Almanac

News - March 12, 2014

Police pick cop for Facebook-funded post

• Council accepts social networking company's offer of up to $220,000 a year

by Sandy Brundage

Within two days of the Menlo Park City Council voting 5-0 to accept Facebook's offer to fund a police officer position for at least three years, the police department selected Officer Mary Ferguson-Dixon to fill the position.

During the March 4 council meeting, Police Chief Robert Jonsen described the agreement as "a benchmark in public-private partnership" that would benefit youth and businesses within the wider community, not just Menlo Park.

Facebook, with headquarters located not far from where a new substation will open within a strip mall at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road this spring, offered to pay the city up to $220,000 a year to underwrite the full-time, sworn officer position. It will also consider renewing the agreement for another two years.

The officer, like any other, will work solely for the city, not Facebook. According to the police chief, the work will focus on schools and kids, with priorities that include responding to any school incidents and creating programs designed to reconnect truants with their schools.

Creating safety plans for responding to "man-made assaults ... the most violent types of attacks that come upon our most sacred ground, schools" will also be a priority, according to Chief Jonsen. The planning will also encompass local businesses.

Calling it a "win win win" situation for the city, the community and the police department, the Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously to accept the offer.

"Thank you, Facebook. Your generosity speaks for itself," Councilman Rich Cline said, then asked how the effectiveness of the position would be assessed.

Chief Jonsen said it was "very measurable" and, as an example, cited using data analysis to see if there's a correlation between reduction in crime and a reduction in truancy, which he described as "a gateway to crime."

This is the first time a private company has offered to foot the bill for a police officer in Menlo Park, according to City Attorney Bill McClure. The social networking company is also helping to pay for the new Belle Haven substation itself.

Officer Ferguson-Dixon

An eight-year employee with the city's police department, Officer Ferguson-Dixon already has a head start on the position. She created a truancy-abatement program four years ago, according to the police department, that included visiting homes to shed light on why children were skipping school.

Part of her new responsibilities will include working with Sgt. Kevin Paugh, one of the department's critical incident instructors, to create safety plans and deliver safety presentations to the community.

She earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and sociology, and has also attended multiple training programs on juvenile diversion and truancy, the department said in a press release.

Cmdr. Dave Bertini told the Almanac that the department has a new officer ready to be hired to fill Officer Ferguson-Dixon's previous position. He expects the recruit to start at the end of March.

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