On the heels of an announcement of the long-awaited Belle Haven police substation, the Menlo Park council found itself mulling over privacy rights versus surveillance.
Facebook recently volunteered to help fund the substation, and followed through by guaranteeing to cover $2,750 in monthly rent and to pay for renovations to make the facility -- to be located in a strip mall at 871 Hamilton Ave. off Willow Road -- a place where residents want to drop by.
"It's amazing generosity," Vice Mayor Ray Mueller noted, and thanked the social media company for stepping up.
The council unanimously approved a three-year renewable lease for the new substation on June 4. The police department expects to get access to the site by mid-June and estimated that remodeling would take about three months.
How much it will cost the city to staff the site remains to be determined, according to the staff report, but the police department expects to staff it at least part time during regular hours and also have officers rotate through while on patrol.
It's been about 10 years since Menlo Park first announced its intent to open a substation in the Belle Haven neighborhood. The current location at Newbridge Avenue fell short of expectations in both staffing and hours of operation; plans to build a new facility on Ivy Drive fell through due to construction conflicts and the loss of the city's redevelopment agency.
With revived interest in expanding Menlo Park's law enforcement facilities comes a look at how to widen the police department's technological capabilities as well. In addition to extending East Palo Alto's ShotSpotter gunfire detection system to cover Belle Haven and eventually adding surveillance cameras in key sites around the city, Police Chief Robert Jonsen plans to deploy up to three mobile automated license plate readers.
The department recently borrowed one plate reader from Daly City to monitor a funeral, Chief Jonsen told the council on June 4, and has also asked San Mateo County to loan its five units out as needed.
The mobile automated license plate readers, used by East Palo Alto as well as the county and other local jurisdictions, run hundreds of plates a minute within a 360-degree arc.
Chief Jonsen said that captured data is retained within a database in San Francisco, which also stores information from other jurisdictions. Councilwoman Keith said that the sheriff told her the county's policy is to keep the data for a year, then purge it. The chief said that a one-year retention policy is considered best practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been monitoring data collection by law enforcement; it recommends keeping the information for as short a period as possible and limiting access. Tiburon, for example, stores the data from automated license plate readers for only 30 days unless it relates to a specific criminal investigation.