Atherton OKs policy for police donations

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.


Like this comment
Posted by No Payoffs
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm

If the City Council wants to ensure that donations to the Police Foundation won't be used to buy favor, then ALL DONATIONS SHOULD BE ANONYMOUS. The Foundation members should be made to sign a legal confidentiality agreement, and forbidden under penalty of prosecution to disclose the source of donations nor give any credit to the donors.

Of course, if those restrictions happen no one will donate. Wny? Because it's all about public posturing and buying favor. Utterly nauseating. If Atherton doesn't have enough money to pay for police, then the town should create a dedicated tax for doing so. Asking for private donations is akin to asking for payoffs.

Like this comment
Posted by +1
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Said better than I possibly could. Staggeringly bad judgment by Bill Widmer to expect "integrity" can overcome human nature.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

"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."

Well Mr. Widmer, it seems to me the town has tried that before with pretty bad results. Two building officials that suddenly "retired" under clouds of suspicion. A police chief that "retired" under a colud of suspicion. And a police officer that "retired" under a cloud of suspicion. Did I forget any?

One cannot rely on employee integrity. If it could, good accounting practices wouldn't require checks and balances to prevent theft. The same thing applies here. If the town can't create policies to prevent the possibility of preferential treatment, it has no business accepting the money.

Like this comment
Posted by Irony
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 20, 2012 at 10:13 pm

If Widmer is right and we can assume everyone will do the rIght thing so policies aren't needed, there wouldn't be a police department in the first place. What a stupid and disgusting precedent to set. Police services are paid by all, not a select few. That's why it's called law enforcement, and the laws are supposed to apply to everyone equally.

On another note, what is this new telephone police survey about?

Like this comment
Posted by Stev
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 21, 2012 at 8:39 am

to see if you will open up your check book

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