Menlo Park police try new strategy against gang violence

Landlords to be notified of violent crime on properties

Fall has been riddled with bullets in Menlo Park, with four shootings in the past month alone.

Several, including the Dec. 8 shooting that wounded a 15-year-old girl inside her Madera Avenue home, appear gang-related.

The police are trying a new strategy to counter the violence -- notifying landlords when a violent crime occurs on their properties. Police Chief Bob Jonsen told the City Council on Dec. 10 that when informed of the shootings near each of the properties, the landlords decided to begin evictions.

Owners aren't always aware of crime occurring on their property, he said, and the police department hasn't been calling to notify them. But police will now do so as standard operating procedure, out of "a moral obligation to inform," the chief said.

He told the Almanac that it's up to the landlords to decide what to do.

In regards to the shootings, the community benefits by having the tenants relocated, he said, although police have no control over where they'll move to.

"I am not advocating eviction for every family with gang problems, but in these two cases my concern for the overall community supports the property owners' decision," Chief Jonsen said.

Then it's a matter of finding the shooters, according to the chief. He added that the shootings have helped police build stronger relationships within the community. In each incident, suspects have been identified, thanks to information provided by residents, and he's confident arrests are ahead.

Whether the new strategy creates difficulties for landlords depends on the circumstances, according to real estate attorney Mark Hagarty, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge and co-author of a book on landlord-tenant litigation.

Tenants on month-to-month leases for no more than one year may be given 30 days' notice of termination without cause. Longer-term leases, however, require some factual basis demonstrating criminal activity.

"The first question to ask is: Why aren't the police arresting them? If (the criminal activity) is that foreseeable, why aren't police doing anything about it?" Mr. Hagarty said. "Second, what amount of control does the landlord have over the situation?"

If the landlord either chooses not to or can't legally evict, the courts consider whether the crime was predictable and whether reasonable steps, such as repairing locks or hiring a security guard, could have been taken to prevent it, Mr. Hagarty said.

"You can't evict based on the suspicion of police," he said. "But the landlord may have an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent third parties or tenants from being harmed."

How the new approach will play out remains to be seen. But the police are also preparing to expand their technological capabilities, with several new surveillance cameras ready for installation and automated license plate readers (LPRs) purchased. The LPRs will be deployed as soon as the council subcommittee finishes drafting a privacy policy to address concerns about data retention and sharing, Chief Jonsen said.

Last, but not least, the long-awaited Belle Haven police substation should open by the end of January, he told the council. The facility, located in a strip mall at 871 Hamilton Ave. off Willow Road, will be staffed with a community service officer and a code enforcement officer, keeping someone available at the facility Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Spanish speaker will be on hand Wednesday through Saturday.

Services will include code enforcement, filing police reports, purchasing overnight parking permits, and signing off on equipment violations. A small conference room will be dedicated for community meetings, and the department is also going to work on establishing a neighborhood watch program.


Like this comment
Posted by moral obligation to inform
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:27 pm

If prostitution and sales of illegal drugs are involved, we know that Menlo Park police detectives are already on the scene.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm

The only way to end gun violence is to get rid of guns. Repeal the Second Amendment, the founding fathers' biggest mistake.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 18, 2013 at 2:42 pm

This also allows neighbors to hold the landlord to civil liability for a nuisance should they fail to act. But, Mr. Cronin's comment while respected is simply absurd. Why not fix the causes of gang violence: ignorance, bigotry, poor opportunity, poverty. Better code enforcement increase property values and thus the economics will rid the problem. But put more high density pressure in area where it occurrs, the voilence will continue...guns or not.

Like this comment
Posted by East of 101
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I wish that our community on the East of 101 realized what bad publicity they receive. Every city has its fair share of crime but often gangs,drugs, are associated with lower income neighborhoods. Its hard for partents who work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet, find time to spend with their children and more so afford enrolling them in extra-curricular activities that keep them out of trouble.Facebook is bringing so much money into the neighborhood but as yet to employ anyone who hasn't graduated from a Ivy-League. They should build an Arriaga Center type gym or improve the Onetta Harris Center,build a Library(tech center)for the youth in that community. The youth in that neighborhood would benefitimmensly from having activities such as gynastics,swim-teams, volley ball, basketball,ect.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:24 am

They need to get to the root of the problem. THE LACK OF PARENTING AND LACK OF SUPPORT FOR THE PARENTS. These parents need counseling and support, as well as protection. They need to be taught how to raise their kids to not be gangstas, drug dealers, pimps, and thugs. They need to be taught to stand up against gangs and be prepared for the fight. The kids need to be taught from day one that it's not cool to be a thug. Send in the gang task forces every day in every single part of town and rid the community of this cancer. Invoke curfews in areas where bullets fly daily. Teach the parents how to raise their kids, support these parents with constant protections, ramp up large gang eradication task forces, and then you may see some change we can believe in. The rest of society should not suffer because of the lack of action on the part of the city and state. This is a war. Treat it like one.

Like this comment
Posted by Scott McMahon
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:58 am

I'm a landlord, but not in EPA. I wonder about Ted's comment. What would he do if the police told him that someone living in a rental might be part of a gang? Just evict the family? What if the alledged gang member lives with his or her mother?
Believe me, a landlord doesn't want any gang members or other dangerous or trouble making tenants, but there are legal and ethical considerations.
I had a neighboring landlord contact me about a tenant that he didn't like. He accused her of dealing drugs. He gave me a police officer's number to call. The officer, who was part of a special drug task force, implied a lot of things about my tenant. He said there was a lot of "traffic" with people coming at my rental at all hours. He wouldn't come out and say I should evict, but he implied it. And this is an especially scary dilemma for a landlord, because there are special laws allowing police to confiscate your rental property if you don't quickly act to evict when drugs are being dealt. While generally, I'm inclined to trust police officers, the officer I talked to seemed to be acting a little strangely. I was very nervous about this and did some investigating. I talked to neighbors, but none of them had noticed anything unusual about my tenant. No strange, late night "traffic." I finally concluded that I didn't have a solid reason to evict her. She and her kids stayed for a couple more years. There were never any complaints. I'm glad I didn't evict in this case.
My rentals are not in a city where there is a rent control law, like EPA. I can evict without providing any reason with 30 days notice, (or 60 days if the tenants have been there more than a year.) I imagine it's more difficult to evict in EPA. Landlords have real dilemma there. According to Ted, they can be sued by the neighbors for not acting, or by the tenants for trying to evict without any actual proof of wrongdoing.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Yes, when a landlord has an known nuisance and takes no action to abate it, to where the actions are detrimental to other neighbors property values, there are civil remedies. Why would a landlord not know or subject their neighbors to this?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 20 comments | 5,101 views

Couples: When Wrong Admit It; When Right; Shut Up
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 803 views

One-on-one time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 591 views