Accountability

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The Palo Alto Police Department continues to maintain a leadership position among law enforcement agencies across our nation with regards to police accountability, use of force policies and other public safety practices.

The Palo Alto Police Department holds its police officers accountable through independent police auditing programs, online review of our policy manual, community engagement through our Chief’s Advisory Group, body-worn cameras and mobile audio/video technologies, and more.

Independent Police Auditor

The Palo Alto Police Department has had an Independent Police Auditor (IPA) since 2006. The IPA is an independent, third-party contractor (currently the OIR Group) who conducts audits of internally-generated investigations, investigations concerning TASER uses, and all citizen complaint investigations to ensure that the Department’s investigations are conducted thoroughly and objectively. Read the IPA's full contract(PDF, 767KB), including its full scope of services.

After reviewing these administrative reports and any associated police reports and evidence, the IPA generates its own report, which includes recommendations to the Chief of Police regarding further investigation, processes, and dispositions. That report is provided to the City Council and published as a public document for our community to review. No other police department in the region has this degree of transparency with their internal investigations.

Learn more about the IPA and view all of the IPA public reports dating back to 2006 by visiting our Independent Police Auditor page.

Policy Manual Transparency

The Palo Alto Police Department publishes our Policy Manual on our website for public review. It is a document of more than 700 pages in length. We welcome you to review our policies regarding use of force, control devices and techniques, conducted energy weapons (TASERs), standards of conduct, racial- and bias-based profiling, field-based video (e.g. body-worn cameras), automated license plate readers, interaction with federal immigration officials, and many, many more.

We update our Policy Manual on a quarterly basis.  Visit our Police Policy Manual page to view the most recent version.

Chief's Advisory Group

In 2018, Chief Robert Jonsen formed the Chief’s Advisory Group, a collection of more than 30 community members who represent all neighborhoods of Palo Alto and who act as liaisons between our residents and the Department on issues of mutual concern. The members share concerns and ideas directly with Chief Jonsen. Their role includes engaging residents within their respective neighborhoods and participating in consensus decision-making. The Chief considers their viewpoints and concerns when planning and responding to various issues and challenges the city faces. They have helped to develop our strategic traffic enforcement plan, provided valuable input to our body-worn camera policy, and more. We anticipate this advisory group continuing to take an active part in discussions of contemporary policing issues and the many police reform initiatives currently under discussion nationally and regionally.

Body-Worn Camera Program

In September 2018, the Department equipped all of our officers with body-worn cameras.  These cameras record high-resolution video and high-quality audio to capture an independent perspective of what our officers experience and do. They integrate seamlessly with our in-car mobile audio/video (MAV) system (see below). We require our officers to make every reasonable effort to activate the body-worn cameras during all law enforcement contacts with the public. While the cameras can be manually activated, they are also automatically activated by certain triggering events, such as turning on the patrol car’s emergency lights or siren.  Officers do not have the ability to delete any recording.

Body-worn cameras produce an independent record of what occurred during an interaction between an officer and the public. The recordings can be used in court, as well as in administrative investigations into allegations of officer misconduct.

If you would like more information about body-worn cameras, visit our Police Policy Manual page and read Policy 446.

Mobile Audio/Video System

Every patrol car in our fleet has been equipped with an in-car mobile audio/video (MAV) system for more than a decade. Our current system is the most robust one of any municipal or county law enforcement agency in our region, with each car having five high-resolution video cameras that cover approximately 270 degrees around the car, as well as audio microphones inside the vehicle. It integrates seamlessly with the body-worn cameras worn by all of our officers. In 2019 alone, we recorded approximately 30,000 hours of video. While the system can be manually activated, it is also automatically activated by certain triggering events, such as turning on the patrol car’s emergency lights or siren. Officers do not have the ability to delete any recording.

Our MAV system produces an independent record of what occurred during an interaction between an officer and the public.  The recordings can be used in court, as well as in administrative investigations into allegations of officer misconduct.

If you would like more information about our MAV system, visit our Police Policy Manual page and read Policy 446.

 

Use of Force Reporting

The Department recognizes and respects the value of all human life and dignity without prejudice to anyone.  Vesting officers with the authority to use reasonable force and to protect the public welfare requires monitoring, evaluation and a careful balancing of all interests.

The use of force by law enforcement personnel is a matter of critical concern, both to the public and to the law enforcement community. Officers are involved on a daily basis in numerous and varied interactions and, when warranted, may use reasonable force in carrying out their duties. Officers must have an understanding of, and true appreciation for, their authority and limitations. This is especially true with respect to overcoming resistance while engaged in the performance of law enforcement duties.

A detailed investigation is conducted by a supervisor any time an officer uses force in the performance of their duties, and officers are required to provide medical aid or summon medical assistance to anyone who is visibly injured or claims to be injured as a result of what occurred. The supervisor’s investigation includes interviewing all associated parties (which minimally includes involved officers, the party upon whom force was used, and any witnesses), a search for evidence (which includes body-worn camera footage, mobile audio/video system footage, surveillance camera footage, etc.), taking photographs of any injuries to any associated party, and an analysis and assessment of whether the conduct of the involved officer(s) was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

In 2019, our officers made 2,183 arrests. Force was used in 18 of those incidents. This is a testament to the professionalism of our officers and their ability to de-escalate tense situations and gain voluntary compliance without using force.

If you would like more information about the Department's use of force reporting, visit our Police Policy Manual page and read Policy 300.5.

 

Training to De-escalate Situations

High Standard and Commitment in Police Training: Our Department is committed to providing a high level of police officer training. This includes requiring an average of 60% more hours of training annually than California’s state-mandated training standards.

De-Escalation, Implicit Bias, and Crisis Intervention Training: All of our officers are trained in de-escalation, implicit bias and crisis intervention, which assists officers in de-escalating conflicts and reducing the need for use of force.

Discrimination & Cultural Diversity Training: All of our officers are trained in discrimination and cultural diversity, with regular updates that meet or exceed California state-mandated training standards.