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.