Almanac

News - February 10, 2010

Review board needed to restore trust in Atherton cops, ACIL president says

by Andrea Gemmet

Is a citizen oversight committee needed to restore confidence in the Atherton Police Department?

Peter Carpenter, the president of the Atherton Civic Interest League, has approached Atherton City Council members with a proposal to create a committee to address "concern and distrust" surrounding the town's police.

"I take this position not because I feel that there (are) serious problems, but because I believe there is a growing level of concern and distrust regarding the police department," Mr. Carpenter said in the e-mail he sent to town officials on Feb. 2. "Rather than waiting until we have a crisis on our hands I urge you to be proactive on this matter."

Atherton Mayor Kathy McKeithen did not return phone calls seeking comment on the proposal.

Mr. Carpenter told The Almanac that he hasn't had any negative experiences with Atherton police himself, but that he's had a number of residents tell him about incidents in which either they or their acquaintances feel they were treated inappropriately .

"I've not discussed them with other people, because I put them in the category as rumors, and it would be irresponsible of me to pass on rumors," Mr. Carpenter said. "I've had a lot of interactions with the police department because of my strong interest in disaster preparedness, and I think the current chief and the sergeant assigned to disaster preparedness are superb. Every single one of my interactions has been positive."

According to Mr. Carpenter, the police oversight committee should be made up of five residents and should hold public meetings in accordance with the state's open meeting law, the Brown Act, he said. The police chief and city manager would be non-voting members of the committee, under his proposal.

The oversight committee, as envisioned by Mr. Carpenter, would advise on police policies and procedures, as well as act as the review board for citizen complaints.

"Most (review boards) are designed to review actions that are called into question. I'd much prefer to deal proactively," he said. "(The committee's) first responsibility is to work with the town manager and police chief to look at policies and procedures to make sure that they are the ones that are most likely to improve the safety and security of the citizens, and the least likely to be abusive or cause problems."

Police Chief Mike Guerra declined to give his opinion of the proposal, saying that policy decisions are up to the City Council. His job is to provide accurate information so that council members can make decisions, he said.

In San Mateo County, only Hillsborough has a review board and it is composed of City Council members who also serve as police commissioners, he said. In Atherton, the City Council and the city manager have oversight over the police department, Chief Guerra said. The police department's policies and procedures are also reviewed by attorneys, he said.

"It's not like the chief can just go in and change things — not even the color of the police cars," he said.

Chief Guerra said he has formalized reporting procedures for complaints against the department, so that the city manager gets regular updates. There was one citizen complaint in 2009, he said. Since 2005, there've been a total of nine complaints lodged against officers, he said. Depending on the type of complaint, it might be handled internally or referred to an outside agency such as the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office, he said.

Mr. Carpenter said he looked nationally, not locally for models for the police oversight committee. Palo Alto's review board is "strange," he said.

"It has meetings in secret and is not subject to the Brown Act," Mr. Carpenter said. "I can't see how it can function at building trust when you have it operating in secret."

And for Mr. Carpenter, it's all about restoring trust in government.

"I'm concerned any time citizens start to lose trust in their government, because I don't think that government can work very well without trust," he said. "I think if citizens have expressed distrust, it needs to be addressed. If you don't trust your government, we've got a problem."

Comments

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:01 am

Guerra's not coming right out and saying it, but his comments sure seem to indicate he doesn't feel a police commission is needed. I wonder why...

How many of the nine complaints were sustained?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I think we should give the Police Chief the benefit of doubt as to what he 'feels'. Here is what is is quoted as saying:

"Police Chief Mike Guerra declined to give his opinion of the proposal, saying that policy decisions are up to the City Council. His job is to provide accurate information so that council members can make decisions, he said."

Frankly, I think that is a very good starting position.


Posted by dead messanger, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Peter--you comment about Guerra's attitude being a" very good starting position" and "the benefit of the doubt" is far too shallow.
The PD culture has been off track for years precisely BECAUSE of our regular default to the" benefit of doubt".
Also this is not the "START" of anything. This is a legacy Chief who was a beat cop 12 months ago. He was only promoted at all for the one year of Neilson's tenure. He is very much a part of what has gone wrong here and he was never an appropriate choice to redirect the department towards correction. It is actually an unfair expectation for anyone to expect him to rein in his buddies. You were correct last November when you questioned his selection for this exact reason.
Again- this is not the start of anything except more of the same and this time with the ACIL still pretending to pay close attention.
I am most grateful for your participation, but hope you will help set the bar a lot higher than this.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Look at the Q&A meeting with citizens that the Town Manager and Police Chief have just announced.

There is a growing understanding in the Town government that things need to change and they are moving to do just that. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and support these initial steps. It is very hard for organizations to change but it is impossible to get people to change if they are attacked when they start making changes.


Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Peter is suggesting giving the Town Manager and Police Chief the benefit of the doubt. Clearly there are some individuals who are frustrated, seemingly having been willing to previously give them the benefit of the doubt, but were disappointed after doing so. I guess I really don't see any alternative, but for the Q&A meeting to really work, there probably does need to be some honoring of the prior experiences of many of us with corresponding direct honestly.

Peter also quotes Chief Guerra as stating: "His job is to provide accurate information so that council members can make decisions".

I would like Chief Guerra to provide the answer to the question: how many of the nine complaints were sustained, and how many were dismissed? If zero of the nine complaints were actually sustained, the police chief might well be reluctant to provide this particular data. However, it is a very meaningful statistic if the community is pondering whether the current system works.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Excellent point--maybe instead of hoping they might change, we should just replace the manager and chief--since we are starting from square one anyway


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 10, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Come to the meeting and ask your questions, but please let's do this in a spirit of civility. In fact, email them your questions in advance.

The Town Manager and the Police Chief have put no preconditions on the meeting and I suggest that it would be misguided for others to do so.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:34 am

But it is a PRECONDITION to request that questions are submitted in advance isn't it ??


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:17 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ed - the Town Manager and Police Chief have set NO preconditions.

I suggested submitting questions in advance so that they might be better prepared to answer them, but that was MY suggestion, not their precondition.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

This is about racial profiling I believe. But even minority cops racially profile, cause they know what's up


Posted by Interested, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm

But it is a PRECONDITION to request that questions are submitted in advance isn't it ??

As Peter Carpenter stated it was his suggestion and its a good one. Unless you want your questions answered with "we will look into that and get back to you" I would also suggest you ask your questions in advance. Its only fair to The City Manager and Police Chief have the opportunity research the questions in advance.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Town Manager's email is jgruber@ci.atherton.ca.us

Police Chief's email is mguerra@ci.atherton.ca.us


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A citizen who is afraid to be identified, sad in itself, has asked me to submit the following questions for the 22nd:

"Has the PD accepted anonymous donations and, if so, do these donations in any way influence the PD's behavior towards the anonymous donors?

Why should the PD accept anonymous donations?"

I have sent these questions to the Town Manager and the Police Chief.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:36 am

The PD has accepted donations for many years while refusing to identify the donors to the
council. "A resident wanted us to have a new dog or a new motorcycle"........................but we can't mention their name.
This should stop immediately--this should NEVER have been tolerated--this illustrates PERFECTLY how dysfunctional both management and council leadership have been at representing this town--and this explains (in part), the culture of "no accountability even required", so prevalent by now in this Polce department.
Don't wait for a possible oversight commission to be formed--Have an independent auditor put a list of all donations together (say for the past five years) to be available at the Feb 22nd meeting.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:45 am

Peter,
You mentioned above

"A citizen who is afraid to be identified, sad in itself,' that reminded me of another category that might be difficult to verify which in itself would cause a citizen to be afraid.

The subtle solicitation of Donations by Atherton Police Officers including Chiefs.

Has any resident had a awkward conversation regarding donations of any type? By awkward I mean it just didn't sound/feel right. Out of the Blue.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 7:05 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ed - send your suggestion re an audited list of donations to:

Town Manager's email is jgruber@ci.atherton.ca.us

Police Chief's email is mguerra@ci.atherton.ca.us


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

Peter--I don't have e-mail--could you forward the donation/audit request please?
Some of the broader questions might be better addressed if they come from the ACIL anyway.
Here is another
Should the APOA be making financial contributions to endorse council candidates--who would if elected be voting on police salary/pension/oversight commission powers....??
If the campaign contributions are deemed somehow loophole legal-- should the recipients then be required to recuse themselves from voting on all police matters??


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ed asks Peter--I don't have e-mail--could you forward the donation/audit request please?

Done

Ed asks :"Should the APOA be making financial contributions to endorse council candidates--who would if elected be voting on police salary/pension/oversight commission powers....??

If the campaign contributions are deemed somehow loophole legal-- should the recipients then be required to recuse themselves from voting on all police matters??"

I think that those are questions better directed to the Council and the APOA and not to the Town Manager and Police Chief since they have no control over these issues.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Thank you for the "donation/audit" message forwarding Peter- and I understand your point about the police campaign contribution being best addressed by the council.
I can remember that this exact situation occurred in the last election within the very week of Gruber's selection of Neilson as Chief--they both felt "just terrible" about it but their" hands were tied"...
Since there is another election coming up soon--would the ACIL president mind forwarding this issue/question to the council for a spring agenda discussion??
This would seem an appropriate role for the ACIL and would be most appreciated by this resident.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ed states:" I understand your point about the police campaign contribution being best addressed by the council.

I can remember that this exact situation occurred in the last election within the very week of Gruber's selection of Neilson as Chief--they both felt "just terrible" about it but their" hands were tied"...

Since there is another election coming up soon--would the ACIL president mind forwarding this issue/question to the council for a spring agenda discussion??

This would seem an appropriate role for the ACIL and would be most appreciated by this resident."

Ed - I am a firm believer that citizens should speak for themselves and not ask others to perform their civic duties. If you feel this is important then please start a new topic on this subject or simply submit your request to the Council.

My role in the Town Forum is as an individual citizen and I do not and cannot speak as the President of the ACIL except when the ACIL has taken a position on an issue.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm

O.K then.
Could the ACIL please come up with a position on this issue??


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ed asks:"Could the ACIL please come up with a position on this issue??

Are you a member of ACIL? If so, then I suggest thay you send the ACIL a letter requesting that the ACIL consider this subject and explaining your reasons.

I DO NOT operate on this Forum as an agent of the ACIL - PERIOD.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm

But I have brought this to attention of the council and it was ignored--you were the only thing I hadn't already tried--but I understand and agree with your point about more of us stepping up to our civic duty--and did not mean to make you mad


Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Peter Carpenter's optimism that the issue of a police oversight committee would be on the city council agenda for February 17 did not pan out, unfortunately.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2010 at 7:36 am

This is a rare opportunity for the residents of Atherton.

You have a City Manager and Police Chief offering you a chance to ask them direct questions. This meet and greet meeting is in response to several residents asking for these two gentlemen to be replaced.

There seems to be a very wide disconnect here.

An Atherton resident has just proven in court that his Police Report was falsified by the Atherton Police Department which happens to be a felony.

Web Link

Jerry and Mike want to introduce themselves to the residents and see if you have any questions?

This is going to be a very good first step meeting.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2010 at 8:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

My optimism remains - concerned and committed citizens can encourage and support change and I believe that we are seeing change on the part of the Town. Nothing happens overnight.


Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 13, 2010 at 11:40 am

From the city manager's report to the council this coming Wednesday (I copied verbatim, including the numerous grammatical errors):

Police Chief Guerra and I will plan to hold periodic interactive community meeting [sic] where we will provide information about City and Police services. This will be a question and answer format and will give the community an opportunity to meet the [sic] Chief Guerra and I [sic]. The first meeting has been scheduled for Monday, February 22nd at 6:30 p.m. at the Pavilion in the Park. A notice was mailed to all Town residents last week.

As City Manager I would like to assure our residents that I will do my very best to continue to improve communication with our residence [sic]. Most recently concerns have surfaced regarding the Atherton Police Department. Atherton's Police Department has played a valuable role since the Towns [sic] inception in 1923 in providing a professional organization that offers it [sic] residents a safe and secure environment in which to live. I will continue to work closely with Police Chief Mike Guerra on reaching out to the Community. Chief Guerra has posted the daily Police logs on the Towns [sic] web site. Recently there have been requests for a Police Oversight Committee and or Police Auditors. The Police Chief and I are in the process of gathering and providing information to the City Council regarding Police Oversight Committees and Police Auditors. The Police Chief and I plan on implementing fixed offices hours throughout the month to provide an opportunity for residents to come and sit down with both of us and share their concerns. The Police Chief and I will also meet with neighborhood and civic groups upon [sic] throughout the community both during the day and evening in an effort to provide them with timely information. The Police Chief and I also met with Almanac writer Andrea Gemmet on February 11, 2010. As City Manager I will continue to be visible, accessible and available to our residents.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm

9 days ago I posted the All Police Reports are Public.
Web Link

You might want to make sure that City Manager and Police Chief read that post.

I have not seen any announcement from them as to their position on Police Reports being Public and certainly available to the Atherton residents involved.


Posted by Public Relations announcement, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Fellow Residents:
Please note everyone-- that the very FIRST " Community Outreach" meeting that Chief Guerra and City manager Gruber have prioritized here, was with the Almanac reporter Andrea Gemmet which took place already- last week.
I have been wondering which of them (Chief or Manager) will be letting the other take the fall on accountability here (and it is a toss up)-but apparently for now -they are still trying "the safety in numbers" approach and hoping that Ms. Gemmet will have forgotten, that she too has been sidelined during this entire administration. She may or may not have minded being ignored-but I know for a fact that she noticed.
Now is your chance to observe, interview and report Andrea--and this time--absolutely everyone will care what you think.


Posted by silent victim, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I have evidence of misconduct by the Atherton Police Department that is very similar to and equally serious as that to which Mr. Buckheit was subjected to.

Mr. Buckheit is in litigation. The information I have will advance his case significantly. I would urge the City Manager to get in touch with Peter Carpenter to arrange a meeting to review this documentation.

I will not come in alone. I know better.

Reform is comming to town like a locomotive. It behooves those in power to get on board or get run over.


Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:46 am

Silent Victim, please contact my attorney Robert Carey in Palo Alto with this information. If it happened to you, and happened to me, it can continue to happen, and it needs to stop NOW.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:32 am

Silent Victim,

"I will not come in alone. I know better."

If you ever want to speak about this in public, and you would like company let me know. I will go with you.

Michael G. Stogner
michaelgstogner@yahoo.com
650-921-7001


Posted by Conflicts of interest, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Current council member Elizabeth Lewis received the police union endorsement in the election for her council seat.

I happen to think it's highly inappropriate for council members accepting endorsements from groups they will manage if elected. I guess the union was just too strong to stop.

Will she be recusing herself from this police commission vote? It sounds like a major conflict of interest to me.

Moreover, there's an election coming up this year and I imagine Marsala wants their endorsement. I say he should recuse himself also.

Every council member who either has or will accept such an endorsement should recuse themselves from voting on these issues. If Marsala right here and now will announce that he won't accept their endorsement, then (and only then) should he vote.

Don't shoot the messenger. This is a real issue.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm


I disagree with this position.

While I believe that local officials should stop accepting endorsements from labor groups over which they have authority, I also believe that both of Lewis and Marsala have enough integrity to fairly address this issue on its merits.

Nothing would be gained by having only three of the five Council members make this important decision. Each of their votes can be evaluated against any financial support they have received in previous elections.



Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I agree with Conflict of Interest. I think there are rules that a council member can't vote on a property issue if they live too close to the property. It has nothing to do with integrity. Anybody who has taken money or an endorsement from a group will be more reluctant to deliver a rebuke to that group. The police commission is a seen by the police unions as a rebuke to the police union (even though it shouldn't be seen that way). Let's not make this about integrity, but realize there are time honored ways of dealing with issues like these in public voting bodies. Recusal makes sense.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:54 pm

The problem here is that 1) there is no legal requirement for recusal for this reason and 2) until recently almost every candidate for local office received money from labor groups - who wanted to 'cover their bases' no matter who was elected. In my first run for Fire District Director I was endorsed by the firefighters' union - I took no money from them but they endorsed me and ran ads in support of my candidacy. After I was elected I felt pressure from the union to support them 'because we supported you'. My personal decision was NEVER AGAIN. When I ran the second time it was without the union's endorsement and I got more votes than any other candidate. Personally I believe candidates for local office should refuse both union money and union endorsement but at present that is not the law or the standard.


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