The human cost of doing police business and at what cost
Sex and more sex scandals
The human cost of doing police business and at what cost
Sex and more sex scandals
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.
The 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.
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.
The car camping ban goes into effect Sept. 19, though it won’t be enforced for 90 days, and the Cubberley ban is likely to begin Oct. 19.
How will police enforcement?
Palo Alto Chief Communications Officer Claudia Keith said that the city has not yet made any special plans for the days when the laws first going to affect, despite the possible difficulty of getting some homeless who have been living at the center for months or years to leave.
She added that the city is trying to let homeless campers who live at the center know that they have to leave through police and those who work for the city’s Downtown Streets Team, which organizes homeless volunteers to clean streets.
For the past four weeks, Palo Alto police have sent extra patrols to Cubberley to walk the grounds during the evening and night.
At a city Council Policy and Services Committee meeting on Aug.13, Capt. Ron Watson said that the city was spending $3,500 in overtime costs every week just on the Cubberley patrol.
At the same meeting, Watson said that over the past weeks, police had counted 30 homeless sleeping outside at the community center and 20 people camping in their cars.
But when Oct.10 rolls around, none of those people will be able to get into Cubberley to sleep, because the city will close the entrance to the parking lots between 10:30 p.m. and sunrise, according to Keith.
While the law to close Cubberley, as well as Lucie Stern Community Center, would go into effect exactly 31 days after being approved on Sept 9, the car camping ban will be phased in more slowly.
‘Grace period” planned
Beginning on Sept. 19, there will be a 60-day “Grace period,” when people who are still camping in their cars will only be spoken to by police, Keith said.
That will be followed by a 30-day time period during which car campers will be given warnings. Soon after that, however, police will have the ability to cite both car campers and those who are found at the community centers with misdemeanors, which could result in as many as six months in jail and maximum $1,000 fine.
Calls placed by Post reporters to city employees, including City Manager James Keene, are now being returned by the new hire, Claudia Keith, who wants to know what questions the newspaper had.
Often she has acted as a go-between between a reporter and a city employee, relaying what the employee has said to the journalist.
“It sounds like she’s trying to justify her position,” said Alan Mittelstaedt, a journalism professor at you USC and former news editor of the LA Weekly.
Mittelstaedt said that as time goes on Keith will learn that her job is “more of an invisible one.”
He said typically a spokeswoman would welcome a call from media and would try to get to the person they are looking for faster.
It takes “a self-confident political official to know that the department head is the best person” to talk to the media. Mittelstaedt said. Keith was hired by the city in April. The city’s website has a job description for chief communication officer.
“This individual be an ambassador for the organization and will need to build relationships with the media,” the website states. It goes on to say that the person will “exercise judgment to prioritize media opportunities, and prepare talking points, speeches, presentations and other supporting materials as needed.”
Oftentimes, reporters’ calls to the city manager’s office, human resources and the city attorney’s office are returned by Keith.
Keith told the Post that she calls to make sure reporters get whatever they need and make the process more efficient. Part of her job is to be open and transparent to facilitate the process of getting information out there.
If it is needed, she said she can provide a statement on behalf of City Manager Jim Keene. If “you ask me your question, I can provide a quote from Jim,” she said.
Keith said he is “very busy “and can’t always call back. But she said that if she can answer the question, then she will.
Keith said it is difficult for the city when reporters asked the same question of six different city employees and all of them are trying the answer. “It’s not an efficient use of time,” she said.
On August, 1, the Post called the Palo Alto Police Department about the proposed car camping ban that was about to go to council. Police said questions regarding possible violations would have to be directed to Keith, the city’s spokeswoman.
Keith, who according to police was designated to answer any questions, told the Post that she hadn’t read the ordnance and would have to get back after some “checking”.
In July, the Post tried to talk with City Manager Jim Keene about a grand jury report that said the city’s rate for public safety retirees with disabilities was the highest in the county with 51%, or 22 out of 43, but numerous phone messages were intercepted by Keith.
The Post tried to ask Keene about the number of public safety employees retiring with disabilities, and asked if the city is OK with the rate or, if not, what are the city’s plans to change it.
Calls to Keene were return by Keith who said she “thinks” the city would want to reduce the numbers of police officers and firefighters injured on the job but didn’t have more information than that.
Greater change of error
Thomas Ulrich, who teaches journalism at San Jose State University has written for the Christian Science Monitor, TIME Magazine and the Washington Post, said accuracy is the most important goal for a reporter and when a person takes on the role of a gatekeeper, it increases the opportunity for inaccuracies since that person can’t be the authority on all of the city’s issues.
“They, (the city) is trying to control whatever is written about them,” Ulrich said.
He said Keith “must be in place to say we’re going to protect comments that are true, but not thought out.”
The city is now asking that, in many cases, reporters email their questions instead of asking in an interview. Conducting interviews through email with a city official provides a “rational rather than emotional answer, ” Ulrich said, since it allows time for answers to be more thought out rather than spontaneous.
Palo Alto resident Carla Befera, who has owned her own public relations firm since 1986 and previously worked for KQED as a communication manager, said the job of someone in communication is to make it easier for information get out in a “cohesive and timely” manner.
Part of the job is setting up interviews with officials who are typically hard to get a hold of, Befrea said.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said, to get reporters to the people they want to speak with. Befera said Keith may still be trying to figure out how city officials will work with her to make information available to the public.
Palo Alto will close down the public showers at the Cubberely Community Center in an attempt to regain control of what city manager Jim Keene has called a “de facto homeless shelter.”
City Council members will meet with homeless advocates and church leaders Tuesday to talk about how to help the homeless now that the city has ban sleeping cars, but Keene said yesterday that no matter what, the free showers will end on August 31.
In a report to the committee, Keene said the showers are one of the key attractions make Cubberely a magnet for homeless car campers.
Despite the emotional and sometimes disruptive protests of homeless advocates who said the car can ban criminalizes homelessness, the city Council voted 7-2 on Monday to ban the practice.
The ban, which will take effect in approximately six months, with make vehicle habitation a crimes that would be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The meeting on Tuesday is meant to take a less punitive look at ways to help the local homeless population.
In the meantime, through, some steps could be taken to help solve problems that residents and Cubberley workers have complained about, including closing the showers that have been opened in the early morning four years so that the homeless can bathe there.
In 2004, some of the homeless who camped at Cubberley asked the facility workers there to open the showers at 6 a.m. so that they could shower before work.
After the city received complaints from some of the nonprofits and businesses that use Cubberely, the hours were shortened from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. – 8 a.m.
Not an official program
“The use of the showers is neither a formal city of Palo Alto program nor an official policy, and staff has set a closure date for public use of Aug. 31, “Keene wrote in the report to the committee.”The closure does not require action by the council.”
Later, the report says, “specific complaints have centered on individuals or groups of individuals intoxicated, lawn chairs that are set up next to RV’s, loud music coming from the parking lot on weekends, syringe needles found around campus, and encounters with half-dressed people going to the showers in the morning.”
Keene said that there was also concern with people peeing and defecating in the open, dumping sewage in the bathroom sinks, cleaning cooking utensils in bathroom sink, and fights in the bathrooms and showers, among other things.
The committee, which includes council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein, Liz Kniss, and Gail Price, will also consider closing the bathrooms at Cubberely for part of the night between 10:30 p.m. and sunrise during the time that about 20 people or more sleep at the center every evening.
“As Cubberely is currently open overnight, staff is concerned for the safety and security of the Cubberely patriots, tenants, staff and individuals residing on campus,” the report says.
Help for the homeless
According to the report, Keene proposes that the city immediately start closing the showers, give people bus fare to go use the showers at the Opportunity Center and put them in touch with case managers.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Keene both called on nonprofits and churches to help the city deal with homelessness.
“I would challenge the nonprofits to come forward and say, here is how we can put this together,” Kniss said.
Edie Keating, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church who opposes the car camping ban that the city Council voted to pass on Monday night, said she and people representing other churches planned to attend Tuesday meeting to see how they can work with the city and local nonprofits like InVision, which runs the low income housing at Palo Alto’s homeless center.
Roaming shelter program
Keating said her church will be hosting the city’s roaming homeless shelter program, Hotel de Zink, for the month of September, and said she thinks expanding the program might be one way to help the homeless.
“I think there’s a possibility there, we’ve never had any problems with the Hotel de Zinks.” But she added that she understands why it might be hard for some churches to get their members to agree to host the month-long shelter program at their church.
“Since many churches are in residential areas, there may be push-back for using their sites as part of a distributed car camping program,” she said. “What will be important is to find sites that are well-accepted, some of them might be at businesses.”
In a decision last-night that shook the homeless of Cubberley Community Center also known as Palo Alto’s “de facto homeless shelter”, Vehicle dwellers will no longer be able to sleep in their cars or vans in a vote, 2 against and 7 for the ban on vehicle habitation.
The long two year battle some say has just begun with one local attorney William Safford vowing to represent any vehicle dweller faced with penalties at no charge if homeless vehicle dwellers are cited under the new Palo Alto city ordinance. A charging offense of a misdemeanor under the new law and California Penal Code.
Strong passions were evident as those opposed to the ordinance stepped up to the microphone pleading with council-members for compassion and to look for other solutions rather than taking away their shelter and the security of their vehicles.
Concerns for personal safety
However, many of the residence of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, which boarders Cubberley Community Community Campus, express their concerns for personal safety as a result of the growing homeless population. They feared for their safety and as one person related, even beginning to feel “paranoid”.
Councilmen Larry Klein a staunch supporter of the ban was determined to restore safety to the area and felt it was his moral obligation to do so. Liz Kniss another supporter of the ban challenged the faith based and non-profit communities to lend greater assist in finding additional solutions and out-reach services for the homeless community.
Sealed fate of Vehicle Dwellers
What sealed the fate of the vehicles dwellers were perhaps the personal tours provided by the Palo Alto police in where they discovered by way of license plate checks that many of the vehicles were not even registered with Palo Alto addresses giving rise and support that Palo Alto was in fact becoming a magnet for the homeless.
This personalized police tour uncovered 27 vehicles’ and 15 people sleeping in sleeping bags. Gail Price stated that homelessness is ‘one of the biggest social issues facing our nation’ but felt the ordinance was necessary.
The ordinance she said would not be a single action but that she would be looking for the “next” steps in helping the homeless population in Palo Alto.
Soft roll-out of vehicle habitation ordinance
Our concerns are, as the city of Palo Alto roles out there phased approach in helping the homeless and homeless vehicle dwellers that the Palo Alto police will be rousting out the homeless vehicle dwellers from their cars and sleeping bags at all hours with what they feel is “probable cause” to search their vehicles and personal possessions under the ruse of a “welfare check” as the city implements this new ordinance.
One homeless vehicle dweller, Diane Jones living in her vehicle since last November on Cubberley campus say’s she has been harassed at all hours by the PAPD knocking on her windows. “They knock and pound at the doors and windows and we “can’t get any rest”. Our question is, who’s going to police the police on reported bad behavior on their part?
Palo Alto often is on the cutting edge, and the first city to try anything. But when it comes to the proposed ban on living or sleeping in cars that goes to City Council tonight, Palo Alto is late to the party.
In Santa Clara County, 12 cities prohibit people from living for sleeping in their vehicles, while Monte Sereno and Los Altos do not. In San Mateo County, 18 cities have such ordinances, while only East Palo Alto, Colma and Portola Valley don’t. Menlo Park prohibiting overnight parking on residential streets, which effectively bans car camping.
Redwood City police Sgt. Greg Farley said the city doesn’t have an ordinance specifically banning people from sleeping in their vehicles. But he said police will knock on the door and charges up to the discretion of the officers. Typically a warning will be given, he said.
Farley said people usually move on or stay awake. If a vehicle citation is given, the first time there is a fine of $100, the second time it’s a $200 and each time after that it goes to $500, be said.
Farley said the city doesn’t receive many complaints about people living in their cars. Typically police come across commuters who pulled over off the highway to sleep.
The Kmart parking lot on veterans Boulevard is where police typically find people living in cars, but with Kaiser now taking a portion of the lot, the numbers have gone down, Farley said.
Menlo Park police Sgt. Matthew Ortega said the city has no particular ordinance for people living in their cars. But cars can’t be parked on residential streets or within 300 feet of residential zones between 2 AM and 5 AM., Ortega said. Residents have to park in their driveway or have a permit to park on the street, he said.
If a car is parked on the street during this time and person is in the car or nearby, he said the police would first ask them to move, but they could be cited for a parking infraction, which is a minimum of $25 for the first time.
At other times during the day, Ortega said police would not stop, if the car is parked legally, for a person in a car, except to maybe make a welfare check.
Ortega is aware of Palo Alto’s proposed ordinance, and he said Menlo Park may “steal” it, if and when it is passed.
Los Altos police Sgt. Cameron Shearer said that the city doesn’t have a ordinance saying a person cannot sleep in his car.
You can’t park here
There is an ordinance saying no one can stop or park a car on any street for longer than 30 minutes between the hours of 2 AM and 6 AM if there is notice posted on the block.
But Shearer said he is not aware of anywhere in the city that this is currently posted.
The number of complaints police receive regarding people sleeping in their cars is minimal, Shearer said. If police do come across someone in their vehicle for a long time, they trying to make sure the person is OK and is receiving social services, if needed, he said.
Mountain View police did not return calls Friday, but the city does have an ordnance stating no one can live in a car park on the street in residential areas.
If Palo Alto’s ordinance passes tonight, police response to people living in vehicles will be mostly complained driven, according to city officials.
It will be up to the discretion of the police officer as to whether to issue a warning for arrest and offender, but police will try to match people living in their cars with the services needed.
City attorney Molly Stump previously told the Post that a violation could result in a misdemeanor charge, but that’s “pretty far down the road.” The penalty for a misdemeanor is a fine up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail.
Former Santa Clara County public defender Aram James, an opponent of the car camping ban, said that based on his calculations, using a study completed by a legal industry trade publication, a trial for just one case, if a person were arrested for living in his car, could cost taxpayers to $10,000 a day.
James said this is money that could be spent on solutions to homelessness. He also said the number of cases that could arise from an ordinance, such as the one proposed in Palo Alto, could overburden the criminal justice system and the public defender office in Santa Clara County.
Calls to the public defender office we’re not returned last week. If council approves the ordinance banning car camping, a second we will occur no less than 11 days after the first reading.
The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the reading, but the City Council’s Policy and Services Committee, which is made up of four council members, has recommended a phased approach that defers full enforcement for six months.
A proposed ban on sleeping in cars going before Palo Alto City Council on Monday doesn’t say that a violation would be a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, but the city attorney confirmed this yesterday.
The proposed ordinance banning the “human of habitation vehicles,” which is 365 words on two pages, makes no mention of the penalty. And the penalty isn’t mentioned in City Manager James Keene’s report to City Council in advance of Monday’s meeting.
Parking violations in Palo Alto Municipal Code are infractions, a step below a misdemeanor, which only results in a fine and no possibility of jail. City officials yesterday downplayed the misdemeanor aspect of the proposed ban, saying arrests would be a last resort.
Officers to use discretion
City Attorney Molly Stump said a violation could result in a misdemeanor charge, but that “pretty far down the road.” She said the decision to arrest an offender is something that is up to the discretion of the police officer, but police will try to match people who are living in their cars with the services needed.
The Post wanted to talk to Palo Alto police about the proposed ordinance . But police said that all questions would have to be directed to the city’s Chief Communication Officer Claudia Keith. Initially yesterday, Keith didn’t know for sure if the ordinance was a misdemeanor, and she said she have to do some close “checking.”
Then the Post reached City Attorney Stump, who was able to confirm that while the ordinance going before council on Monday doesn’t mention a penalty, it is a misdemeanor under the Municipal Code.
Stump said when a complaint of someone living in their the car is received, police officers will respond based on the facts in each situation. She said it isn’t possible to provide one blanket penalty for all situations.
City officials are “aware that many individuals living in vehicles there may be extenuating economic, mental or physical health issues that are difficult to overcome and that may be best addressed by one or more of the local social services providers,” Keene said in his report.
Palo Alto rarely has qualms about eco-friendly design features, but city officials have told a new downtown store to remove part of a bike rack that bears the name store’s name because it violates a city law against advertising on a public sidewalk.
After it opened its store on 278 University Ave., Keen Footware added three bike shaped racks on the sidewalk along Bryant Street.
Thomas Fehrenbach, the city’s Economic Development Manager said that even though the developer paid to provide racks for the public, the city won’t let them remain as they are because the word “Keen” is prominently displayed on the center of the racks.
“We’ve been working with the owner to try to bring the bike racks into compliance with city laws…To either permanently cover the advertising or remove it, “Fenrenbach said.
Attempts to reach the building’s owner Roxy Rapp, was unsuccessful. Fehrenbach said he got wind of the bike rack violation about a week ago when the racks were installed.
Fehrenbach said that “movable “advertisements, like the folding signs some business put on the sidewalk are allowed with a permit, but fixed advertisements, such as those on the bike racks, aren’t allowed at all under city law.
Typically, Fehrenbach said, businesses that put out a sign without a permit are only reprimanded by the city if someone complains about it. So far, he said, he hadn’t heard anyone complaining about the bike racks.
Fehrenbach said that he had not asked store owners to cover the bike racks with cardboard cutouts to cover the offending advertisement.
“I think it’s a great place for a public amenity like a bike rack,”Fehrenbach said, but if the business doesn’t remove them, the city might be forced to.
Menlo Park Police Chief Robert Jonsen said last night that he wants to follow a consultant’s recommendation to dramatically increase police camera surveillance throughout the city and equip officers with Tasers.
Among other things, the report recommended that the city install cameras in high-crime areas as well as a “ShotSpotter” system like the one used by the city of East Palo Alto. Such systems are used to pinpoint where gunshots come from and alert police.
The proposal to acquire multiple kinds of new law-enforcement cameras and technology came in a report written by the consulting company Belcher, Ehle, Medina and Associates. The report, presented at last night’s City Council meeting, analyzed the police departments performance and areas for improvement.
License plate readers
The report presented by consultant Steve Bletcher, also recommended an automatic license plate recognition system, which would photograph and document the license plates of cars going in and out of the city.
The report also advocated buying multiple video cameras for police cars. According to Jonsen, body cameras that will be worn by officers have already been ordered. If further recommended installing cameras and audio recorders in the lobby and jail area of the police station.
Alternatives to guns
Bletcher said his group also concluded that Menlo Park should consider arming its officers with Tasers, which he called a useful alternative to guns.
The 2012-2013 budget for the police department is $14.7 million. There are 47 sworn officers and 22.75 civilian employees.
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