News

Menlo Park releases first annual report on complaints made against police

41,983 encounters with police, 28 citizen complaints

A score of 0.066 percent on an exam would usually equal one big red "F" and a possible reconsideration of majors. As for officials of the Menlo Park Police Department, however, that's the kind of score they want to see: Out of 41,983 contacts made by police officers in 2013, only 28 generated complaints from citizens. Two additional complaints were made against non-sworn professional staff providing walk-in service.

Zero percent would be even better, according to Chief Bob Jonsen, who committed last year to providing the public with an annual report indicating the number of complaints and outcomes in the wake of the Almanac's investigative report on the non-transparency of police discipline.

Prior to the chief's decision, Menlo Park refused to release even the bare minimum of information allowed under the law.

In 2013, eight complaints were filed for discourtesy or rude behavior -- the most common situation -- displayed by an officer.

Out of a total of 30 complaints, five were sustained; 11 officers were exonerated; and two complaints were ruled unfounded. Twenty percent were withdrawn before an investigation was completed.

"Sustained" indicates that the police department's internal investigation found evidence that the complaint was founded, according to Chief Jonsen.

An officer is determined to be "exonerated" when there's proof that the officer's actions followed the department's policies; that evidence often arises from the audio and video recorders that on-duty officers now wear.

An "unfounded" ruling signals that the actions alleged in the complaint either didn't happen or didn't involve Menlo Park personnel, the report said.

State law prohibits the release of any information that would identify the officers involved, but Chief Jonsen provided some further insight into the sustained complaints.

Two of the five complaints -- both for neglecting to carry out an assignment -- await completion of the final report, so no further details are available yet other than the determination that they were sustained. Chief Jonsen told the Almanac that the remaining three include two complaints of rude conduct and one driving violation:

● Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by making a verbal statement to a member of the public that did not meet the standards of service expected by the department and its members.

● Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by making a verbal statement to a member of the public that did not meet the standards of service expected by the department and its members.

● Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by engaging in an activity while not utilizing proper safety precautions while driving a city vehicle.

Crime

The annual report also included statistics for 2013, with Menlo Park showing a 3 percent overall rise in crime.

While robberies dropped by 22 percent, more people were the victims of aggravated assault, with a 23 percent increase from 2012. The report states that no homicides occurred last year.

Property crimes also contributed to the increase. Burglaries rose by 9 percent, and the number of larcenies and car thefts stayed steady at 434 and 28 occurrences respectively for 2013.

During the past year the police department has expanded its use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to encourage residents to lock their homes and cars and to keep personal items out of view.

Comments

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Posted by Oversight
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2014 at 11:26 pm

One complaint is too many when it involves contact with the public. We need an over sight board of citizens that can review, investigate and report regarding these encounters. Not an inside group of police employees that review, investigate and report. The police agency has a vested interest to look good and not be honest or objective. I know about the chief's citizens committee, but they are not the non-basis group to use. This citizens group is more for community outreach or the IACP's model for community policing. Why can't the city of Menlo Park give us an honest view as what is happening. We spend a lot of tax money to have our own police agency, yet, our we getting our $$$$$ worth. I don't think so! Consolidation is the answer, the sheriff's office can do a better job at half the cost.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 6:27 am

Oversigt,
Your comment "One complaint is too many when dealing with the public." is unrealistic. All it takes is one person who committed a traffic violation to go in and file a complaint because they got a ticket or a person who is arrested who claims that they did nothing wrong. That many complaints is a realistic number in my book. I have had many contacts with our officers and have found that they truly care about our community.

I have numerous friends that live in the areas served by the county. Those that have had their own departments previously have noticed a drop in service. Living near the Dutch Goose, I see more Menlo Park cars in the county pocket going to and from the Sharon Heights area in a normal week than I do the Sheriff or CHP who are responsible for that area. I have seen several police related calls in recent years on Santa Cruz just prior to Sand Hill (which is a joint jurisdiction area) and it has always taken the Sheriff much longer to get there than Menlo Park Officers. Having seen officers in various establishments (Starbucks, Luttiken's etc), they have always been friendly and approachable for questions, especially from children which is a positive role model trait.

In closing to your prior comment, have you ever had a police contact with our officers as a victim or being stopped for a ticket or watching them deal with someone on the street? If you have had a negative contact (ticket or arrest) I see where your point comes from otherwise if you did have a contact, you would have mentioned how they performed correct? I realize there is fiscal responsibilty that our city and police department must deal with. I do agree that being watchful of this spending is appropriate. Do we need to spend $30,000 to re-design a city tree logo or $2,000 for a city mascot suit, or the numerous "studies" that our city performs for various projects etc., probably not. Do i object to buying our officers needed equipment to do their job more efficiently or safely- NO……Could the city do things like cut out the expensive studies they have traditionally done, yes. Could the city streamline many of their permittig processes to be more user friendly, of course.

More importantly, what is the city doing to generate revenue….. not a whole lot…. There are numerous vacant businesses throughout the city especially in our downtown area. How bout bringing in business that will thrive and make our downtown more vibrant and provide a nightlife. If you want something other than dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, you have to go to the neighboring cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City or San Carlos.






 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oversight
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 8:09 am

Long time resident, if you as a Menlo Park resident want to pay for those services, keep the PD. Looks like the city council agrees with you or they would have outsourced police services during the last police chief change. Major incidents relies on county participation, they have 730 sheriff department employees. What about the citizen review board? I would rather have a professional law enforcement officer as the sheriff calling the Shots, than a city manager, who oversees the police chief. Nothing our current city manger has done impresses me at all. Oh, I have never had a ticket here or been arrested, but I know when we as taxpayers are being taken advantage of, double taxes for city and county services! The police department gets over 40% of our city budget, pretty costly for officer friendly.


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