Almanac

News - January 29, 2014

Report: Few complaints against police officers

by Sandy Brundage

A score of 0.066 percent on an exam would usually equal one big red "F" and a possible reconsideration of majors. As for officials of the Menlo Park Police Department, however, that's the kind of score they want to see.

Out of 41,983 contacts made by police officers in 2013, only 28 generated complaints from citizens, according to a police report. Two additional complaints were made against non-sworn professional staff providing walk-in service.

Zero percent would be even better, according to Chief Bob Jonsen, who committed last year to providing the public with an annual report indicating the number of complaints and outcomes in the wake of the Almanac's investigative report on the non-transparency of police discipline.

Prior to the chief's decision, Menlo Park refused to release even the bare minimum of information allowed under the law.

In 2013, eight complaints were filed for discourtesy or rude behavior — the most common situation — displayed by an officer.

Out of a total of 30 complaints, five were sustained, officers were exonerated in 11 cases, two complaints were ruled unfounded, and four are still under investigation. Twenty percent were withdrawn before an investigation was completed.

"Sustained" indicates that the police department's internal investigation found evidence that the complaint was founded, according to Chief Jonsen.

An officer is determined to be "exonerated" when there's proof that the officer's actions followed the department's policies; that evidence often arises from the audio and video recorders that on-duty officers now wear.

An "unfounded" ruling signals that the actions alleged in the complaint either didn't happen or didn't involve Menlo Park personnel, the report said.

State law prohibits the release of any information that would identify the officers involved, but Chief Jonsen provided some further insight into the sustained complaints.

Two of the five sustained complaints — both for neglecting to carry out an assignment — await completion of the final report, so no further details are available yet other than the determination that they were sustained. Chief Jonsen told the Almanac that the remaining three include two complaints of rude conduct and one driving violation. In those instances, the report concluded:

• Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by making a verbal statement to a member of the public that did not meet the standards of service expected by the department and its members.

• Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by making a verbal statement to a member of the public that did not meet the standards of service expected by the department and its members.

• Employee engaged in conduct in violation of the department's policy manual by engaging in an activity while not utilizing proper safety precautions while driving a city vehicle.

Crime report

The annual report also included statistics for 2013, with Menlo Park showing a 3 percent overall rise in crime incidents reported.

While robberies dropped by 22 percent, more people were the victims of aggravated assault, with a 23 percent increase from 2012. The report states that no homicides occurred last year.

Property crimes also contributed to the increase. Burglaries rose by 9 percent, and the number of larcenies and car thefts stayed steady at 434 and 28 occurrences, respectively, for 2013.

During the past year the police department has expanded its use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to encourage residents to lock their homes and cars and to keep personal items out of view.

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