In the middle of a Menlo Park City Council discussion about police reform policies, Menlo Park's police Chief Dave Bertini abruptly announced that he would retire at the end of July, saying he'd lost the council's trust.
An announcement from City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson later that evening confirmed that he would retire, but continue as police chief after his announced retirement date at the end of July to ensure a smooth transition.
Bertini could not be reached for comment. Jerome Robinson said he would be making a statement in the coming days.
During the council's discussion Thursday evening, June 18, Bertini said, "I've heard a lot from the community and from elected officials and the only thing I can really say is, 'I hear you.'"
He said he felt that the only way for the conversation to move forward was a "fresh start."
"I think that it's time for that fresh start, and with that, I'm ... sorry to say I'll be announcing my retirement."
He added that he was planning to stay until the end of July to allow for an interim police chief to be identified.
"It's obvious I've lost the trust of the City Council and hopefully that will give this organization a fresh start."
The announcement came as a surprise to Mayor Cecilia Taylor, who called a 15-minute break in the meeting, saying the announcement was the first she'd heard of it.
After the recess, Taylor said she'd spoken with Jerome Robinson, and planned to continue the meeting without Bertini.
Councilman Ray Mueller announced that he had spoken with Bertini and that the chief had agreed to continue to work with the city. He wanted to bring Bertini back into the discussion.
"The chief is ready to come back in and and continue working with the city," Mueller told the council. "I think it's evident of how emotional this is. It's real."
At the suggestion of Councilwoman Betsy Nash, the council voted 4-0, with Catherine Carlton absent, to adjourn the public portion of the meeting and meet in closed session to discuss the matter further.
The meeting had begun with an hour-long telephone town hall meeting that invited community members to share their input on changes when it comes to policing in the city, which included an accusation by a city commission member that Bertini had used a racial slur during a fall ethics training session.
After that, the four City Council members talked for about an hour and a half about potential policy changes.
They talked about sentiments they'd heard, both privately and publicly, that some people, especially people of color, feel fear around the police.
Some people may not feel comfortable sharing their negative experiences with the police publicly, said Vice Mayor Drew Combs, who is black.
"All of my interactions with police in Menlo Park have been positive, but I too am afraid of the police. ... I carry all those experiences and stories of specifically men in my family and some of my own experiences, not in this community but in others. These are real issues."
The discussion yielded many suggestions for changes in the city's police policies, including:
● Collecting data on the race of people who are stopped by the Menlo Park Police Department. A petition by the Menlo Park nonprofit Menlo Together has more than 100 signatures calling for public data to be tracked and provided relating to police stops by race in the city.
●Reconsidering the city's use of Facebook funds to indirectly pay for a police unit covering the city's Bay side. "There have been protests in this community about where the funding comes from," said Combs, who works for Facebook.
● Considering canceling an order for a $450,000 mobile command center purchased in November of last year.
● Evaluating how many officers the city needs and its beat system.
● Considering sending non-police responders to deal with to calls related to mental health, homelessness or domestic violence.
● Reworking the police department's more than 700-page police manual to be more accessible to the public.
● Figuring out how to retain four police recruits of color. Because of proposed budget cuts related to the pandemic, police union rules as well as added police costs, it's expected that a number of new recruits to the Menlo Park Police Department, who are diverse, will be the first to be laid off.
In recent budget discussions, some City Council members have noted that the city's Police Officers Association has declined to renegotiate its contracts or consider deferring 3.5% pay rate increases. Because of the pandemic's likely effect on the next fiscal year's budget, the council has proposed to cut $2.46 million from its police department. Nash asked if the layoffs could be made with a priority to retain diversity on staff, and Jerome Robinson said she would check with the city's labor counsel on the matter.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.