Other Voices: Observations, reflections on police task force

What is the level of professionalism, and do local police do things the right way? Answering these questions is what motivated me to serve on the Citizens’ Police Task Force appointed by the Los Altos City Council.

One of the specific objectives of the task force was to assess the city’s police officer complaint, commendation and feedback process. I’ll discuss the feedback process and the recommendations made by the task force and adopted, with a few revisions, by the city council.

First, let’s get our terminology straight. None of the recommendations concerning the feedback process constitutes “reforms.” A reform implies that something is broken and needs to be fixed. I found nothing that was broken, or in need of reform.

For example, in searching for best practices, I benchmarked the Los Altos Police Department’s complaint intake process against three other comparable local departments in terms of population, size of the police department and other factors: Menlo Park, Los Gatos/Monte Sereno and Atherton. It was the Los Altos Police Department that had the best practices.

The task force received in-depth briefings from Los Altos Police Department captains Katie Krauss and Scott McCrossin. They were transparent, frank, not at all defensive and very articulate. They were also quite open to considering any suggestions the task force might make.

The metrics associated with Los Altos Police Department complaints and commendations are truly impressive. In the past six years, there have been only 16 personnel complaints filed. And six of those were internally initiated by the department itself! Only six complaints were sustained.

On the other side of the ledger, during those same six years, police personnel received no less than 236 commendations. That’s a ratio of approximately 40:1, commendations versus sustained complaints. Any police department in the state would like to have those kinds of metrics.

While not “reforms,” what the task force recommended to the city council are what human resources and organizational development professionals would characterize as “process improvements.” An organization may have good procedures, but improvement should be a goal.

For example, one recommendation was to create an option to submit commendations/complaints/feedback via an online submission form. I expect this option to be used much more for submitting commendations than complaints.

Another example is to establish the option of contacting an independent third party – to be called perhaps a “complaint intake administrator,” not an “auditor” – so that someone who doesn’t want to contact the police department directly can make a complaint. This “intake administrator” will be sitting by a phone that won’t ring very much.

Having now served on the police task force, I am quite confident that Los Altos has a very professional and effective police department that does things the right way. The men and women officers of the Los Altos Police Department wear a uniform in our defense, have chosen danger as a career and wear a gun so we don’t have to. They deserve our support, respect and gratitude. They have mine!

John Fennell is a Los Altos resident who served on the Citizens’ Police Task Force.

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