Editorial: Public interest not served by police department policy


The Mountain View Police Department's creation of a wall denying access to traffic-accident information to the public and the press is more than puzzling. It's also legally misguided, despite department officials' claim that general secrecy about the incidents is required by law. It is not.

It has been only recently that the Voice has encountered resistance from the city's police department while trying to report news about traffic collisions occurring on local streets. Incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists are occurring at a troubling rate, and the need for public awareness of this health and safety matter should be obvious.

Although in the past, Mountain View police officials provided accident details – such as the number of people involved and extent of injuries of anyone hurt, the direction the vehicles and/or pedestrians were traveling, the specific movements that led up to the collision, and the extent of any property damage – the department now provides only the date, time and location of an incident.

The department cites a section of the California Vehicle Code that spells out rules on reporting accidents to the DMV. But police officials, starting at the top with Police Chief Max Bosel, are ignoring California Government Code 6254 (f), which requires a local police agency to report factual circumstances of traffic collisions it responds to, including a general description of injuries and property damage, and information pertaining to its response.

These are details provided by many other police agencies, including the California Highway Patrol. Does the Mountain View Police Department really believe that the state CHP would break the law by providing such information?

The Voice isn't alone in its frustration over this new police department policy of withholding information that the public is legally entitled to. The city's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is being hampered in its attempt to make informed recommendations on how the city can increase safety on local streets – roadways that were the sites of six deaths last year of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists, and have seen a steady hike in the number of pedestrian- and bike-related collisions since 2012.

Bruce England of the advisory committee told the Voice that the committee is also denied pertinent information about traffic accidents, despite its city-directed role in trying to improve roadway safety. Such information, he said, "is key to our being able to recommend or request systemic changes for improvements to help reduce the number and severity of incidents."

On an encouraging note, City Attorney Jannie Quinn said on Wednesday that she will research the legal question regarding the police department's refusal to supply most traffic accident information. We hope that the matter is resolved quickly and in the spirit of serving the public interest.

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8 people like this
Posted by News worthy
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 21, 2016 at 4:36 am

Sounds like the voice is running out of stories to run or is needs to get out more into the community to find more human interest stories. Doesn't take much to figure out.... More traffic means more collisions. I would rather the paper focus on what the city is doing to improve the infrastructure in the area to address the amount of traffic to and from the city. Especially in the north bay shore area.

You know the community is in good shape when the local paper has nothing else to look into other that traffic data. Or this advisory committee is frustrated and using the paper to beat their drum. Either way, can we read more about what our community members are doing or what other improves are coming to our community?

Back to the Mercury News .....


29 people like this
Posted by City should follow the law
a resident of Bailey Park
on Aug 21, 2016 at 8:57 am

It should concern us all that the City - here its police chief - does not follow the law. Maybe the chief is getting back at the Voice for reporting the sexual harassment lawsuit which names him as an accomplice.

16 people like this
Posted by George Masons
a resident of Slater
on Aug 22, 2016 at 6:19 am

Well of course "more traffic means more collisions," but that only INCREASES the public's need to know what causes those collisions so all parties can be better informed about what is being done to ameliorate the situation.

15 people like this
Posted by Randy D.
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Aug 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

This is not the first time Mt. View police have "interpreted" laws to their own views.

13 people like this
Posted by Corrupt police?
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 10:22 am

I definitely agree that mountain view police are not so innocent in terms of the law. They REGULARLY make up and interpret their own scripts and do not abide the laws. Even just simple traffic laws. I"m talking about crimes. Most interrogation techniques are indeed illegal, which HAS GOT TO STOP. I'm tired of my camera being grabbed from my hand and thrown on the ground!

15 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 22, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Eh.. nothing will change until we realize the police work for us and our elected representatives start forcing the changes we'd like to see.

The cops are not some autonomous group answering only to themselves.

9 people like this
Posted by Ernie
a resident of Castro City
on Aug 22, 2016 at 8:41 pm

This is an important topic for local journalism.

I've had a similar bad experience with MVPD. They don't like to give Public Records Act data that shows trends that suggest they are not policing effectively. The police chief got involved with my request and it was all smoke and mirrors from there. First he implied that there were numerous instances of the types of traffic violations I was requesting which made the policing of such violations such a challenge. When I finally got my Public Records Act request, there were only a handful of traffic violations recorded. I've come to conclude over time that MVPD is not well-managed and in tune with the spirit of Silicon Valley whereby information can help society and not hurt it.

3 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 24, 2016 at 10:14 am

Maybe we should be reporting these bicycle and pedestrian incidents in a different/additional place? I often hear that no report is filed because there was no crime or offense, but those same incidents could be important data points to identify problem areas or bad behaviors.

Perhaps the BPAC could suggest an alternate way of reporting? At the recent Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Bicycle Summit, it was the county health department who reported on this sort of data, so they might be candidates? Or SVBC themselves might be able to host this? Just seems that it might be easier to work around the police in this case.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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