this, Ms.Diamond. I have a growing concern about both Shikada and Jonsen that took root when the unnecessary curfew was imposed on the city last year. I don't doubt that PAPD does good work but I think it important that the public demand good, fair leadership and transparency from both the City Manager and the Chief of Police because they set the standard that their subordinates follow.


Bob
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2021 at 6:08 pm
Bob, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 6:08 pm

About calling 911:
Did you ask for a rapid response?
Did you understand that privacy was assured with encrypted communication?


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