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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Palo Alto City Council: Get rid of police encryption! Now! Please!

Uploaded: Feb 22, 2022
How long will it take the Palo Alto City Council to discuss the police encryption problem? When will the city’s top staff members stop saying that encryption must remain, and that nothing can be done because the city must protect the privacy of individuals stopped by police? Why are they telling the council that it’s impossible to change the new encryption rules? What about Police Chief Robert Jonsen’s encryption rule, now in effect for 14 months, that has taken away the public’s ability to listen to police activity on radio transmitters in real time? And when will the public care enough to really urge the council to nullify these rules because this information about police department activities is public information.

Encryption, as you may know, has been in place in Palo Alto since Jan. 1, 2021, after the state Department of Justice came out with a memo suggesting police should avoid having private information (such as date of birth, driver’s license number, address) made public on police radio transmissions. The DOJ said encryption was one way to accomplish that, unless the department found other ways to keep only the private information off the broadcasts

.Jonsen, on his own and without any city council knowledge or discussion, decided to stop all police radio transmissions between police dispatchers and officers – period. These radio transmissions have been the practice for years. They routinely include information on storms, floods, accidents, robberies, etc. that happen in town.

For months since the encryption was imposed, three city officials have strongly defended this new practice. City Manager Ed Shikada, Chief Jonsen and City Attorney Mollie Stump have become a team, in a way, to insist this city must use encryption so that private information of individuals stopped by police is no longer broadcast.

Nor will anything other activity by police officers be aired – for a long, long time, if Joonsen has his way.

Transmissions had personal details, such as date of birth, address, license plate numbers. Rather than finding a way to transmit that information (perhaps by a phone call to the dispatcher), Jonsen and Stump instead say all incidents must be kept quiet.

The most recent example of insistence came at a City Council’s Policy and Services recent subcommittee meeting. Council member Greer Stone asked that encryption be placed on the full council agenda., so that the council can take steps to decrypt police radio transmitters, as the California Highway Patrol has done (with no objections from the DOJ).

As the Daily Post reported, Stump jumped in objecting, as she pushed back on Stone’s request, saying the city is under a legal obligation to protect personal information, and the police department has not found a good alternative to encryption. “Maybe we don’t want to be focusing so much on decryption,” she said, adding that maybe the police could look at other methods for communicating with the public.

Stump’s comments immediately told me that for the last 14 months, these three city officials were keen on keeping encryption and blocking transmissions, so the public would not learn about what’s going on in town that involved the police. The department wants to halt all transmissions, so it can keep police activities quiet and then decide which incidents the department wants to let the public know about. In simpler words, the less the public knows, the more convenient it is for the department.

I remember two occasions when Jonsen appeared before the council saying he has searched and searched for an alternative to encryption, but cannot find one. Hmm. Did he check with the CHP?

I don’t believe Stump’s sudden concern for privacy. Funny, neither do I remember her talking about a legal obligation to protect personal information. Yet now, with encryption the new rule, she adamantly wants to defend privacy of individuals stopped by police. That’s a lot of inconsistent blarney.

Jonsen did come out recently with a new “calls for service” program, whereby maps are released with circles indicating incidents where the police were involved. But the circles included no address or street names, nor did they indicate what happened at that site – the most important part. Was it a burglary or a holdup or an accident or a major traffic problem? No such information on the map.

Furthermore, the circles are not posted until the event is over. The police and witnesses have left the scene, so all the public really know is that “something” happened in the area.

The public and the press need to know a lot more. The police should not keep it hidden from us. When we had radio transmissions, the press and interested residents knew immediately. And immediately is not hours later.

At that committee meeting, Stump nudged Council member Allison Cormack to have a study session on this, rather than putting encryption on the council agenda. Cormack took the bait, so it looks like a study session will be in order.

This should be a real agenda item, so council members can make motions and take actions, which doesn’t happen at study sessions. As Stone said, and I totally agree, the study session should not be a venue for the police to defend their current policy of no encryption.

I think Jonsen wants and likes the idea of keeping police department activities as opaque as possible. And that’s just plain wrong, in my estimation.

When I talked to former mayor Tom DuBois late last year, he said he would try to get encryption on the agenda, but then his term was over. I’ve talked to two other council members who told me they support getting rid of encryption.

So why the holdup?

Are Jonsen, Shikada and Stump running this town – or is it the council? If it’s the council, then please agendize this item ASAP. You’ve been twiddling your thumbs too long on this issue.

And thank you, Greer, for pursuing this topic!
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 22, 2022 at 12:48 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

There is so little actual news in the Palo Alto Weekly now and I have no idea if this is due to the encryption issue. So much more news now found on Nextdoor.com If the media are unable to find out these things, the public are going to depend on the rumor mills and heresay for actual news.


Posted by Hallie Thompson, a resident of another community,
on Feb 22, 2022 at 1:54 pm

Hallie Thompson is a registered user.

"I think Jonsen wants and likes the idea of keeping police department activities as opaque as possible. And that's just plain wrong, in my estimation."

^ Given the many reckless and irresponsible police actions (some racist) that some law enforcement agencies have generated and are now accountable for, this should come as no surprise.

The chief is protecting both his officers and his professional track record by only releasing information that he feels is on 'a need to know' basis.

The only way to get the real scoop is to have an embedded reporter.


Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 22, 2022 at 3:43 pm

Anneke is a registered user.

An old saying:

The way the host is, that is the way he trusts his guests!


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 22, 2022 at 7:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Well, speaking of criminal news, our PAPD's response to the antisemitic flyers here and Berkeley and across the country this weekend.


Web Link

" Berkeley police, City Council denounce antisemitic fliers
After similar Palo Alto weekend incident, surveillance camera footage sought from hills homes

Read the whole article; it's a lesson in proactive responses and a no-brainer statement that hate's not good or welcome.

Meanwhile, not ONE peep from PAPD, the city manager, the city council when we're paying for a huge communicatios/pr staff. If not now, when do they plan on saying anything??


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 22, 2022 at 9:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The incident was reported two days ago Web Link in the Mercury News.


Two full days later, PAPD finally responded with a press release mentioning the tv news clip featuring a rabbi and DA Rosen. Half their release touts their work from November 2020 on Gender and Equity in the Workplace for all city employees! Huh? Were they saying the workers were city employees? Do they think discrimination is the same as coordinated hate speech activities?


Posted by scott, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Feb 23, 2022 at 11:00 am

scott is a registered user.

The encryption decision is totally incompatible with the spirit of the 8-cant-wait reforms the city adopted, and calls into question whether the police department is actually committed to cultural changes that could lead to fewer abuse lawsuits in future years.

I'm still wondering how the adoption of Duty to Protect played out in the context of the K-9 mauling case. Was there accountability? It really seems like two officers letting a dog chew on a sleeping man is not upholding their duty to protect him.

It's not enough to put ink no paper. The leadership has to be committed to change, or it might as well be ink on toilet paper. And the encryption issue is very worrying in that context.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 23, 2022 at 11:10 am

Chris is a registered user.

The police are way out of control. It's going to be a lot of this before we have an accountable, transparent, modern force


Posted by Allison Jacobs, a resident of another community,
on Feb 23, 2022 at 12:21 pm

Allison Jacobs is a registered user.

* "The police are way out of control. It's going to be a lot of this before we have an accountable, transparent, modern force"

This is an accountability problem running rampant throughout the United States.

The police cannot be be trusted to do anything other than abusing civil rights in the name of law and order.

If there was more transparency, police unions would not have anyone to pay annual dues and the various police chiefs would not have anyone to patrol the streets.

The police are a secret society comprised of non-vaxers, bullies, and closet racists who also abuse and intimidate women when given the opportunity.


Posted by Leslie Bain, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Feb 23, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

Thank you, Ms. Diamond. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Without it, all kinds of creepy crawlies grow in the dark. We need MORE transparency, not less.


Posted by S. Underwood, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 23, 2022 at 7:31 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

Ed has got to go. He sits on top of the deplorable trend, across all city operations, of the City treating residents as annoying pawns to be managed rather than smart, caring, capable, and respectable citizens. There is no awareness that we are the people, and their job is to inform, empower, and serve.


Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 24, 2022 at 12:09 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

With great power and authority, comes great responsibility. In a democracy that requires transparency.

I greatly value PAPD's service. By encrypting, Chief Jonsen does a disservice to the many officers in his department who serve with honor, as opposed to the bad eggs who seem to get the lion's share of media coverage. The appearance of hiding information engenders mistrust. This should not be a surprise to anyone in public service.

Shine a light on the good work of your many outstanding officers. Other police departments have found ways to protect private information through other means. Chief Jonsen can do this too, if it is important to him.

PAPD, thank you for your service. (It would help if the media would provide some balance on their reporting on the department. While it is fashionable to villainize police right now, I don't believe this is an effective tactic if people are serious about working with police to identify feasible means to achieve community safety objectives.)


Posted by Jake Taylor, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Feb 25, 2022 at 11:05 am

Jake Taylor is a registered user.

• "The police are way out of control. It's going to be a lot of this before we have an accountable, transparent, modern force."

^ Concurring.

An interesting article from The Washington Post...

"U.S. police fatally shot 1,055 last year up from 1,021 in 2020 and 999 in 2019. The fact that the number of citizens killed by police has remained at about 1,000 per year for seven years, said criminologist Andrew Wheeler suggests that "there's been no major changes" in police use of deadly force.

^ Business as usual?


Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 25, 2022 at 3:13 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

Agree with Diana 100%


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 27, 2022 at 11:04 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

So here in the self-styled Brains of Silicon Valley, nobody can figure out how to transmit encrypted private information to a computer display in patrol vehicles?

Give me a break. They can do that easily with long-available technology--if they want to.

Obviously City Hall prefers all police verbal chatter be kept under wraps. Citizens can only wonder why.

Hang in there, Mr. Stone. Glad I voted for you.


Posted by gtspencer, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda,
on Feb 28, 2022 at 3:51 pm

gtspencer is a registered user.

The comments here are very uneducated which is scary but typical. The encryption is one of the ways around a very dumb DOJ regulation. New radios are very expensive and encryption is a safe, cheap, and transparent way to solve the problem. People don't need to be scanning the channels. If there is a problem do a PRA request.


Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 2, 2022 at 8:46 am

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

@gtspencer, Why yes, yes we do. Most certainly. We pay their salaries and do not need "secret" police in our city.


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