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Police Task Force reviews data of police activity at LAHS, discusses complaint process

The Citizens’ Police Task Force finalized a survey to send to Los Altos High School students, reviewed data regarding police activity at the high school and discussed the process by which citizens can file complaints about officers at its second meeting on Wednesday (Oct. 21).

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Los Altos' Citizen's Police Task Force held its second meeting on Wednesday, where they reviewed data of police activity at Los Altos High School.

The nine-member task force is meeting every week through Nov. 18 to discuss the school resource officer (SRO) program at Los Altos High and residents’ feedback process for officers before bringing forth a recommendation to the city council.

After working through developing a survey asking students about their knowledge of and any experience with school resource officers – which the task force hopes to send out next week – the members received a rundown of data detailing police activity at the high school since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

The data showed that police have been on campus nearly 500 times in three years. A quarter of the instances were a “patrol area check,” which was explained by Capt. Katie Krauss – the Los Altos Police Department’s representative at the meetings – as “after-hour” check-ins like night patrols for vandalism or graffiti. Police responded to eight instances of “mental health” issues, but Krauss cautioned that calls involving mental health or suicide also could be classified under “medical health emergency” (20 instances) or “welfare check” (seven instances). There were also 25 calls for suspicious circumstances, seven for battery, six for sex crimes, three for criminal threats and two for brandishing a weapon.

Of the 495 calls for police service at the high school in three years, a school resource officer responded to just 63 of them, or under 13%. The current SRO, Josh Cottrell, has responded to 45 calls in two years. That is a higher rate than his predecessor, Ryan Langone, who responded to 18 calls during his three-year term from 2015 to 2018.

The SROs have made two arrests in three years – for assault and battery and brandishing a firearm. Police have issued 12 criminal citations at the high school, according to data presented. Cottrell has issued seven of them: three for assault and battery, and one each for brandishing a firearm, arson, possession of a stun gun and robbery.

Complaint process

Krauss also introduced the task force to the process by which residents file complaints about potential officer misconduct, walking them through the city’s policy manual as well as a complaint brochure. As members of the public did during the town hall on policing earlier this year, task force members questioned Krauss on why Los Altos doesn’t have an independent party investigate residents’ complaints against police. Rather, the department receives complaints and then investigates itself.

The members were warned that the scope of the task force does not include discussing how complaints are investigated. But Vice Mayor Neysa Fligor clarified that the “intake process” of how complaints are registered is within the scope, after suggestions that the first point of contact for a complainant should be with a third party rather than the police department itself.

The task force moderator, former Superior Court of California Judge LaDoris Cordell, said that in her experience as a police auditor, she has found that people are apprehensive about filing complaints directly to police and that it is worth discussing how complaints are received.

Krauss agreed, stating that the department is open to suggestions from the task force about the complaint-filing process, urging members to research other cities with different procedures and determine if they might work in Los Altos.

“We are open to whatever you guys find and bring back to us,” Krauss said. “Find us that amazing program and we are more than willing to adopt that.”

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