Is it possible for residents to help support their town's police force through charitable donations without opening the door for preferential treatment and influence over department policy?
The Atherton City Council, in its recent endorsement of a new nonprofit foundation's plan to raise money for police department programs, appears to believe it is possible, and feasible.
At its June 20 meeting, the council unanimously approved procedures by which the Atherton Police Foundation can donate funds to the police department to support projects and activities and to buy equipment.
The foundation was established last year by residents concerned with diminishing town revenue that has forced spending cutbacks in the town and prompted talk of outsourcing police services.
Foundation board members include former mayor Didi Fisher, former police chief Glenn Nielsen, Herb Lechner, Betsy Glickbarg, Sandy Levison, and Brendan Cullen.
The donations will be based on needs identified by the police department, according to a staff report. The department will create a wish list for services, equipment and materials that are not funded in the town's budget "or cannot be purchased in a timely manner," the report said.
The foundation will forward to the town any donation it decides to make; the town will record it and deposit it in a special account. Donated equipment and materials "will be reviewed on a continuous basis for any sign of misuse, damage and confirmation that equipment is intact and in good working order," according to the approved procedures.
The council must approve donations exceeding $15,000 in value, as well as weapons, vehicles, technology, and items requiring ongoing maintenance.
All purchases made with donated funds will have to conform to the town's new purchasing policies, which include seeking out three price quotes.
Although some residents have voiced concern that donations to the police department could lead to preferential treatment of the donors and other ethical breaches, Mayor Bill Widmer said the town has put safeguards in place that include strict procurement and auditing procedures.
During the June 20 meeting, the mayor also asked for, and received, Police Chief Ed Flint's commitment to provide the council with items on the department's wish list.
Policies may not be possible to prevent incidents of preferential treatment, however. "I think you've got to rely on the integrity of the town's employees," Mr. Widmer told the Almanac.
The foundation's funding priorities include education and training, community relations, technology, and equipment, the staff report said. Areas of focus include enhancing law enforcement proficiency and efficiency, increasing officer safety, encouraging community support and understanding, and fostering personnel development and well-being.