East Palo Alto will not contract out police services

City Council decides not to explore outsourcing police services to San Mateo County

Responding to overwhelming public concerns about transparency and accountability, East Palo Alto's elected leaders on Tuesday night scrapped a staff proposal to consider outsourcing police services to San Mateo County.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Larry Moody dissenting, not to pursue the option of contracting out the city's police services, Councilman Ruben Abrica said. The vote came about two weeks after City Manager Magda Gonzalez and Assistant City Manager Barbara Powell recommended exploring the outsourcing option as part of a broader transition period in the department.

Councilman Ruben Abrica said the the council decided to end the discussion of contracting out police services after hearing from members of the public, who filled every seat in the Council Chambers Tuesday night and beseeched city leaders to keep police services local. Abrica said speakers were concerned about the prospect of losing accountability and local control over police services.

"It was very representative group of people in the community -- different age groups, different ethnic groups -- and they were pretty much telling us with a unanimous voice, 'Don't do this,'" Abrica said.

Many cited the historic tensions between the community and police and the recent progress the city has made to foster trust, said Abrica, who also shares this sentiment. He pointed to the progress the city had made in recent years in building trust and improving the relationship between police and the community. He said he was concerned that even considering the outsourcing option would "fracture the relationship that it has taken years to build."

Though city staff had never recommended outsourcing the police services, Powell suggested in a staff report last month that the option may be worth studying further. She wrote that an in-house police department is just one model used by cities of East Palo Alto's size and that other cities contract out the service.

"The City Manager has had discussions with City Council members, and a majority have expressed an interest in having staff gather as much information as possible in order to enable the Council to explore options and make informed decisions," Powell wrote.

The discussion was prompted by the recent retirement of Ron Davis, who served as police chief for eight years before announcing in late October that he would leave to become director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Since then, the city has had two interim chiefs.

"The recent retirement of former Chief of Police Ron Davis, and the appointment of two Interim Police Chiefs in succession, provides a unique opportunity for the City of East Palo Alto to gather as much information as possible, and to evaluate the provision of public safety services, with an emphasis on the City's unique needs and attributes," Powell wrote in a staff report.

But the decision by city administrators to link succession planning and potential outsourcing created unnecessary confusion on a topic that is both incredibly sensitive and critically important, Abrica said. The council recognized this Tuesday when it voted not to explore this option any further.

"The issue was really starting to create a lot of instability and turmoil, both within the police department and the community," Abrica said.

In a separate action, the council voted to rescind a $77,000 grant it had approved in November to give to local nonprofits New Creation Home Ministries and Able Works after it was discovered that Moody's wife works at New Creation, which created a conflict of interest. Abrica said the council rescinded this grant with Moody recusing himself from the vote.

The $77,000 was part of a larger $163,333 in grants from Measure C funds, which are used to combat crime by supporting services for at-risk youth and adults. The council voted to reallocate the total $163,333 to a collaboration of nonprofits who previously received a portion: Able Works, HIP Housing and Bayshore Christian Ministries (New Creation is no longer involved).


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

I am not surprised at all by this decision, nor by the community being against outsourcing police services. Perhaps it's a case of the devil we know being better than the devil we don't know?

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm

It's always a tough call whether people are more worried about their freedom or their security.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Musical - it's not a tough call at all. Residents are concerned about both. Your comment surprised me, as it seems pretty ignorant. OTOH, it's a typical Palo Alto comment, so I guess I shouldn't be that shocked.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hmmm, I was reflecting more on the national debate, Snowden et al. Sure we want both. You are correct that I am pretty ignorant of EPA politics, but no matter where I lived and how bad the conditions became, I'd be nervous about outsourcing police services. The flip side of Joe's comment is that there doesn't seem to be much support for turning EPA into a police state.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

And the impetus for my comment just disappeared, so now I look like the troll.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Oops - my apologies, Musical! I pondered your comment again and slapped my forehead, realizing I'd misunderstood. I totally understand now, and I'm sorry. How odd that the previous commenter assumes that another police dept. can actually do a better job, or that outsourcing is the best solution.

I am not sure what the next steps will be to save money and avoid outsourcing. Generally, I think it's a smart move. E. Palo Alto, however, is smart to be very, very wary of doing so, given the history of the other two departments with E. Palo Alto.

Posted by Tired of the BS, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I'm not a fan of outsourcing police services, but my biggest problem with this issue has been the process.

Why the rush? Why the secrecy? Why the sudden release of the first interim police chief? If he was running out of hours, shouldn't this have been something they could have anticipated sooner? Abrica has continually asked for transparency, I think this is reasonable. At the last City Council meeting, Abrica asked the City Manager several questions that she would not answer in the public meeting.

This item was placed at the end of last nights agenda, when it was obvious that most of the people were there for this issue. Even the agenda was worded in a suspicious way, "Information Gathering Regarding the Provision of Public Safety Services" huh?. I'm a native English speaker and I had to read the agenda a couple times to figure out they were talking out outsourcing police services. Many members of our community speak English as second language. Why not use plain English?

The whole thing feels unethical and lacking in integrity. It seems to me the City Manager underestimated our community. Although I don't always agree with Ruben Abrica, he has been the one calling her on the carpet from the beginning.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Tired of the BS - I was initially cautiously thrilled (like that's a term!) when Magda Gonzalez was hired. I am sorry that she seems to have rubbed some staff the wrong way, as well as come council members.

Does Gonzalez really have the city's best interests at heart, and are those interests the same as the residents'? She doesn't seem to share some of the same values as the residents, such as rent stabilization - that's a big red flag. Reuben Abrica isn't perfect, but he has a long fuse and is dialed in to the community, so it's wise to pay attention to him, even if one doesn't always agree.

My gut feeling about outsourcing was a big "NO", despite its super obvious upside. One has to know the history, I think, to really understand. I doubt that she really knows, or cares about the history, and wants to save money. The budget is very important, but perhaps there are other ways to go about this, as Abrica mentioned.

It's important to remember that Abrica is an elected representative of the people who lives in E. Palo Alto, and Gonzalez isn't, nor does she live here. I think that can make it an inherent conflict.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Musical - should I flag my own comment directed at you? I am happy to do so!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm

No worries. I've often deserved worse. I enjoy your commentary.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

:-D Thanks for being such a good sport!

Posted by EPA Proud, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:34 pm

The council brought on Magda. They have the power to not renew her contract. It's BS that she doesn't care. She is doing the best job that she can do with all the financial problems she inherited. FYI She is not required to live in the community. Most of the staff don't. Not even police officers. Magda is trying to make the city financially stable. Past city managers did not do this. The city is in a $1 million dollar deficit. Meaning ever year the city is over budget by $1 million. How will the city fix this? The city cannot keep operating this way. It will go bankrupt. We need change. We need to do something different.

Posted by Will, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 6, 2014 at 9:51 pm

I Understand This Is An Emotional Issue For All East Palo Altons, But It Sounds Reasonable To Look Into The Possibility Of Contracting Police Services. It Seems East Palo alto Police And The Sheriffs Office are Both Professional Organization. I Wonder If The Community Members Of Epa Are Grossly Misinformed By Others Political Agendas, Rather Then Rationalizing And Educating Themselves On The Possibility.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 7, 2014 at 12:37 am

EPA Proud - aka, Buddy of Magda - maybe you can find a police agency residents will feel better about, instead of a sheriff and undersheriff who visit illegal bordellos and another agency whose chief, while being taped, recommended officers racially profile people.

You unfortunately missed the other good points people made as well in their comments above, and on other threads. Apparently the council has gotten both more and less than they wanted when they hired Magda Gonzalez

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