Facebook bankrolls cop near crime-ridden headquarters

Menlo Park police Chief Robert Jonsen called it a "benchmark in private-public partnerships" that will result in a highly visible patrol in the Belle Haven neighborhood

By Eric Kurhi
San Jose Mercury News

MENLO PARK, Calif. — With five unanimous thumbs up, officials on Tuesday agreed to let Facebook foot the bill for a full-time sworn police officer to work out of a substation near the social media giant's new campus.

Menlo Park police Chief Robert Jonsen called it a "benchmark in private-public partnerships" that will result in a highly visible patrol in the Belle Haven neighborhood, an area that has a lower socioeconomic status than the rest of the city and a higher crime rate.

"In my 28 years in law enforcement, I have yet to work with a stronger community partner than Facebook," he told the City Council. "They only asked, 'What can we do to make it safer?' "

Facebook would fund the officer for three years, with an option to extend the agreement for another two. Tuesday's vote accepted the company's offer of $200,000 a year but added a stipulation that there may be a need to ask for more should costs rise due to pension issues.

"The concept was for Facebook to carry the freight," said City Manager Alex McIntyre, "and they agreed to raise the cap if necessary."

While a Facebook representative was at the meeting, council and staff did not ask her any questions. There were no public speakers on the item, which garnered praise and thanks from each of the council members.

The officer's duties will include being a first responder to incidents in the area and a liaison with schools and businesses to create emergency plans — including violent intruder drills at the various schools and large business campuses in the area.

A key goal is to reduce truancy, something the police talked about at a meeting with community and school officials in October.

"We wanted to have something on the outside that would work directly with schools, for a truancy program that would reduce the daytime crime rate, which has to do with truancy," said police Cmdr. Dave Bertini. "Everyone threw their hands up because we don't have the funding to do that right now."

He said two weeks later they met with Facebook representatives who said they wanted to help, and the seed for the partnership was planted.

The sworn officer will work at the new substation in a storefront at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road, which police hope to open within 90 days. There will also be community services and code enforcement officers at the outpost.

Facebook's new West Campus is being built at Willow Road, just across Highway 84 from its headquarters. The substation is just a few hundred yards away.

Mayor Ray Mueller was so enthralled by Facebook's offer that he felt uncomfortable asking for the pension stipulation on what he called "a gift focused on youth."

"There's really something special happening in Menlo Park," he said.

Copyright 2014 the San Jose Mercury News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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