For a city that strives to be on the cutting edge of tomorrow, Menlo Park turned back the clock in at least one respect -- crime last year dropped to levels last seen in 1999.
In the category of "Part 1 crimes," which are tracked by the FBI, Menlo Park saw an 11 percent drop: Larceny -- the theft of personal property, which includes items stolen from vehicles -- remained the most frequent crime, with 408 incidents reported in 2014, compared with 436 in 2013. Burglary came in second, with 125 reported in 2014 and 179 the year prior.
Twelve rapes and sexual assaults were reported, compared with three in 2013.
Thirty-three cars were stolen, up by five from the previous year; aggravated assault dropped from 31 to 24, and robberies decreased by two to 16 in 2014. In 2013, three arsons were reported; none was in 2014. No homicides were reported in those years, according to the data provided by the police department.
Twenty-five percent of the reported Part 1 crimes occurred east of U.S. 101 between Willow Road and Haven Avenue.
The overall drop in Part 1 crime came about through a combination of factors, according to Chief Robert Jonsen. "This year was such an amazing year," he said. "There's not really any one thing I could say was the primary factor. ... We got multiple things in place at the same time, right around the beginning of the year."
New tools ranging from high tech to old-fashioned helped: The department added four street surveillance cameras, three automated license plate readers and 40 body-worn cameras to its toolbox this year. It also dedicated two officers on motorcycles for traffic enforcement and, thanks to funding from Facebook, has Officer Mary Ferguson-Dixon focusing on school-related issues, working out of the Belle Haven substation that opened in April.
And, of course, crime rates are affected by factors other than police action, such as the economy and social influences.
The department recently held a community meeting to talk about code enforcement issues in Belle Haven. Officer Eleanor Hilario fielded 750 cases last year, out of 1,700 complaints, according to the chief. For those originating in Belle Haven, the vast majority involved the conversion of property into illegal parking or secondary units.
"She's done an amazing job," Chief Jonsen said. "Where we would like to improve is being more proactive. Right now she's completely reactive. The workload is so intense, all she has time to do is handle the calls coming in. She might drive by a house and think, hmm, but she can't go there because she already has a list of calls to handle first."
Chief Jonsen said the department has talked about adding another code enforcement officer -- "the work's there" -- but approving funding for the position is up to the council.
The department also continued strengthening transparency, posting its policies on the city website, releasing data on complaints made against officers and engaging in discussions with the community and City Council over best practices for using body-worn cameras and license plate readers.
"I still think there's room for improvement, obviously. I'm happy with the reductions in crime," Chief Jonsen said. "I still want to work more on pedestrian safety -- we have a decrease in collisions, but we still have a lot of them in Menlo Park. We want to bring that down."
He said he was surprised the department had done as well as it had, given staffing issues, particularly toward the end of the year when three officers were on leave following the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect on Nov. 11.
"We were concerned about crime going up, our response times going up ... but everybody just kept stepping up. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what the officers have done this past year."
0.08 percent complaint rate
Out of 40,065 interactions with the public in 2014, 31 people complained, according to data released by the police department. That is one more than in 2013.
Sixteen complaints were filed over alleged rude behavior by an officer. Overall, the evidence supported the complaint in two cases. In 16 cases, the officers were determined to have acted in accord with department policy, and in one case, the alleged action either didn't happen or didn't involve police personnel. Five are still under investigation and seven were withdrawn by the person making the complaint.
"That was very close to last year," Chief Jonsen said. "The only noticeable difference was that the ability to have that (body) camera in place the entire year helped us, as expected."