In recognition of its community policing strategies in the Belle Haven community, the Menlo Park Police Department was awarded the statewide Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in Public Safety on Wednesday, Sept. 30, by the League of California Cities at its annual conference in San Jose.
The award recognizes the work the department has done in the Belle Haven area over the last two years. From 2013 to 2014, the overall number of crimes committed in Belle Haven fell by 42 percent and in all of Menlo Park by 12 percent, the police department says. Traffic collisions fell by 15 percent during the same period, according to a report by the city of Menlo Park.
In 2013, Belle Haven was home to serious gang-related violence. By analyzing crime data, the police department learned that most shootings came from three neighborhood properties. The police worked with community members to help the tenants of these places find other housing. Within six months, the shootings stopped, the report says.
The department also collaborated with residents and business owners to form a community advisory group, which hosted monthly meetings and encouraged people to voice their concerns to law enforcement officers, the report said. The advisory group led in developing new plans to enforce traffic around Menlo Park schools and strengthen neighborhood watch groups. The members also created volunteer "Citizen's Academy" and Youth Academy" educational programs to inform residents about local government and police operations.
Building relationships with members of the community has been a crucial part in boosting communication and trust between residents and the police department, said Police Chief Robert Jonsen. Now, he said, "Belle Haven neighborhood relationships are the best I've experienced in a long time."
The department also partnered with Facebook in 2014, which helped the department pay for a new service center on the east side of Menlo Park. Their former service center, on Newbridge Street and Willow Road, had had bars on the windows. Chief Jonsen at the time insisted that they immediately begin searching for a new site.
"If the police department needs bars on their windows, then we have issues," he said. The new space, located at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road, opened in April 2014, and was designed to emulate Facebook's "open, friendly, feel," Chief Jonsen said. According to the report, Facebook also funds a full-time police officer, Mary Ferguson, to work with at-risk youth, making Menlo Park the first law enforcement agency in the county to have a full-time officer funded by a private company, the department says.
Chief Jonsen said he takes most pride in the lack of gang shootings in Menlo Park since November 2013. He gives primary credit to the Belle Haven community for its role in creating change and reducing crime. "That doesn't just come from law enforcement," he said. "That's from the community."
For more information from the department, click here.