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On Deadline blog: Palo Alto police and fire operations face big changes -- to be defined

Original post made by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Feb 8, 2012

Some of the most sweeping changes in the long histories of the Palo Alto Police Department and Fire Department are beginning to take shape -- even though many are yet undefined.

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Comments (11)

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm

The link points to a letter sent recently to the Palo Alto City Council:

Use of Facial Recognition Software:
Web Link

The thrust of the letter is that a lot of technology that is beginning to be used by other police and law enforcement agencies around the world is going ignored here in Palo Alto, while the construction of a new police station continues to occupy the attention of a small number of City officials (like the Police Chief).

In December, the Council was provided a rather difficult to read paper that looked at the Demographic data for only one quarter of traffic stops:

Web Link

This paper came to the conclusion that about 55% of the stops in Palo Alto result in "NO ACTION" (meaning that they are "courtesy stops" or "pretext stops"). Either way, there is every possibility that defunding most, if not all, of the so-called "traffic team" (traffic patrol services) would not actually affect public safety.

The paper also comes to the conclusion that all of the police departments in the greater Bay Area should be recording demographic data using the same data collection templates, and the same analysis software. This suggests strongly that a regionalization of the police function would be in the interests of both the police, and residents and the taxpayers.

Without a complete rethinking of the police function, the City of Palo Alto will continue to spend upwards of 40% of its yearly budget on public safety personnel (salary and benefits). If it spends upwards of $100M for a new public safety building, this will add another $2.5M-$3M per year on the backs of the property tax payers--for a building which will not reduce crime in any appreciable way.

To date, little effort has been expended to develop a technology plan for the police and fire departments. Nor has there been much work done to look at how a regionalized police/fire function might work, what it might cost, and where assets like facilities might be located.

Chief Burns needs to provide the public why he has not been looking forward 20 years, rather than trying to hold on to the "status quo".


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Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Mr. Thorwaldson, if you have a digital copy of those pictures from when the current city building was built, I would love to see them! Maybe you could post them online. Sounds really cool. I really appreciated the historical perspective in your blog post, since I am a relative newcomer to this area. Thanks!


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Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Feb 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Alas, photographer Gene Tupper retired many years back and moved to the Sacramento Delta, last I heard. "Tup" never heard of digital photos in those days. The Palo Alto Times in 1979 became the Peninsula Times Tribune and began a slow decline and ultimate death in 1993. City Historian Steve Staiger at the Palo Alto Main Library has the newspaper's old clip files, I believe, and the Palo Alto Historical Association has been posting old photos online, but most are much older than the late 1960s. Happy hunting, and let me know if you find anything! -jay


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Jay, you say San Mateo’s population is about 93,000 and Palo Alto’s is about the same, on average, because of the influx of daily workers.

But this is comparing night-time people in San Mateo to daytime people in Palo Alto. Doesn’t San Mateo also have daytime workers?


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Posted by Robin
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

The chief should worry more about improving efficiency (delivering the best job for the public with the ample resources he has at his disposal) and less about trying to raise more taxpayer money.

The dialog should be flowing the other way. The representatives of the people should be holding the chief accountable for the performance of the department. After all, waste and inefficiency, such as those examples cited by Wayne Martin above, are a detriment to public safety and must be rectified.

When our city government is making efficient use of the revenue it has, I'll consider voting for more. As it stands now, purpose-specific spending on improvements (which should have been planned and budgeted for by the government responisbly) really just frees up money to be thrown into the pension pool to pay our retired civil servants their bloated six figure pensions starting at 55.


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Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Feb 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Hi -- There is apparently a slight drop in population during the day in San Mateo, not an increase. Perhaps a number of them are heading to their jobs in Palo Alto? -jay


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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm

"about the same size as the San Mateo public-safety building to serve a city of about 93,000 persons.
Palo Alto's population is about the same, on average: It fluctuates from about 64,000 night-time residents up to more than 110,000 daytime occupants, with "significantly larger" numbers in hot economic times."

Not sure where Jay is coming up with his numbers--so he is saying that the population of San Mateo decreases, while the population of goes up by 70% and that does not take into account that many people work outside of the city and the thousands of children that stay in the city and go to school.
Would like to see the source of Jay's math.


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Feb 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Svatoid -- The Palo Alto population figures have been around for decades, from U.S. Census data and the City of Palo Alto Planning Department. I've written articles about the immense daily economic "tidal flow" in and out since the late 1960s, as the nighttime population grew slowly from about 56,000 to the current best-guess of 64,000. The daytime population has fluctuated with the economy, and as major firms have moved out of or into town.

The San Mateo figure was quoted by Dennis Burns at the Jan. 21 retreat, who cited the Census -- but it's consistent with estimates I have seen over the years. Let me know if you come up with a better estimate. -jay


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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

WHich decades? Links to the actual data????

" Let me know if you come up with a better estimate. -jay"
Since you are making the claims, why don't you provide the actual data instead of hearsay and "decades" old figures. That is what a real reporter would do.

It;s not at this link:
Web Link
nor here:
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Feb 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Svatoid -- Well, "since the late 1960s" seems to provide some decades for you to chew on, I would think. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Well, Jay considering that the population of Palo Alto was 58K in 2000 and was probably lower in decades past the numbers you quote (64K and 110K) were surely not valid back then-so no point in claiming they were around for decades. Not sure why you are upset by my asking you to provide some evidence to back up your claims instead of smug, self-satisfied comments like "The Palo Alto population figures have been around for decades" and "I heard it from Burns who heard it from the census".
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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