Should Facebook fund new Menlo police unit? | March 8, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - March 8, 2017

Should Facebook fund new Menlo police unit?

by Kate Bradshaw

A proposal by the Menlo Park Police Department to accept a Facebook offer of $9.1 million over five years to fund a new police unit to cover the eastern area of Menlo Park along San Francisco Bay was met with mixed responses at the City Council meeting Feb. 28.

The area is bordered by the Bay, the abandoned Dumbarton rail line, U.S. 101 and the Menlo Park approach to the Dumbarton Bridge. It does not include the Belle Haven residential area.

The proposal was on the agenda for discussion only, so the police department would have to return to the council for approval.

Council members voted 4-1, with Ray Mueller opposed, to have the police department continue looking into having Facebook fund the new police beat.

The unit would be made up of five officers and one sergeant, according to a staff report. Facebook's $9.1 million contribution is expected to cover the costs of salaries and benefits for the new officers, four police vehicles and other equipment.

Police Commander William Dixon pointed out that there has been population and employment growth in the area, and more is coming.

Officers are hired at a rate of 1 per 1,000 people in a city's "service population," which is calculated by adding together the number of residents and one-third of employees, Cmdr. Dixon said.

At that ratio, acording to one analysis, three new police officers are expected to be needed to meet the needs of the new service population resulting from Facebook's expansion, according to the staff report.

In addition to major expansion projects by Facebook, leasing will begin on more than 500 new apartments at two complexes on Haven Avenue in the area. Work is underway on the Menlo Gateway hotel and offices, too.

When the area is fully built out, the staff report says, the city may need as many as 17 new officers there.

Police Chief Bob Jonsen said his department will have to hire new officers eventually, but without Facebook's immediate funding, there may be an 18- to 24-month lag between the time many new residents and employees move in and when officers get fully trained and prepared to do their jobs.

Several council members asked if Facebook might get preferential treatment from the police. Chief Jonsen said Facebook has already funded the police department's community services officer and neighborhood service center in Belle Haven, and the company has never asked for any favors in return.

"I'm not on board," said Councilman Ray Mueller. He said he thought it was "bad public policy" to accept gifts from companies in order to provide for basic city services. It would be a "best case scenario" he said, if the police do not give Facebook preferential treatment.

Kirsten Keith said she sees the voluntary contribution as a type of in-lieu donation for the sales tax revenue that Menlo Park won't get from the company. Cities across California are struggling with the loss of sales tax revenue to fund city services, she said.

She said she'd prefer to see the Facebook contribution go to the police department as a whole, not just to increase police coverage in the Facebook area.

Council members asked what would happen after five years, when the funding from Facebook ends. The idea, police executives said, is that by that time, some of the development allowed by the recent general plan update will be built, and that is expected to generate enough property tax revenue to support the added officers.


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