Future of Palo Alto’s Secret Police Community Advisory Group Meetings – On Hold

Open MicIt was literally an open mic with only two of the original police community advisory group members present to hear Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns outline its future role.

The police advisory group was secretly formed by Chief Dennis Burns with its members handpicked from the community, several being rejected during the interviewing process including an attorney.

This group was primarily tasked to mend what appeared to be strained race relations between the African American and Latino communities left in the wake of former Police Chief Lynne Johnsons’ directive, to stop and question all African American fitting a certain description as unchecked racial profiling having resulted from a string of assaults alleged to have been committed by an African American.

Many African Americans, especially from the East Palo Alto community felt her actions only validated there long held conviction that they had always been the target of discriminatory policing tactics namely, taillight stops .  Her actions coupled with a strong community outcry led to her eventual resignation.

In Chief Burns announcement to the Human Relations Commission on January 10th, stated, that the police advisory group would no long be meeting in what he described as having “exhausted what we have done” which suggested to us that Chief Burns and his secret advisory group had accomplished their goals, on improving police community relations.

During the course of these community think tank meetings or sessions, the general public nor the press were not allowed to attend causing further distrust within the community and some labeled it as an affront to open government and transparency.

In fact, the hand pick participants remained nameless for months and were held back from public vetting out of fear of ridicule and criticism coupled with what they later claimed was the inability to speak freely in a public forum setting.

I reminded Chief Burns during oral communications, a time allotted for public input (I was the only one) the need for greater public transparency by quoting the following directive as set out by Eric Holder of the Department of Justice.  Eric Holder is essentially Chief Burns boss, as top cop.

“In the 21st Century, democracy demands an innovative approach to policy making – an approach built on transparency, participation, and collaboration. These foundational qualities are the keys to creating a more effective government that taps the creativity and diversity of an entire nation to generate solutions to the challenges we face.”

In his closing remarks, Chief Burns suggested that the future role and direction of any new police advisory group, may fall into the hands of Palo Alto contracted Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco and his team, for what he hinted would be a new approach to fresh ideas.

Chief Burns, and to his credit, did recognized the value of Eric Holders challenge by suggesting that any future discussions on police community relations, should include the general public.  We hope it does….