Welcome to Palo Alto – Now empty out your pockets!

Palo Alto Welcome SignFor the millions of visitors who visit Palo Alto annually, that greeting, “Welcome to Palo Alto” represents a sign of friendship.

However, for those who live just a stone’s throw away, in East Palo Alto, it’s more like an International Border crossing with unspoken conditions of travel appearing to be specially designed for the vast majority of African Americans and Latino Americans who live in East Palo Alto.

Fear of being pulled over

The welcoming sign, for many represents’ a sign of fear as one East Palo Alto business owner, Elwyn Rainer of Rainers Service Station put it; “The majority of Hispanics and African Americans are afraid to travel over to Palo Alto in fear of being pulled over and searched for no reasons”.

“Research has verified that people of color are more often stopped than whites” as reported in one study by the Office of Justice Programs. In fact, Mr. Rainer describes himself as the “Poster Child” of what he perceives as racially motivated vehicle stops by the Menlo Park and Palo Alto police departments based solely upon the color of his skin.

In one of Mr. Rainer’s many vehicle stops the officer did state the reason why he was pulled over. In one stop, it was because as he put it, “your bumper went over the white pedestrian crossing line”.

“It doesn’t matter what I’m being pulled over for I’m always asked; “Are you on probation, recently released from jail all asked all in one breathe” as he put it.

Questioning intensifies

That’s when the line of questioning intensifies; “Do you mind if we search your vehicle”? He said, “It makes you afraid so I always consent out of fear”. Mr. Rainer admittedly said that he does have a “colorful past” and did not disclose what the past was. None the less he no longer travels over to Palo Alto.

Many of the perceived unspoken travel requirements necessary before entering Palo Alto by East Palo Alto citizens include, functioning taillights, current registration, license, both plates, insurance, no strong odors and having the right tattoos of all things.

Recent border crossing from East Palo Alto

That was the experience of one recent border crossing detainment by the Palo Alto police department involving two East Palo Alto Latino citizens while traveling on University Ave.

She relates, “They had stopped us because the car didn’t have the front license plate; he first explained why he had pulled us over but then right after he asked my boyfriend if he has ever been in trouble before.

He asked how old were we and took down my information, within seconds he asked my boyfriend to step out the car and questioned him about his tattoos on both arms (his last name).

After minutes of having him by the police car, the cop asked me to get out the car and asked me to empty out my pocket’s and also he searched my boyfriend and the car.

He had said it smelled like the illegal substance Marijuana, when he had searched the car he didn’t find anything. After he was done he kept questioning both of us about where did we live and what we’re we doing in Palo Alto”.

Just being stopped by the police under any circumstance can be nerve racking in itself. However, we believe the nature or line questions asked in these two cases in our opinion appears to be discriminatory and biased in nature with the intent of targeting minorities and or the disenfranchised.

Attempted explanation

Not so! And in explaining the vehicle stop which occurred recently on University Ave, Palo Alto police Lieutenant now Captain Zachary Perron states; “every vehicle stop is different. There are many reasons why an officer might request an occupant to get out of a vehicle during a detention; in fact, case law allows officers to do it on any stop.

It would be irresponsible for me to speculate about why any officer would ask occupants to step out of a vehicle on any particular stop, since each stop is different.”

However, “building better community relations is still one of the primary concerns of law enforcement throughout the country. That is why every action by a law enforcement officer has a bearing on the relationship of the agency with the community. Since most citizens come into contact with law enforcement officers at traffic stops, this becomes a critical element for law enforcement agencies in their overall public relations effort.

“Traffic enforcement offers agencies a way to build bridges to the community, one traffic stop at a time”. As cited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police

Disturbing questions remain

Were disappointed but not surprised that Lieutenant Zachary Perron did not address the all important questions of; “have you ever been arrested or are you on probation” as the first questions asked in the two East Palo Alto vehicle stop examples.

We beleive the average citizen no matter what their ethnicity, would find these questions to be derogatory, inflammatory, offensive and discriminatory and in no way designed to build trust especially within minority communities.

We left a voice mail message with East Palo Alto Police Information Officer Veronica Barries seeking her comments. She has yet to return our call. Lastly, we strongly feel as suggested by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that “The first words spoken by the officer may very well determine the tone of the encounter and even the eventual outcome” in building better community relationships especially among minorities.

Also see: Palo Alto Police Department’s Response to Concerns Regarding Bias-Based Policing

Profiling Atherton http://kentbrew.github.io/profiling-atherton/

Palo Alto police official response to third party complaint

City of Houston v. Hill – 482 U.S. 451 (1987)

For some it’s no longer a walk in the park anymore

We have been disturbed by recent reports of homeless individuals being accosted from park benches and while lying or sleeping on the grass being asked to produce identification by officers of the Palo Alto Police department at Elinor Cogswell Plaza.

In fact, the actions of the PAPD appear to be captured by community journalist Tony Ciampi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IHtZpCEe_8

The homeless emerge to be the only ones affected or selected group targeted by the PAPD. Of course, we believe all city parks are for the enjoyment of everyone and to here of such reports are indeed alarming.

Only the homeless questioned

As of recent, the city of Palo Alto is moving forward with a citywide ban on the homeless preventing them from sleeping in their vehicles on city streets.  Were wondering if the PAPD is gearing up or engaging in training exercises as a prelude of what’s to come.

Consensual contact with the police is one thing but to be detained, questioned and then asked to produce your identification for no apparent reason may come close to violating ones constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Whether or not these officers have or had probable cause to accost and demand identification during questioning remains to be seen.

No longer a walk in the park anymore

We can’t imagine anyone enjoying Palo Alto city parks having to be disturbed while on break or with their families or the homeless enjoying a game of chess or otherwise being faced with unnecessary infringement to peace and liberty.

We have sent an email to Lieutenant Zach Perron Manager, Investigative Services Division seeking his comment. Lieutenant Zack Perron is also department head of social media and chief Public Information Officer.