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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Democracy and our police departments

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2021
"Democracy is very fragile," David Kennedy, noted historian and emeritus professor at Stanford, said a couple of years ago at a class of his I attended. The loss of democracy in a country, he said, first happens slowly, in small steps, and we get used to he changes, and then one day we look around and discover we have lost our democracy, and our democratic values have disappeared.

The possible loss of our democracy is a question that is being debated throughout our country in these post-Trump years, and the tilt downward is increasing -- a Senate that refuses to debate issues, a former president who disobeyed democratic rules, a greater political divide, a seemingly partisan Supreme Court, etc.

But a loss of our democratic openness and transparency is an issue that also needs to be debated locally. I've written before about police encryption -- limiting the amount of internal and external police activity information provided to the public, under the guise of protecting people's personal information broadcast over its local airwaves, specifically the identity of people stopped by the police, including their age, address, driver's license, etc.

We've used these transmissions to inform the public and press for seven decades without any problems. Then the state Department of Justice late last year said this information can no longer be transmitted.

Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen was one of the first to comply with this new mandate, without any public or council discussion. Others followed. Some did not, such as the California Highway Patrol. No punishments yet have been imposed on CHP.

For those police departments who followed the new DOJ recommendation, some of their residents are now complaining they don't know what is happening in their towns. It seems these police departments are telling the public only what they decide to tell. I assume they reveal the good things they have done, not the bad ones, which, I guess, is a natural human trait, but it can lead to a control of how much the public can learn about a department.

Sure, some police departments release daily blogs and press releases on minor arrests and encounters, so some feel they know what's happening. But again, the police decide what goes on those blogs. And that is not transparency.

I am delighted that the Palo Alto City Council this summer has assigned its hired auditor, the OIR Group, under its director, Michael Gennaco, from the LA area, to delve deeper into department doings. Lo and behold, OIR found three instances in the early part of this year, but, since the council action, their investigation has expanded to 16 cases. What the police had dismissed as not worthy as news, such as public complaints and internal conflicts, has caught OIR's attention and is now being reported on. Good work, council

The OIR Group, which audits about eight law enforcement agencies, is uniquely positioned to both publicize and vet police investigations. Unlike the public and most city officials, it has unfettered access to Police Department records, the Weekly reported.

So why am I talking about what our police department is doing in terms of transparency and openness? Because if their activities are hidden from us, we the people don't know what is happening in our town.

It's also not very democratic when a police chief decides to encrypt public transmission for the department before discussing it with the city council. That decision affects the public and the press and the ability for people to know what's happening. This is not a minor issue.

Many of us in the state either haven't noticed this lack of information, or simply don't care about it. The Mercury News has recently published some letters to the editor from people living in encrypted communities who are complaining they don't know what's going on. The DOJ mandate is state wide.

But think about it, if we don't know what's happening within our government or state, and there is no transparency, we have a diminished democracy. I care a lot about this issue. Hope you do too. It's our town we want to find out about. It's our democracy that we need to protect.
Local Journalism.
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Comments

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 8:26 am

Bystander is a registered user.

American democracy is being ruined by money. Just my opinion of course, but those who win elections have the money from powerful bodies and then when they have won they have to curry favor with those bodies to keep their support for next time.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Aron Spector, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 10:23 am

Aron Spector is a registered user.

The PAPD Manual (revised 08/01/2021) Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 12:10 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

ARON - Thanks for checking out this police department policy manual. It seems to me that some interesting policies have been redacted,and I am not sure their opening paragraph adequately explains the department's reasons and reasoning. Here's what I copied from it. I thought others should see this: "Please note that we have redacted (that is, removed) select portions of certain policies from this publicly-available version of the Palo Alto Police Department Policy Manual. The portions of the policies not disclosed relate to sensitive security issues, police tactics, and/or officer safety, and are withheld from disclosure in accordance with California Government Code §§6254(f), 6254(aa), 6254 (ab), and/or 6254.19. The nine policies that contain select portions we have withheld pursuant to these state laws are as follows: Policy 314: Vehicle Pursuits Policy 316: Officer Response to Calls Policy 322: Search and Seizure Policy 408: Crisis Response Unit Policy 414: Hostage and Barricade Incidents Policy 416: Response to Bomb Calls Policy 424: Rapid Response and Deployment Policy 432: Patrol Rifles and Shotguns Policy 458: Foot Pursuits" Diana


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Roberta Lancaster, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 17, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Roberta Lancaster is a registered user.

While defunding the police departments throughout the nation remains a controversial topic, how about defunding them until 95% of their law enforcement personnel are fully vaccinated? The remaining 5% can then be easily fired for non-compliance. Call it democracy and public health mandates at work.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 17, 2021 at 5:50 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

I'm more concerned by our concerned citizens who are working overtime to 're-imagine' the police. I wonder if they have really thought this through. I wonder if they are aware that people all over the state are walking into drug stores, grocery stores, Apple stores - all stores - loading up and just walking out the door. I wonder if the 'progressives, ha ha' have an idea of shopping and walking down the street at night in a dystopia when the police are helpless to act, the prosecutors won't prosecute, the jailers are ordered to open the cells. Sounds like San Francisco. Sounds like what you get when you let nitwits run city hall and Sacramento. I had to check the meaning of 'nitwit' because I didn't want to offend. Webster provides synonyms : berk [British], booby, charlie (also charley) [British], cuckoo, ding-a-ling, ding-dong, dingbat, dipstick, doofus [slang], featherhead, fool, git [British], goose, half-wit, jackass, lunatic, mooncalf, nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit[chiefly British], nut, nutcase, simp, simpleton, turkey, yo-yo. Yes, that pretty well describes the people leading this madness, that's what I think of them


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Roberta Lancaster, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:44 am

Roberta Lancaster is a registered user.

@Hinrich The police do not actually prevent the crimes you have mentioned. They only respond 'after the incident' to take reports & to further investigate (if necessary). Crime prevention & crime reduction are two different things. Otherwise you wouldn't be citing these various recurrent crimes. So where are the various PDs when it comes to actual 'crime prevention'?


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 11:03 am

Hinrich is a registered user.

No, no Roberta. When we all affirm that certain lines will not be crossed, when we demand that people respect the rule of law, when we provide support to those we employ to maintain order and punish those that bring harm to the rest of us - that prevents crime. In an everything is ok society, everything is chaos and no one is safe. Unfortunately, there are too many people who have turned away from their responsibilities to support public safety and instead, turn away and think everything will continue to be just fine. Arresting people for shoplifting, for smash and grab, for assaulting others, for drug offenses, for speeding down the highway and for entering the country illegally all have deterrent value. Diana's post is about ensuring that the police disclose necessary details about their actions - I agree that the public must always be able to know what they do. But I also think people are destroying our valued and necessary institutions and that has to stop.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 12:25 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

> "When we all affirm that certain lines will not be crossed, when we demand that people respect the rule of law, when we provide support to those we employ to maintain order and punish those that bring harm to the rest of us - that prevents crime.' The last time I checked, this ideal has not worked...at least since the beginning of mankind.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Roberta Lancaster, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Roberta Lancaster is a registered user.

quote: "When we all affirm that certain lines will not be crossed, when we demand that people respect the rule of law, when we provide support to those we employ to maintain order and punish those that bring harm to the rest of us - that prevents crime." Dream on.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 2:08 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

@Hinrich I thought as you did, but it apparently is not that simple: “ Walgreens cited shoplifting as rationale for closing 5 stores in San Francisco, but local officials, data, and experts cast doubt on that explanation" Web Link


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 2:17 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

In case anyone missed this...yesterday...headline:'Rioters tore through Portland causing more than $500,000 worth of damage - but cops did NOTHING because woke new law stops them using pepper spray or tear gas: Angry residents ask 'Does that mean we are now like a lawless city?....'At least 100 self-proclaimed anarchists tore through Portland, setting dumpsters aflame, smashing windows and causing $500,000 in damage, but police stood idle because of a new state law that restricts how law enforcement can respond to riots.' I grew up and lived for decades in and around NYC before 23 years here - the crime wave is directly related to the absence of adults and the rise of idiots running our cities. Wait - it's going to get much worse.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 3:47 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

@Hinrich, can you please reference tha law? I a interested.Thanks.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 18, 2021 at 4:24 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

PBS report:Portland Police Lt. Jake Jensen told residents in the Pearl District during a neighborhood meeting on Thursday evening that a new police reform law in Oregon " HB 2928 " dramatically limits their options to intervene during protests and declared unlawful assemblies and riots.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Roberta Lancaster, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:45 am

Roberta Lancaster is a registered user.

@Hinrich Perhaps HB 2928 is focused more on protecting human lives than private property. Broken windows and merchandise can be easily replaced if insured. Broken bones and injuries sustained via unwarranted & unchecked police brutality is another story.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 19, 2021 at 1:06 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

QUOTE: "there are too many people who have turned away from their responsibilities to support public safety..." Firefighters and paramedics (aka public safety) are strongly supported by most communities because they save lives rather than taking them. Only the police have an unrestricted 007 license and many of their past/present actions are now being scrutinized...as it should be.


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