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Calif. city once dubbed "murder-capital" to consider police outsourcing

City council is scheduled to discuss whether to seek contract proposals from law enforcement agencies interested in patrolling East Palo Alto's streets

By Bonnie Eslinger
Palo Alto Daily News

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. — East Palo Alto may become the latest Peninsula city to consider outsourcing police services in a cost-cutting move.

At its Feb. 4 meeting, the city council is scheduled to discuss whether to seek contract proposals from law enforcement agencies interested in patrolling East Palo Alto's streets.

Assistant City Manager Barbara Powell told The Daily News on Tuesday that no recommendation has been made yet.

"We're in the early days" Powell said. "First, we need to get direction from the city council and then get proposals to see if it makes sense. I don't know if this pertains to East Palo Alto, we haven't seen the proposals, but I believe other cities have found there's efficiencies in terms of costs and responsiveness."

In 2010, the San Carlos City Council voted to outsource the city's police force to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office after being told it could save roughly $2.1 million a year through the deal.

Before East Palo Alto was incorporated into a city in 1983, it was patrolled by sheriff's deputies.

City Council Member Ruben Abrica said he doesn't want to see the city return to those days and lose its independent police department.

"We fought very hard to have a local police force that's accountable to the local community and council," Abrica said Tuesday. "Losing control of our police department is unacceptable to me."

Powell said that in addition to the county, East Palo Alto could solicit contract proposals from neighboring cities such as Menlo Park and Palo Alto  "some city we border with, so there are not problems with response time, and with some organization that has the capacity."

Powell said she didn't know whether City Manager Magda Gonzalez has contacted the county or other cities. Powell said she herself hasn't.

East Palo Alto has been without a permanent police chief since November, when Ronald Davis resigned to take a job in Washington, D.C., as head of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

To fill the leadership gap, Gonzalez first tapped police Capt. Federico Rocha to serve as interim police chief and later hired former San Bruno police chief Lee Violett for a temporary stint.

East Palo Alto occupies 2.5 square miles and has a population of 28,155, according to the city. About 44 percent of East Palo Alto's 100 employees work in the police department, according to the city's 2013-2014 budget.

While East Palo Alto has grown in the decades since incorporation, its crime rates have significantly dropped, according to a study released in 2010 by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, University of California, Berkeley School of Law. In 1986, statistics showed there were 922 crimes per 10,000 people; in 2008, that ratio had dropped to 355 crimes per 10,000 residents.

Dubbed the per-capita "murder capital" of the nation in 1992 when 42 homicides were reported, East Palo Alto averaged fewer than 10 murders annually in the two decades that followed. Eight people were killed there in 2013, still more than in any other city in the county.

Copyright 2014 the Palo Alto Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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