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Palo Alto Police Department Accomplishments & Work Underway To Enhance Public Information and Further Public Safety Priorities

Learn more about the recent Palo Alto Police Department annual update at the April 4 City Council meeting

Each year, the Palo Alto Police Department provides an update on initiatives, crime statistics, accomplishments and more. Police Chief Robert Jonsen presented the annual update for 2021 during the City Council Meeting on April 4. This blog provides details on this presentation and other public safety priorities for the department in the coming year.

2021 Crime Stats & Public Safety Priorities

The Police Department typically responds to more than 50,000 calls for service annually, though calls have been lower during the pandemic. The Palo Alto Police Department 24-hour dispatch center’s call volume is second only to the San Jose Police Department in Santa Clara County. Call volume is driven by the multidisciplinary nature of Palo Alto’s dispatch center, which not only supports Palo Alto police and fire, but also Stanford campus public safety, Palo Alto animal control officers, and calls for Palo Alto Utilities and Public Works.

Dispatch Center Calls

  • The 24-hour dispatch center processed over 137,000 calls in 2021, 38,346 of which were emergency calls and 38,189 of which were calls for service for the Police Department
  • 99% of all emergency calls were answered within 10 seconds

Crime Statistics

Palo Alto continues to be a very safe community.

When looking at 2021 data:

  • Palo Alto experienced the fewest overall crimes in the past 3 years
  • Property crimes remain the most common type of crime in Palo Alto

Hiring + Staff

The Department has been actively recruiting for a broad applicant pool and continues to have success hiring staff with diverse backgrounds. Currently, as one form of highlighting that diversity, the Department has 32 police staff who are cumulatively bilingual in 11 languages beyond English (Spanish, German, Korean, Russian, Mandarin, Urdu, Tagalog, Portuguese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Farsi). This allows the Department to better engage with the diverse Palo Alto community.

Hiring continues to be a main focus for the Department. Since August 2021, 11 of 13 vacancies have been filled. In the past 3 years, 22 police officer trainees have been onboarded.

Online Police Reports + Media Inquiries

The Department’s online reporting tool was widely used in 2021, resulting in 1,340 online reports and 2,010 hours of saved staff time. In addition, the Police Department’s online Public Information Portal includes the Police Report Log, which gives information on police reports processed the previous day. That log is published every business day.

Local press organizations have access to designated police personnel who can respond to press inquiries every day of the week, as outlined by Chief Jonsen in a May 21, 2021 post:

“…three things occurred to cause us to transition to a new temporary operating procedure for handling media inquiries: the elimination of the Public Affairs Manager position; a renewed commitment to have our sergeants in the field actively supervising our field personnel (not in the police station, reviewing reports to distill the legally-releasable information); and a necessity to have our officers in the field responding to calls and conducting patrols due to reduced staffing levels. As a result, we re-assigned public information duties to our two patrol Watch Commanders, police lieutenants who have command responsibility over our patrol division.”

Further, the Department conducted an internal review of its responsiveness to media inquiries and found that the vast majority are responded to same-day, usually within 90 minutes. Additional work is underway to further enhance media responsiveness.

2021 Initiatives & Accomplishments

The Police Department implemented several important initiatives during 2021. These initiatives support the Department’s goals to support a safe community, proactively respond to community public safety needs, and to serve the Palo Alto community with professionalism and respect.

Started the new Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT)

The Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) is comprised of a police officer partnered with a licensed mental health clinician and “combines the unique resources available from each profession to provide the highest quality service we can offer to someone who’s having a mental health crisis,” said Chief Jonsen. It was launched in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services Department in November 2021.

Palo Alto is the first city in the County to implement a PERT team. In the first full four months of the team’s operation, the team handled 99 calls for service, conducted 68 follow-up visits on past clients, offered resources to 87 additional people, placed 20 people on involuntary psychiatric evaluations, facilitated 6 voluntary psychiatric evaluations, and diverted 22 people from what likely would have been psychiatric hospitalizations. The team has not had to make a single custodial arrest, and has not used any form of force at any time. The Police Department and the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services Department will be conducting robust analysis of all PERT statistics as the team’s operation continues.

Implemented a records management system featuring electronic field reporting

The Department launched a new internal electronic records management system in December 2021. Converting to this system provided many important benefits, including:

  • Reducing paper waste and increasing staff efficiency
  • Allowing officers to complete their reports digitally (in patrol cars or in the police station) and submit them to their supervisors electronically
  • Providing an interface for officers to comply with the provisions of RIPA (Racial and Identity Profiling Act)

Launched a new Police Calls for Service Interactive Map

The Department launched a new beta online interactive map which provides a near real-time snapshot of the types and locations of calls for service to which Palo Alto Police have responded. The map draws data directly from the Department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and was created as an alternative to unencrypted communication after the California Department of Justice began requiring encrypted radio communication.

This pilot platform offers a new online look at calls for service that builds on the Police Department’s key priorities including increasing public information, building community awareness and furthering the community’s understanding about public safety services in Palo Alto.

Adjustments continue to be made, in response to community and media partner input.

Check out the new changes here.

Collaborated with the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) to implement an expanded scope of services

The IPA is an independent, third-party contractor who conducts secondary reviews of the Department’s investigations regarding police contacts, complaints and personnel. Historically, the IPA reviewed Police Department investigations relating to public complaints, Department-initiated internal affairs investigations, and all TASER deployments.

In 2021, the IPA’s scope of services was expanded at City Council’s direction. Now, the IPA reviews Police Department investigations relating to all of the following:

  • Use of force reports (where a baton, chemical agent, TASER, less-lethal projectile, canine, or firearm is used)
  • Any other use of force report if a subject is injured and needs any treatment beyond minor medical treatment in the field
  • Internal complaints against sworn officers regarding misconduct related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation

The IPA also confers with City Council two times per year and conducts one audit of process per year (the most recent being an audit of police hiring practices, which is currently underway).

For more details about the IPA, go here.

Complied with California Department of Justice Mandate & Radio Encryption Update

Also, at the Council meeting, the Chief provided an update on law enforcement agencies across the state having to comply with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) mandate prohibiting the transmission of Personally Identifying Information (PII) over unencrypted radio channels. In response, law enforcement agencies, including the Palo Alto Police Department, have updated their radio communications to an encrypted frequency. The Police Department made this change in January 2021, the eighth law enforcement agency in Santa Clara County to encrypt at that time. Sixteen agencies have made similar changes.

Since then, staff have explored alternatives to encryption in order to provide the highest level of transparency to the community while still complying with the DOJ mandate. The Palo Alto Police Department will continue to provide public information through various other channels, including the Police Calls for Service Interactive Map, news releases, social media, Nixle, and more. For all ways to connect with the Palo Alto Police Department, go here.

Following the Chief’s update, and shared perspectives from local media representatives, the City Council discussed radio encryption and directed staff to refine near real-time streaming of police calls for service, to narrow the location of the calls displayed on the new online interactive map, to require registration to access the map, and to work with police union groups on implementation. The Council also directed staff to send a letter of support for California Senator Becker’s proposed SB-1000, which proposes to limit radio encryption by law enforcement agencies. Council also directed staff to increase communications between PAPD senior staff and the media, as staffing permits.

To watch this meeting presentation and learn about the Council discussion, go here.

Looking ahead

“I’m very proud of the men and women of the Palo Alto Police Department who continually strive to find better ways to serve this community and have, in fact, made tremendous strides in updating outdated systems, modifying policies and protocols, strengthening accountability measures within the organization, and expanding the scope of outside review.”

– Police Chief Robert Jonsen

In order to build on the accomplishments of 2021, the Palo Alto Police Department has the following goals for 2022:

  • Continue to improve the Department’s recruitment, hiring, and retention processes
  • Continue to focus on the suppression of crime and the apprehension of criminals
  • Continue to share accurate information about police activities with the public and media partners in a prompt and responsive manner

More Online Resources

Go here for the Police Department website.

Go here for the PAPD Public Information Portal.

Go here for the PAPD Police Report Log.

Go here for the PAPD’s new Police Calls for Service Interactive Map.

Go here to file a commendation for a Department employee and go here to file a complaint on a Department employee or police officer.

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City of Palo Alto

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