Almanac

Viewpoint - July 24, 2013

Editorial: A breath of fresh air at the MPPD

In another sign that the Menlo Park Police Department is stepping away from its past practices of keeping virtually all internal records secret, Chief Robert Jonsen has implemented a new policy that will make public an annual compilation of reports, including statistical data, of complaints made against the department's officers, and the outcomes.

It is a welcome change and we hope it won't be the last that Chief Jonsen brings to the department. After all, the public surely has a right to know if members of its police department are generating numerous complaints. Although the reports will not contain any identifying information, the statistics alone should help smoke out a problem officer who is generating an inordinate number of complaints. The chief, who credited the Almanac as a catalyst for the new policy, said he found that the secret complaint records from prior years were difficult to compile, due to the various ways of logging a complaint.

His solution: throw out the old system and begin anew by logging all complaints in the same way. "A complaint is a complaint," he decided. It is a simple but important step in bringing the MPPD out of the Dark Ages and into the realm of modern police departments like those in San Jose and other large cities.

The now-public records will provide a wealth of information, including how many complaints were made, the geographic distribution by police beat, founded or unfounded and the outcome, and whether the complaint was resolved or not or went to mediation. And, significantly, the city's two police unions are behind the effort, which the chief said he firmly believes will show that "We're doing good work; why wouldn't we want to show the numbers?"

Another major push toward more transparency is the chief's decision to form a 20-member citizen advisory committee, with representatives from every major neighborhood in Menlo Park. It will meet once a month with the chief to discuss neighborhood concerns.

Perhaps as part of his new transparency policy, Chief Jonsen shared correspondence with the Almanac from the San Jose chapter of the NAACP written by the chapter president, the Rev. Jethroe Moore. The letter said a few residents are concerned about police stops, use of excessive force and police attitudes, and went on to ask the department to collect information on all traffic stops, including location and time, justification, the outcome, and whether photos were taken or searches performed or information on the suspect recorded.

Chief Jonsen said he met with the NAACP officials to discuss the concerns raised in the letter and noted that he could not address matters from the past but that he was very interested in improving relations with the NAACP and their constituents.

One thing the chief has in his favor is a new police substation at a Belle Haven strip mall that will open soon, after a 10-year effort by prior chiefs was stymied by disputes with the developer. The new substation will be located at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road and provide a home for officers to write reports and perform other police assignments. A Neighborhood Watch program could also be based there, the chief said. And the best part of all is that nearby Facebook has agreed to help fund the $2,750 monthly rental of the new station.

These initiatives give us reason to be cautiously optimistic that Chief Jonsen will live up to his promises and lead the Menlo Park Police Department into a new era of transparency. His constituents, and the department, will benefit by forming a tighter bond with the residents of Menlo Park.

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