The Palo Alto Police Department is looking to hire five additional full-time employees, a move the city council approved on Monday.
Prior to the meeting, the department had six fillable vacancies, with six candidates moving through the training process to become officers. Because of the council’s vote, the department will hire an additional five sworn officers, making for a total of 11 fillable vacancies.
Police Chief Robert Jonsen asked the council for the additional hires in order to “keep the momentum”; hiring more officers now will help fill the department’s dwindling ranks for longer, and means the department has more time before having to start up the hiring process again.
New hires help the department keep up with attrition — the natural decrease of sworn officers due to factors like retirement and health problems — as well as replenishing the already short-staffed department, according to Jonsen.
“We know that we’re going to continue to have attrition,” Jonsen said at the meeting. “If we [have that] green light to continue filling the vacancies as the new applicants come in, we’d be able to keep the momentum going forward, keeping up with attrition.”
The city council unanimously supported an increase in funds for the department in order to add five full-time employees to the department.
The topics of police department expansion and funding garnered mixed opinions from public commenters at the meeting: Some cited a growing need for officers due to an increase in local crime, while others said such expansion would only create more problems.
Eight Palo Alto residents voiced support for increasing the department, referencing increases in crime and frustrations at difficulties in reducing crime levels.
“We are in a real dilemma here in town with this increase in crime,” Palo Alto resident Roger Smith said in the meeting. “[The town’s] a laughingstock with all the crime that we have in Palo Alto. We have three detectives, give me a break.”
Residents also said the numerous thefts in Downtown Palo Alto are continually hurting businesses in the area. Many voiced their concerns about there not being enough police on the streets, and said more officers should be hired if at all possible.
“It’s scary,” Palo Alto business owner and resident Megan Kawkab said. “We have cars broken into constantly, I mean it is every night. … It’s deterring people from coming downtown. … We just need a few more bodies on the ground.”
Still, others opposed an increase in department funds, including residents Aram James and Rebecca Eisenberg.
“More employees under [Police Chief Jonsen’s] management is virtually certain to lead to more lawsuits,” Eisenberg said, referencing the city’s previous lawsuits with Mountain View resident Joel Alejo.
The case arose following an incident where a Palo Alto police dog attacked Alejo as he was sleeping in a shed. The dog bit him for about a minute until its handling officer, Officer Nick Enberg, pulled the dog off. The lawsuit ended with the city paying $135,000 to Alejo.
James also mentioned such police brutality lawsuits, and pointed out the lack of Black officers on the force.
“When the heck are you going to resign?” James said, referring to Jonsen. “You haven’t done your job as the leader of the Palo Alto Police Department.”