As Palo Alto prepares to consider police reform, the Police Department is kicking off a series of online briefings to discuss issues such as use-of-force policies, Taser deployments and measures to ensure police accountability.
The sessions will be streamed on Zoom and the Palo Alto Police Department's YouTube channel. They will be loosely based on the curriculum provided in the department's Basic Citizens Police Academy, a series of courses for residents interested in learning about police operations, according to an announcement from the department.
Police Chief Robert Jonsen will kick off the series at 2 p.m. Wednesday by giving an overview of the department's operations and discussing its divisions and responsibilities. He also will provide information on crime statistics, response times and the city's Independent Police Auditor, who reviews each use-of-force incident and citizen complaint and who, until recently, also investigated internal conflicts within the department (the City Council voted in December to reduce the scope of the auditor and now treats internal conflicts as Human Resources issues that are shielded from public disclosure).
Jonsen also will provide information about the department's use of in-car video systems and body-worn cameras.
The department plans to hold three more sessions over the next three Wednesdays. The July 8 session will focus on use-of-force policies. On July 15, the department will focus on laws on arrest and search-and-seizure. The July 22 session will be devoted to accountability within the Palo Alto Police Department, according to the city's announcement.
The new series is part of the city's broad action plan to promote equity and social justice. The council has recently launched a series of ad hoc committees to review police policies and operations. One committee, composed of Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka, will explore alternative service models. One option that they will look at is the prospect of combining police, fire and medical services into a single Department of Public Safety, a model that Sunnyvale currently uses.
The Council also has directed its Human Relations Commission to review the department's compliance with the 8 Can't Wait platform and commissioned artists to paint "Black Lives Matter" on Hamilton Avenue, next to City Hall, a project that was unfolding Tuesday afternoon. The commission will hold a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss this assignment, as well as the council's direction that the commission put together a report on the history of the Black community in Palo Alto.
The moves were prompted by an outpouring of demonstrations, both in Palo Alto and across the nation, to protest the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on May 25 and demand social justice.