Menlo Park police to add surveillance tools | May 8, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 8, 2013

Menlo Park police to add surveillance tools

• Belle Haven substation on track to open this year.

by Sandy Brundage

Menlo Park landed on a list no one wants to be on, according to a consultant hired to review the police department's operations. The number of reported collisions in the city, based on traffic volume, has ranked roughly in the top third of the state in recent years.

The review, carried out by Belcher, Ehle, Medina & Associates for about $25,000, focused on the internal workings of the police department, according to consultant Steve Belcher. "I've done a number of these studies; they came out better than many."

The consultants conducted more than 40 interviews with city staff and employees at other law enforcement agencies that work closely with Menlo Park police, such as the district attorney's office, but did not interview community members.

The police department is already taking steps to improve traffic safety by increasing patrols. "(This is) fair warning that the enforcement will be picking up in the very near future," Menlo Park Police Chief Robert Jonsen said during the April 29 council meeting.


Along with changes in patrol strategy, the department is looking to enhance its capabilities for data collection and spotting crimes in progress. Chief Jonsen told the Almanac that he'd met with representatives from East Palo Alto on May 1 to talk about expanding the neighboring city's ShotSpotter gunfire-detection system to cover Belle Haven in Menlo Park.

"It's just a matter of adding a few antennas," he said. Further down the road the system may add surveillance cameras, something the chief said he'd like to see implemented in other parts of the community as well, perhaps at access points to Menlo Park. Training officers to wear body-mounted cameras is already under way.

Belle Haven's new police substation, to be located in a strip mall at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road, is on track to open within the next six months. The 900-square-foot substation would be staffed at least part-time during regular hours, along with officers rotating through while on patrol, and cost the city an estimated $100,000 per year, according to police staff.

License-plate readers

As for data collection, mobile automated license plate readers, such as those used by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and East Palo Alto, run hundreds of plates a minute within a 360-degree arc, according to Chief Jonsen.

While some jurisdictions mount readers at fixed intersections, Chief Jonsen said the mobile option offers advantages. "You can move around all over the city, to different places and different hotspots."

The department plans to start with one reader and maybe go to three — one per patrol beat — in the future, according to the chief. The data would likely be retained for at least one year. Representatives from the Sheriff's Office, which started using the readers about five years ago, said their agency uses five readers, purchased by the vehicle theft task force, and keeps the information for up to one year.