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)

Police high speed pursuit crashes kill seven innocent bystanders weekly

Killing the innocent bystandersNothing is faster then a Motorola police radio when being pursued by police and yet high speed pursuit crashes occur on a daily basis often resulting in tragic fatalities, sometimes almost wiping out entire families.

The data on police high speed pursuits is alarming as one FBI report suggests; “one person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit.” In fact, FBI findings also point to the fact that, “1 percent of all U.S. law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty lost their lives in vehicle pursuits.”

During the year 2013 a total of 100 officers lost there lives in the line of duty, the lowest since 1959. Nevertheless, one death is one too many.

Innocent bystanders

Equally disturbing is the number of innocent bystanders killed during high speed police pursuits. Mandatory reporting on the actual number of casualties or fatalities, strangely enough, is not a U.S. reporting statistical requirement.

However, existing data suggests that suspects fleeing from police, kill 150 innocent bystanders annually in the US alone and some suggest this number is even higher.

Engaging a fleeing suspect vehicle comes as a great risk for everyone. With police pursuits there is a fine line between balancing suspect apprehension and protecting lives. The percentage of innocent bystanders killed or injured hovers around 42 percent nationally.

Why place public at risk

In reality, the use of a speeding patrol car (or, for that matter, any vehicle) should be considered the use of deadly force and no different from discharging an officers sidearm into a crowd of innocent people. Both can result in deadly consequences. It’s irresponsible and far from police best practices.

Fleeing suspects have no rules of the road and place everyone at further risk. Their primary objective is non-apprehension. Why then are vehicle pursuits even necessary given the modern day technology of license plate readers and the speed social media. Our opinion is you’ll get your man, or woman eventually.

Some studies suggest officers need to “win” or the “adrenaline rush” motivating factors in continuing the chase. A closer review indicates most pursuits are for minor vehicle violation and the methodology used to stop fleeing vehicles varies.

Most options include just the use of lights and sirens while others include the placement of tire spikes, roadblocks, helicopters, and social media such as amber alerts or just letting the suspect run out of gas.

Legal consequences and immunity from liability

“Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), was a decision by the United States Supreme Court involving a lawsuit against a sheriff’s deputy brought by a motorist who was paralyzed after the officer ran his eluding vehicle off the road during a high-speed car chase.

The driver contended that this action was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The case also involved the question of whether a police officer’s qualified immunity shielded him from suit under Section 1983.

On April 30, 2007, in an 8-1 decision, the court sided with police and ruled that a “police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.”

The consequences of this United States Supreme Court decision has a far more sinister impact for California citizens. California law provides for officer immunity on an unprecedented level when innocent bystanders in police pursuit chases are killed or maimed.

According to PursuitSAFETY.org website: “California has one specific area of law that is unique among the 50 states. California Vehicle Code Section 17004.7 provides immunity to law enforcement for injury to and death of innocent bystanders even when officers do not follow the vehicular pursuit policy their agency has actually adopted. There is no accountability to innocent victims and the families left behind.”

Choosing not to chase saves lives

Many policing agencies nationally have begun to change there policy on high speed pursuits as the direct result of one well know organization PursuitSafety.org who’s mission “is committed to reducing the number of deaths and injuries as a result of vehicular police pursuit and response call crashes.”

PursuitSafety.org operates primarily through national awareness programs and advocacy of police pursuit policy changes. They “exist to save lives”.

The Orlando, FL, Police Department, Dallas, TX, Police Department and the St. Louis, MO, County have all developed safety pursuit policy’s designed to pursue in some cases only the most dangerous of felons also taking into consideration road, traffic and weather conditions including and limiting the pursuit without further authorization up to 15 minutes. These policies were put in place to limit police pursuits and save lives.

PAPD pursuit policy kept under wraps

According to Lieutenant Zachary Perron, Public Affairs Manager, for the Palo Alto Police Department in an email classifies there pursuit policy as exempt from disclosure, “since it covers our specific [high speed pursuit] tactics.” and “in accordance with Government Code sections 6254(f), 6254(aa), and 6254(ab). ”

However recognizes, “Vehicle pursuits are one of the most dangerous activities that a police department can undertake, and they can have fatal consequences”.

We are very cognizant of that, and we have been for years. To my knowledge, there have never been any fatalities as a result of any vehicle pursuit by our personnel. Fortunately, vehicle pursuits are not common in Palo Alto. So far in 2014, we have had none. In all of 2013, we had one, and in all of 2012, we had only one as well. With that said, of course even one vehicle pursuit can end in tragedy, either for the suspects, officers, or innocent member of the public.” This excellent news!!!

Controversy on officer immunity questioned

“Due to that inherent danger, our vehicle pursuit policy provides officers with guidance in balancing the safety of the public and themselves against our duty to apprehend law violators. Quite frankly, and as evidenced by our exceptionally low number of vehicle pursuits, the immediate apprehension of a suspect is generally not more important than the safety of the public and the pursuing officers.

Also, with regards to the part in your article discussing immunity, I would also call your attention to section 21056 VC, which states that even when driving with red light and siren activated (as officers are required to have during a vehicle pursuit), officers must still drive with “due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”

We are NOT granted immunity if we are violating 21056 VC; rather, 17004.7 VC offers immunity if we are violating our policy (but it does not trump 20156 VC). This is an important distinction to make;……

We provide refresher training on our pursuit policy to all of our sworn personnel once every year. Any vehicle pursuit by our officers requires not only a supervisory report that is reviewed all the way up the chain of command to include the police chief, but also a report filed with the State of California via the California Highway Patrol.

Controversy Lingers

Our pursuit policy was expressly written and adopted pursuant to the provisions of 17004.7 VC, with additional input from the POST (Peace Officer Standards & Training) Vehicle Pursuit Guidelines. We have had a pursuit policy as long as I’ve been a police officer with PAPD (16 years now), and our current policy is updated twice a year by a firm of lawyers to ensure it is in compliance not only with current police best practices, but also with the most recent case law on the topic.”

Whether or not new legislation or clarification to change current laws (which appears designed to protect and limit police officer liability) is effective, remains to be seen. Protecting and preventing predicable outcomes of police high speed pursuits and balancing the rights of innocent bystanders should be the concern of all law enforcement personnel and legislators.

Palo Alto police need your help in seeking out tongue lasher assault

Tongue assult.jpgA woman told Palo Alto police that after she fell asleep during a late night cab ride, the cabbie pulled over and French-kissed her.

Police are looking for the driver, who is accused of sexual battery.

Police said the woman had been out with friends before grabbing a downtown cab at 1:15 a.m. Saturday in downtown Palo Alto.

The woman told police she got into the back of the cab, and fell asleep. When the woman woke up, the cab driver had pulled over, got into the backseat and was kissing her with his tongue in her mouth, police said.

The woman jumped out of the taxi and wandered for about 45 minutes before she found her way back to her friends, called the police at 2:47 [and 10 seconds to be precise] a.m.

Police said that the taxi driver was described as a man between 60 and 70 with a beard and a turban [on his tongue for protection.]

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Palo Alto’s Tunnel of Love and Hate

Caitlin Ann Taylor-Stanford University, Ca
Caitlin Ann Taylor-Stanford University, Ca – Santa Clara County Jail Booking Photo furnished by Google

But you better be careful you just might be arrested. That was the experience of one MADD scientist from all places Stanford University as described in a detailed police report provide by PAPD Lt. Zachary Perron:

Caitlin Ann Taylor (DOB 05-18-1990, female, 5’7” tall, 140 lbs, blonde hair, hazel eyes) was arrested on 09-17-2013 at 7:42 p.m. in the 2400 block of Bryant Street.

She was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on 09-17-2013 at 8:55 p.m. for 148(a)(1) PC (resist arrest) and 243(b) PC (battery on peace officer), both of which are misdemeanors. She was released from custody on 09-18-2013 at 3:48 a.m., and her bail is set at $6000. Her occupation is “scientist.”

It just goes to show and prove that those arrested come from all walks and cyclists of life.

Why the arrest detail? Good question. California civil code allows all media reporting agency’s to do so despite what some may feel as an evasion of privacy. Bottom line, once your arrested, it becomes public record. Here’s the civil code procedure: See: California Government Code & 6254 (f) (1).

Government Code Section 6250-6270

(1) The full name and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, the time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held, and all charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds.

So what’s the problem with Pedestrians vs Cyclists?

According to eyewitnesses, the Palo Alto police have been stationing themselves outside the tunnel of love and hate entrance to catch illegal contraband? No, no Mexican cartel this time.

Walk BikeThe PAPD have been assigned to catch cyclists riding their bikes through the tunnel of love and hate illegally. Although there are no signs posted warning otherwise so whats the Baskin-Robbins problem or scoop?

According to unconfirmed reports, pedestrians have been complaining about cyclists zooming through the tunnel of love and hate at reckless speeds without consideration for their foot-tracking brethren’s safety almost knocking them over on a daily bases all the while they should be walking their bikes as posted.

What’s interesting is that their is no municpale code attached to this sign [a first for Palo Alto] indicating an infraction of the law. What’s up with that Palo Alto? They have an ordinance or law to cover almost everything we do in Palo Alto. You name it, they got it! [PAMC 2.0]

The lack of a PAMC may in fact be a viable defense for this MADD scientist ridding her bike through Palo Alto’s tunnel of love and hate not so friendly bike city, but assaulting a peace officer!

Finding the right solutions

That’s a big no, no. Even in my book, you deserve everything meted out to you by the judge.  Don’t even think about placing your hands on a peace officer under any circumstance.  If you allegedly did, your a real “bonafide” MADD scientist.

Alexander, an avid bike rider BTW from Stanford who declined to provide his last name said that the number of cyclists he’s observed walking their bikes through the tunnel of love and hate out of 100, was 10 percent. That’s MADDing high percentage.

Lin Liu, another Palo Alto Stanford worker, and Earth Science Researcher, said that in the two years of walking through the tunnel of love and hate, putting things in a researchers perceptive formula of 4 riders to 1 walker…

In conversation with the first person interviewed, we both agreed, arresting persons for riding their bikes is not the answer.  Their ‘needs to be a mutual coexistence’.

lane dividerSo we came up with what we beleive to be a lasting solution.  Highway dividers, those relative poles to run right down the center of the tunnel of love and hate.

Cyclists on one side, and pedestrians on the other side. That just might work with the caveat of adding one of Palo Alto’s famous in your face control your life municipal code warnings.

Related story: Now this is worthy of a police chase and the waste of taxpayer dollars

DA Jeff Rosen supports Palo Alto police in tracking your every whereabouts with impunity

PAPD license plate reader.jpgPolice departments in the mid-Peninsula have been quick to buy automatic license plate readers that scoop up enormous amounts of data about innocent residents.

But they haven’t been as fast in creating safeguards to prevent data from being misused.

Menlo Park police, who put one such plate reader into operation over the summer, are going to City Council tomorrow to ask for permission to buy three more.

Thanks to grants from the Department of Homeland Security, every Police Department in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties has at least one license plate scanner. But not one department has a policy to regulate their use.

license plate readerThe scanners, usually mounted on top of a police car, automatically takes pictures of every license plate in view. The data, time and location are recorded, too. This data can be analyzed to create a permanent record of where any of us has driven.

“The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit,” the ACLU said in a report in July.

Money-making opportunities

The license plate scanners can help find stolen cars quickly. Police can raise money with the scanners by catching motorists who were late paying their vehicle registration fees or parking tickets.

All a police department has to do is park a police car with a plate scanner near a busy street, and then pull over all scofflaws.

The data local police collect is stored to buy a Homeland Security fusion Center in San Francisco, known as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.

The fusion Center signed a $340,000 contract with Palo Alto’s Palantir to construct a database of license plate records from local police departments, according to a report by the Center for investigative reporting.

That same report said that the San Francisco fusion Center will store license plate records for up to two years, regardless of data retention limits set by local police departments.

The police department that feels it should be erasing data on innocent residents sooner than two years will have to battle the fusion Center and Homeland Security.

Growing surveillance state

This issue of collecting license plate data comes at a time when, thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we now know that the federal government is collecting data about all Americans’ phone calls, emails and credit card transactions.

It seems hopeless for average citizens to fight the federal government over this surveillance. Leaders of both parties favor it, and a large number of Americans believe that NSA surveillance protect us from terrorists.

But while we can feel powerless to take on the federal government, average citizens can have influence on elected city councils, which are supposed to oversee Police Department.

We can demand that our city council’s tell the police to put reasonable restrictions on data collection on innocent citizens by these plate readers. It’s not unreasonable to have police delete data on innocents with in a week of its collection.

Last year, then-state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced a bill that would limit the amount of time local police departments could retain plate data to 60 days unless the agency is using the data to investigate a crime.

The bill died in the legislature after heavy lobbying against it by law enforcement and the manufacturers of plate readers.

It will be used against you

Wolfgang Schmidt, a retired colonel in the former East German secret police known as the Stasi, told the McClatchy news service in July that he was amazed by the amount of information the U.S. government collects on it’s people. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” Schmidt said.

He said the dark side to gathering such broad, seemingly untargeted amount of information is obvious.

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used, “Schmidt said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect its people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

To get a sense of how bad things got in communist East Germany, see the movie “The Lives of Others,” which won the Oscar for best foreign language film and 2006.

It’s about the relationship between a Stasi officer and a playwright he’s assigned to spy upon, and how the government uses information to manipulate people and turn them into informants. It’s particularly relevant in light of the Snowden revelations.

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