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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Democracy and our police departments

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2021
"Democracy is very fragile," David Kennedy, noted historian and emeritus professor at Stanford, said a couple of years ago at a class of his I attended. The loss of democracy in a country, he said, first happens slowly, in small steps, and we get used to he changes, and then one day we look around and discover we have lost our democracy, and our democratic values have disappeared.

The possible loss of our democracy is a question that is being debated throughout our country in these post-Trump years, and the tilt downward is increasing -- a Senate that refuses to debate issues, a former president who disobeyed democratic rules, a greater political divide, a seemingly partisan Supreme Court, etc.

But a loss of our democratic openness and transparency is an issue that also needs to be debated locally. I've written before about police encryption -- limiting the amount of internal and external police activity information provided to the public, under the guise of protecting people's personal information broadcast over its local airwaves, specifically the identity of people stopped by the police, including their age, address, driver's license, etc.

We've used these transmissions to inform the public and press for seven decades without any problems. Then the state Department of Justice late last year said this information can no longer be transmitted.

Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen was one of the first to comply with this new mandate, without any public or council discussion. Others followed. Some did not, such as the California Highway Patrol. No punishments yet have been imposed on CHP.

For those police departments who followed the new DOJ recommendation, some of their residents are now complaining they don't know what is happening in their towns. It seems these police departments are telling the public only what they decide to tell. I assume they reveal the good things they have done, not the bad ones, which, I guess, is a natural human trait, but it can lead to a control of how much the public can learn about a department.

Sure, some police departments release daily blogs and press releases on minor arrests and encounters, so some feel they know what's happening. But again, the police decide what goes on those blogs. And that is not transparency.

I am delighted that the Palo Alto City Council this summer has assigned its hired auditor, the OIR Group, under its director, Michael Gennaco, from the LA area, to delve deeper into department doings. Lo and behold, OIR found three instances in the early part of this year, but, since the council action, their investigation has expanded to 16 cases. What the police had dismissed as not worthy as news, such as public complaints and internal conflicts, has caught OIR's attention and is now being reported on. Good work, council

The OIR Group, which audits about eight law enforcement agencies, is uniquely positioned to both publicize and vet police investigations. Unlike the public and most city officials, it has unfettered access to Police Department records, the Weekly reported.

So why am I talking about what our police department is doing in terms of transparency and openness? Because if their activities are hidden from us, we the people don't know what is happening in our town.

It's also not very democratic when a police chief decides to encrypt public transmission for the department before discussing it with the city council. That decision affects the public and the press and the ability for people to know what's happening. This is not a minor issue.

Many of us in the state either haven't noticed this lack of information, or simply don't care about it. The Mercury News has recently published some letters to the editor from people living in encrypted communities who are complaining they don't know what's going on. The DOJ mandate is state wide.

But think about it, if we don't know what's happening within our government or state, and there is no transparency, we have a diminished democracy. I care a lot about this issue. Hope you do too. It's our town we want to find out about. It's our democracy that we need to protect.
Local Journalism.
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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 8:26 am

Bystander is a registered user.

American democracy is being ruined by money. Just my opinion of course, but those who win elections have the money from powerful bodies and then when they have won they have to curry favor with those bodies to keep their support for next time.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Aron Spector, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 10:23 am

Aron Spector is a registered user.

The PAPD Manual (revised 08/01/2021) Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by DianaDiamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 14, 2021 at 12:10 pm

DianaDiamond is a registered user.

ARON - Thanks for checking out this police department policy manual. It seems to me that some interesting policies have been redacted,and I am not sure their opening paragraph adequately explains the department's reasons and reasoning. Here's what I copied from it. I thought others should see this: "Please note that we have redacted (that is, removed) select portions of certain policies from this publicly-available version of the Palo Alto Police Department Policy Manual. The portions of the policies not disclosed relate to sensitive security issues, police tactics, and/or officer safety, and are withheld from disclosure in accordance with California Government Code §§6254(f), 6254(aa), 6254 (ab), and/or 6254.19. The nine policies that contain select portions we have withheld pursuant to these state laws are as follows: Policy 314: Vehicle Pursuits Policy 316: Officer Response to Calls Policy 322: Search and Seizure Policy 408: Crisis Response Unit Policy 414: Hostage and Barricade Incidents Policy 416: Response to Bomb Calls Policy 424: Rapid Response and Deployment Policy 432: Patrol Rifles and Shotguns Policy 458: Foot Pursuits" Diana


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Roberta Lancaster, a resident of Menlo Park,
18 hours ago

Roberta Lancaster is a registered user.

While defunding the police departments throughout the nation remains a controversial topic, how about defunding them until 95% of their law enforcement personnel are fully vaccinated? The remaining 5% can then be easily fired for non-compliance. Call it democracy and public health mandates at work.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
12 hours ago

Hinrich is a registered user.

I'm more concerned by our concerned citizens who are working overtime to 're-imagine' the police. I wonder if they have really thought this through. I wonder if they are aware that people all over the state are walking into drug stores, grocery stores, Apple stores - all stores - loading up and just walking out the door. I wonder if the 'progressives, ha ha' have an idea of shopping and walking down the street at night in a dystopia when the police are helpless to act, the prosecutors won't prosecute, the jailers are ordered to open the cells. Sounds like San Francisco. Sounds like what you get when you let nitwits run city hall and Sacramento. I had to check the meaning of 'nitwit' because I didn't want to offend. Webster provides synonyms : berk [British], booby, charlie (also charley) [British], cuckoo, ding-a-ling, ding-dong, dingbat, dipstick, doofus [slang], featherhead, fool, git [British], goose, half-wit, jackass, lunatic, mooncalf, nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit[chiefly British], nut, nutcase, simp, simpleton, turkey, yo-yo. Yes, that pretty well describes the people leading this madness, that's what I think of them


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