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Resident raises concern Atherton police officers are flouting mask rules

Atherton Police Department Officer Dan Rojas wears a mask while chatting with another officer on the force outside the police department in Atherton on April 7. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A local resident said she is concerned Atherton Police Department officers aren't wearing face masks while on the job, potentially putting themselves and the people they encounter at risk of contracting COVID-19.

She told The Almanac that she has noticed Atherton Police Department officers who weren't wearing face masks make traffic stops several times. She's a resident of unincorporated Menlo Park and agreed to speak out on the condition that her name be withheld for fear of retaliation.

Atherton Police Chief Steve McCulley said officers often put their masks on as they're getting out of their patrol cars and might not necessarily be wearing one when they initially stop their car. (Officers, like residents, are not required by the health order to wear a mask while driving.)

McCulley said the department's 21 officers are required to wear masks during traffic stops and other contacts with the public.

The resident said someone stopped by a police officer might feel too intimidated to ask that a mask be worn during the interaction. She's also seen maskless officers gathering roadside. In these cases everyone is outdoors, "but it still seems less than ideal," she said.

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Officers should not be congregating at other locations with or without masks, McCulley said.

Department policy specifically states that personnel are required to wear surgical masks during health-related crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. N95 masks are mandatory when interacting with anyone who is known to be, or reasonably suspected of being, infected with an infectious disease.

McCulley said he has yet to have to issue a warning to an officer, but sends general reminders to officers to wear masks. Officers are subject to discipline for violations of the department's mask policy. The discipline would depend on the situation, but after a warning the department would offer counseling.

David Metzger, president of the Atherton Police Officers Association for 2021-22, said officers are allowed to not wear their masks while taking breaks to eat or drink. Aside from that, he said officers are required to wear masks.

"We need to set the example (for the public) and oftentimes that means going above and beyond what's normally called for," he said. "It's not a perfect world, but we strive for everybody to wear a mask in public with heightened (COVID-19) numbers."

Two Atherton police officers and one support staff member tested positive for the virus in early December, but have since returned to work. It is unknown how the officers and staff member became infected, McCulley said.

The town's officers are expected to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines toward the end of January, McCulley said.

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Resident raises concern Atherton police officers are flouting mask rules

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 15, 2021, 10:00 am

A local resident said she is concerned Atherton Police Department officers aren't wearing face masks while on the job, potentially putting themselves and the people they encounter at risk of contracting COVID-19.

She told The Almanac that she has noticed Atherton Police Department officers who weren't wearing face masks make traffic stops several times. She's a resident of unincorporated Menlo Park and agreed to speak out on the condition that her name be withheld for fear of retaliation.

Atherton Police Chief Steve McCulley said officers often put their masks on as they're getting out of their patrol cars and might not necessarily be wearing one when they initially stop their car. (Officers, like residents, are not required by the health order to wear a mask while driving.)

McCulley said the department's 21 officers are required to wear masks during traffic stops and other contacts with the public.

The resident said someone stopped by a police officer might feel too intimidated to ask that a mask be worn during the interaction. She's also seen maskless officers gathering roadside. In these cases everyone is outdoors, "but it still seems less than ideal," she said.

Officers should not be congregating at other locations with or without masks, McCulley said.

Department policy specifically states that personnel are required to wear surgical masks during health-related crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. N95 masks are mandatory when interacting with anyone who is known to be, or reasonably suspected of being, infected with an infectious disease.

McCulley said he has yet to have to issue a warning to an officer, but sends general reminders to officers to wear masks. Officers are subject to discipline for violations of the department's mask policy. The discipline would depend on the situation, but after a warning the department would offer counseling.

David Metzger, president of the Atherton Police Officers Association for 2021-22, said officers are allowed to not wear their masks while taking breaks to eat or drink. Aside from that, he said officers are required to wear masks.

"We need to set the example (for the public) and oftentimes that means going above and beyond what's normally called for," he said. "It's not a perfect world, but we strive for everybody to wear a mask in public with heightened (COVID-19) numbers."

Two Atherton police officers and one support staff member tested positive for the virus in early December, but have since returned to work. It is unknown how the officers and staff member became infected, McCulley said.

The town's officers are expected to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines toward the end of January, McCulley said.

Comments

CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jan 15, 2021 at 3:48 pm
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jan 15, 2021 at 3:48 pm

Our local merchants are going out of business & losing their life savings with little help from local Gov't, crime is escalating, our schools are failing to educate our children to meet even CA's reduced standards and THIS rises to the "Investigative Reporting" standards of the local paper?


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 15, 2021 at 7:44 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jan 15, 2021 at 7:44 pm

I seem to recall reading stories in the Almanac about the Local businesses and what they were going through as well as what the city is trying to do to help them. I also recall reading about the schools and the struggles of the student and the rise in property crime, especially in Atherton. This is one more facet of Covid-19 that the community is dealing with, I think this is a fine topic to report on.


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jan 15, 2021 at 9:32 pm
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jan 15, 2021 at 9:32 pm

Something seems wrong with this picture. Citizen comes forward, says officers are pulling people over without wearing masks, and two of them tested positive for COVID in December. Chief doesn't confirm or deny, but talks about the generic policies. REPEAT violations of the mask policy lead to…counseling? When a citizen's health could be seriously endangered? That's nuts, since there's nothing subtle about this that would require training or counseling. It's simple right vs. wrong.


CyberVoter
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jan 16, 2021 at 10:06 am
CyberVoter, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jan 16, 2021 at 10:06 am

Thoughtful, Brian & Others:
I understand your concerns & the issues of "setting an example". However, my points are:
1) Is "Social Media" really the way to handle this? IF these allegations are true, shouldn't the observer contact the Police Chief directly - rather than escalate an allegation though Social Media immediately? All that does is create an adversary relationship from the "get go". I have never had a problem contacting & talking with the Police Chief. If I saw this occur I would call the Chief & follow-up with a note documenting the times & locations to him for his action. At least give him a chance to address the issue without turning it into a neighborhood, & beyond, kerfuffle! If it continues, then escalation to Social Media may be appropriate.
2) Crime, School Performance, Local Economy: These deserve to be escalated & continually reported on. A simple story in the Almanac can easily be filed by a "Repeater" (i.e. merely repeats press releases & quotes). We need local "investigative" Reporters that follow-up on the issues & probe & report as the real cause of the problems and what is being done (especially locally) to solve the problems. It should be a continuing story.
The Almanac can do better & it should.


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2021 at 4:34 pm
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2021 at 4:34 pm

CyberVoter – we can agree to disagree on some of your points, but I would like to emphasize, again, that an informal approach could not possibly have worked because this article spells out the consequences of officers repeatedly declining to wear their masks: no actual consequences, even for serial infractions. Therefore I have to conclude there's nothing the chief can do, and it's an appropriate item for fourth estate advocacy.


Jessica
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Jan 19, 2021 at 8:56 am
Jessica, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2021 at 8:56 am

To Angela Swartz, you are an amazing journalist and you do your best to maintain the integrity of local news and the spread of valuable information. However, covering this as an article is ridiculous. Please think next time of whether doing this wasted anyone's time, especially yours, when you could've covered the efforts that the Atherton Police make in ACTUAL crime prevention, regular community outreach, and how they are the most responsive Police Department whenever ANY single individual reaches out. The Atherton Police Department aren't the rambunctious group of cops or vainglorious jerks who seek to raise their arrest quotas - these are police officers who will take their time to genuinely help out not only the Atherton Community members, but even assist their neighboring cities. As Chief said, they are so short staff and that even 2 officers down impacts them greatly. How they got COVID - so you think that anyone who gets COVID should go through an entire background ? That's ridiculous ! They have no luxury of staying in to quarantine, they have lives outside of work, they also interact with people who probably don't wear a mask but yet they do - so many ways to get it. So to this person who "fears retaliation," get over yourself ! The only way you can demonize cops and get your 15 minutes of attention is by knocking them down for masks ? What proof ? Which officers ? What efforts did you do in order to report them ?


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