The Los Altos City Council appointed nine local residents to serve on a Citizens’ Police Task Force during its meeting this week.
More than 25 people applied to serve on the task force, which will discuss the role of school resource officers (SROs) at Los Altos High School and the process by which residents file complaints against police officers before reporting recommendations back to the council.
The nine members selected were: Robert Curtis Cole, Janet Corrigan, John Fennell, Moira Huang, Harvey Jang, Toni Moos, Renee Rashid, Aradhana Sinha and Jeanine Valadez, with Annie Rogaski as alternate member who would participate in meetings if a member is absent.
The council tried to include diversity on the task force in terms of age, race, gender, location and opinions. Six of the nine members are women and at least five racial groups are represented. Of the 10 people named, five are engineers, three are lawyers, one is a physician and one works in public relations.
Spurred by a town hall earlier this year in which residents offered feedback on their experiences with local police in the wake of a national movement concerning racial equality and police brutality, the council decided that a task force would develop recommendations on a specific scope of items. The two most pressing issues brought up at the town hall, the council decided, were the SRO program and how complaints against officers are filed and logged.
The first meeting was held on Wednesday (Oct. 14), and the task force will meet at 4 p.m. every Wednesday for the next six weeks before providing final recommendations to the council at the Nov. 24 council meeting, with Mayor Jan Pepper and Vice Mayor Neysa Fligor serving as the Council Subcommittee for the Task Force. The task force meetings will be moderated by LaDoris Cordell, a former judge of the Superior Court of California.
“I was truly impressed with your background, your education,” Cordell told the task force members before beginning the first meeting, “but I was especially impressed with your writing about why you wanted to be on this task force, and what it is you wanted to do.”
The meeting, which lasted three hours, consisted of background information provided by Capt. Katie Krauss of the Los Altos Police Department regarding the SRO program. Krauss, who spent three years as the department’s SRO, walked the members through the history of the program, starting with its conception in 1987. The program, according to Krauss, began as a means of keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system by way of “low-level intervention through counseling diversion or other referrals to community programs.”
Currently, one SRO serves 16 area public and private schools, with the main tasks of delivering presentations, building relationships and fostering trust. Krauss highlighted the fact that funding for the SRO program comes solely from the police department and not the school district, and that the SRO is not on campuses actively looking for violations. The SRO did not make any self-initiated arrests on campus last year, Krauss noted.
“We’re not looking for dressing code violations,” she said. “We’re not out there looking for kids smoking weed in the bathrooms. All of our arrests or citations were based on calls for service. Our model is not to walk around trying to enforce laws on campus.”
Krauss also clarified that even if the task force were to recommend termination of the SRO program, police would still be obligated to come onto campus if there was a 911 call initiated. She said not all SRO programs are the same; though they might be under the same title, other cities and school districts might have different models and levels of enforcement for SROs.
The task force members’ questions for Krauss included queries on bias training for officers, gang activity around campus and how SROs gauge their level of success. When asked why she thought concerns regarding the SRO program were being amplified, Krauss said the information presented at the town hall had never been reported to the police department.
“We’ve never had a student report anything to our police department saying that they felt unsafe,” she said. “It came as a surprise to us as well, and I’m very concerned – especially about the teachers who feel that officers on campus had been inappropriate in their actions, because I would like to think that would have been raised to us, somehow.”
After Valadez pointed out that some could be intimidated by speaking up about police misconduct, Krauss agreed, gesturing to her uniform.
“Just by the nature of the uniform we wear and the gun we wear on our belt, it can be intimidating to people,” Krauss said. “We recognize that. That’s why we’re looking to you guys to come up with, ‘OK, are there different ways we can do this?’ in order to make students feel safe while still building those relationships.”
Prior to the second meeting, the task force requested specific data on SRO activity at Los Altos High starting from 2018. They also formed a subcommittee to draft a survey form to send to all students. Next week's meeting is expected to include school administrators and faculty discussing the SRO program, followed by a briefing from a police captain on the complaint filing process.