Major crimes dip, but citations rise: Annual report reflects changes in Police Department | News | Palo Alto Online |


Major crimes dip, but citations rise: Annual report reflects changes in Police Department

Document released after whirlwind two weeks for agency

Following a two-week period of intense public scrutiny, Palo Alto Police Department released on Tuesday its 2018 Annual Report, which indicates a drop in major crimes and highlights recent changes in the department.

According to the report, crime rates dropped or remained the same between 2017 and 2018 in six of eight major categories: robberies, rapes, assaults, larceny and vehicle thefts (the number of homicides was at zero in both years). The two categories where there has been an uptick were arson (nine in 2018 versus six in 2017) and burglary (234 in 2018 versus 215 in 2017).

"While crime tends to be cyclical in nature ... one thing that remains constant is that Palo Alto is a safe city that continues to have a very low rate of violent crime per capita," the report states.

The report also showed the number of arrests in Palo Alto has ticked down slightly, from 2,631 in 2017 to 2,602 in 2018. At the same time, the number of traffic citations rose sharply, from 5,807 to 8,245. The report attributes that to the return of the department's full-time traffic team, which Police Chief Robert Jonsen reintroduced in July 2018. The report notes that the team will be expanding this year, with the addition of a motorcycle-riding traffic sergeant to supervise the team and act as its third member.

The team made an extra effort to ensure bike safety and issued a record number of citations for children failing to wear bike helmets, the report states. As a result, the December 2018 "bike diversion" class was the first such class in over a decade that reached its attendance limit, with 53 students attending the class to have their citations dismissed.

The report's release follows a two-week period in which the department has been under a bright spotlight, for better or worse. On July 24, an attorney for Gustavo Alvarez, a resident at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, released to the Weekly surveillance footage showing Palo Alto officers insulting Alvarez and slamming him onto the hood of a car during a February 2018 arrest. Alvarez is now suing the city in federal court for illegal use of force and for violating his civil rights.

On Monday, several residents attended the City Council meeting to voice concern about the police conduct in the Alvarez case. Some cited comments from the officers at the scene, including an officer referring to people like Alvarez as "lowlifes." One resident, Ava Lindstrom, said she was terribly concerned about the officers' conduct and that it warrants further investigation. Caitlyn Marianacci, who had previously worked at the Palo Alto Art Center, said she was "horrified" by the officers' conduct, which she called "reprehensible and inhumane."

Despite the recent lawsuit over Alvarez's arrest, police say use of force is extremely rare. Of the 2,602 individuals who were arrested in 2018, officers exerted force in 11 incidents — a rate of 0.004%, according to the annual report. The low number, the report states, "is a testament to the professionalism of our officers and their ability to de-escalate tense situations and gain compliance without using force." (That said, in at least one case, that of Alvarez, the use of force was not reported in the police reports).

Jonsen said the 2018 document marks the first time the department has produced an annual report in many years. When asked to respond to residents' comments at the Monday meeting, Jonsen pointed to his message in the report, which lays out his expectations for the department. This includes being "excellent in everything we do."

"I expect us to proactively enforce the law and to serve this special community with professionalism and respect," Jonsen wrote. "I expect us to positively engage our residents, business owners and visitors whenever we can. All of these things will help us to build trust and legitimacy."

The new report also offers information about the department's services and divisions, many of which were involved during last weekend's 29-hour standoff with a man who is accused of domestic violence and barricaded himself inside a Charleston Meadows home. The man, who police said wielded an unregistered gun loaded with an illegal high-capacity magazine, was taken into custody after a coordinated response that involved the department's SWAT and Crisis Negotiations teams, police canines and the use of tear gas and less-than-lethal force on the man. No one else was hurt.

During the standoff, residents thanked officers for securing the area and keeping them secure. After the incident concluded, many took to social media to thank the department, said Janine De la Vega, the department's public affairs manager.

"It was a very tense situation and they were able to resolve it peacefully. ... People were thanking us that the situation was able to be resolved peacefully and they counted on us," De la Vega said.

The agency released the report just in time for National Night Out, an event that Jonsen brought back last year and that culminated in about 300 community members attending a block party in front of the police station — one of about 12 neighborhood events that took place in the city on Tuesday evening.

Editorial Intern Maya Homan contributed to this report.


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17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:35 am

Thank you PAPD for doing all you do, making me feel safe living in Palo Alto.

4 people like this
Posted by FEAR
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 8, 2019 at 10:03 am

Wait - this is obviously fake news. We have so many people spreading fear about high crime rates, insisting I need a gun for self defense, need to be huddled in the corner and not go outside, a *president who tells me to be afraid of the Others, etc..

(Thank you PAPD, along with county, state and federal resources that contribute to our wonderful community.)

34 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Thank you PAPD for doing all you do, making me feel safe living in Palo Alto.

I don't feel as safe as you do. I walk a lot in Palo Alto, and, I see cars going 45 in 25 zones -all the time-. I see cars turn right at stop signs going 15 mph all the time, sometimes, without looking. "Schadenfreude", noun 1) two speeding bicyclists almost hitting each other going through two stop signs simultaneously. Cars turning right at red lights without stopping, then jamming on brakes when they see pedestrians -- or, not stopping, just dodging through. Cars tailgating other cars who are obeying the speed limit. Tailgating when a car is slowing down to turn left or right. Not just tailgating -- angrily tailgating.

It isn't all about speed limits-- the real issue is defensive driving. People just drive "on the edge" all the time, not thinking about what they will have to do if something unanticipated happens. And so, you have people who have told me that they feel a lot safer in their giant SUV because of all the super-aggressive driving out there. The main reason for the SUV is 3 tons of sheet metal between them and the aggressive drivers. Very often the aggressive driving is completely pointless, since the driver can see a red light ahead with a long line of cars, and just zoom up to it and jam on the brakes. People are just expressing their anger or anxiety through aggressive driving, even though they can see it doesn't get them between point A and point B any faster. I don't care, personally, if someone goes through a stop sign going 2 mph, but, I do care if they don't look, or, don't stop for the 10-year-old kids crossing the intersection.

I want PAPD to cool this off. That is what would make -me- feel safer.

11 people like this
Posted by It's on us too.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 1:28 pm

I think the new Traffic Team will help by ticketing scofflaw road users more. Thanks for that, City of Palo Alto.

However, healthy communities are created by responsible citizens (people like me and like you) behaving responsibly and considerately. The police cannot be everywhere at all times. We can all do better. As someone who drives, bikes and walks, I hope that we will all leave home in enough time so that we don't feel rushed--enabling us to be safe, law-abiding, attentive road users. Let's stay off our cell phones when we are on the road, bike lanes, and sidewalks. PAY ATTENTION to where you are and who is around you.

I observe many drivers on their phones when they stop at intersections. You may think this is safe, but new research shows that drivers who do this are not using their stop time at intersections to observe the other vehicles and people at the intersection. When the light changes, they are startled and rush into the intersection less aware of their surroundings. This carelessness causes collisions. Let's all put down our phones when we are using the roads--especially when we are behind the wheel of a car. The human brain is not designed for the kind of multi-tasking that texting and driving requires. Cars can kill. You don't want to be the person who kills or maims someone because you prioritized a text over safety. That would be a terrible thing to live with.

8 people like this
Posted by Pretty Sure
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 8, 2019 at 8:52 pm

I am pretty sure if we all stop using smart phones, social media, Mark Zuckerberg commits company suicide (well "commits" is a strong word for Mark... accidentally ends his company's life), other social media companies follow suit, we all stop using cloud companies and cloud-based products (i.e. how can Amazon have same day delivery?- they have to be spying on you or your data somehow wink wink), news media stops making stories to promote more social media-based discussion (while even stating go "share your opinions on Twitter" for example), that we no longer rate this and that, and that we no longer follow anyone's orders to display our personal data online, that we will start to move in the right direction. Indians need to focus on India- it's about to be a war there; the Chinese need to move back to China- it's about to be a war there; Americans need to return- it's about to be a massive Civil War of Exports and Imports here.

We have stop many of our conveniences because we are all at fault for what is going on in this country.

For every person shot, we are at fault for them and their family.

We have to know that if we report someone that they won't sue us, kill us, or kill our loved ones. We have to push ourselves away from this focus on making ourselves into a Star Trek Fantasyland because in reality, the rest of the world is becoming NYC in the 80s.

I stopped watching TV for well over two years, and I don't use a smart phone (haven't in several years now)- and it is bliss. I have started to lose weight and not knowing about updates and seeing emojis is a huge perk. Did I care if someone was sad before when they sent a message? It's the message. If we go that way, Shakespeare might be written like: "To Be or Not To Be :-/, that is the question :-? "

Silicon Valley needs to stop being "Let's make everything high-tech, convenient, and digital" and return to let's protect America for the advancement of all its people AT THE PACE of learners of America - not through the Indian and South Asian students (who many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have donated billions to), not through the Middle East (which the same donations apply). We can't live to be paid by making posts of data, video posts, posts on personal data, while the newly arriving highly-educated take advantage of us as we were born as U.S. citizens to Continue the image of America.

Make a Decision or we will all be living in NEW ASIA, and the citizens of this country will probably have to move to Mexico.

Do you want that?

8 people like this
Posted by Cars and Lookers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:10 pm

It's tourists and newly arriving foreigners should have a DMV course prior to entering the country.

Then people are checking their phones in out of control behaviors. Remember the Game Boy- how it was just for kids? Well this is so much worse.

I saw a video that shows companies, like Amazon for Amazon Flex employees, require employees to refresh their phone screens while driving to update their orders, and drop-offs to be constantly aware of any changes. It's insane.

Remember, how it was a joke for a character in a movie to be caught off guard when reading a book when walking - well this is much worse. I saw a man getting out of his car when walking my dog, holding his laptop bag in one hand and his iPhone in the other. His full attention was on the phone as he closed his car door. Taking a few steps to his front door, he... you guessed it tripped forward. He quickly became aware of his surroundings as if out of a trance and put the phone in his pocket.

4 people like this
Posted by zap
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:11 pm

"i.e. how can Amazon have same day delivery?- they have to be spying on you or your data somehow wink wink), "

You are aware that for a few decades mechanics could get car parts same day delivered... Do you think there is a car part/mechanic guild who is secretly inspecting cars then stocking parts that look like they would need immanent replacement?

4 people like this
Posted by Re:zap
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Car Parts are like cleaning supplies, they're always in need.

Now, a specific My Little Pony Pajama set is something pretty specific from Amazon... or a Silver lamp similar to one which I had purchased the previous week from Pier 1.

9 people like this
Posted by Downfall
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 8, 2019 at 11:40 pm

A couple comments:
- I am glad to see car and bicycle citations up significantly but this work needs to continue & expand. Still see so many drivers ignoring (or ignorant of) basic rules of the road and I would guess 1 in every 3 teens I see is not wearing a helmet.
- Why no mention of property crimes like auto smash & grab as well as bike thefts. I would like to know how these are trending as it seems like the police have no ideas on how to reduce these crimes.

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2019 at 1:07 am

Have the gasoline powered leaf-blower rules been rescinded?

6 people like this
Posted by Don’t Be Fooled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 8:31 am

Don’t Be Fooled is a registered user.

Given this article states that the use of force was not reported by the arresting officers in the Alvarez case, how are we to be confident that it also wasn’t reported in other cases?
We shouldn’t naively accept this statistic. It took an investigation of brutality and the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Alvarez to reveal the coverup of the use of force in his case - otherwise we would have never known.
All officers have to do is not state on the report that force was used, even when they beat someone bloody.
Statistics do lie.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2019 at 11:34 am

Don’t Be Fooled raises an important question.
Given that one of the key aspects of the Alvarez case is that the commanding officer on the scene did not report use of force, particularly his own violence, how do we know how commonly force is being used or misused? Does the Alvarez case suggest a systemic problem or was it an anomaly?
Also, doesn’t the department have a policy of activating officer body cams and vehicle cams? I’m not clear why that has not been an issue in the case.

6 people like this
Posted by PAPD is poorly run
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2019 at 8:16 am

If you have a group of officers not turning on their bodycams as required, not intervening when their colleague beats up a member of the public, and not reporting any of it --- you have a management problem. Shikada and Jonsen are not doing their jobs. Why is the City Council not responding? Mayor Filseth?

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Alvarez decided to drive and break the law willfully on a suspended license. When found out and pulled over, he taunted officers, refused to obey police instructions and resisted arrest, in his own familiar surroundings. An assault rifle could have been right behind that door or any other surprises or dangerous behaviors. Such a irrational behavior. in my opinion, justifies disorienting him on the way out so that he didn't grab something and try to hurt an officer or escape. I am repelled by the blame an officer at any chance you get that some people have. When they do something damaging or wrong - throw the book at them. Making mountains out of molehills doesn't help anything and excourages thoughtless people towards bad behavior and lying when they interact with the police mushrooming the problem. Until I hear different, or see physical damages and doctor bills, this guy is no Constitutional crisis of justice.

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