Virtual Panel Questions

The San Mateo Police Department hosted a listening session on Episode 3 of Real Talk San Mateo and asked the community to share their experiences, comments, and ideas about transparency and policing in San Mateo. As part of our Real Talk San Mateo series, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center facilitated this virtual listening session where participants called in or provided written questions. We've included a list of questions asked during the listening sessions below. If you have additional questions, please send us an email at pdpio@cityofsanmateo.org.

If you missed our previous discussions, you can watch them on our YouTube channel. You can also learn more about our policies and what we do to keep San Mateo safe on our Police Accountability web page. Let’s keep having these tough conversations. Together, we are San Mateo and together we will grow as a community.

Questions

Economic Equity 

Citizen Question

Is City government creating laws and economic opportunities for people of color, creating jobs and business ownership in our community to help people of color create wealth and subsequently reduce crime?   

City Response

The City prides itself on being a vibrant, diverse community that is committed to equity and inclusivity; and these values are incorporated into our mission and long-term vision. Recognizing there's always room for improvement, the City recently established a new internal Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. The group will be tasked with incorporating DEI principals and best practices as it relates to hiring and recruiting for public sector careers, ensuring our services and programs are meeting the needs of everyone in our community, and strategizing ways to enhance economic opportunities in collaboration with our business partners.  

The City also has a long history of adopting policies and offering programs that help provide opportunities and resources for those in need. Access to stable housing is a key factor that influences one's health, economic prosperity and quality of life. The City has a strong record of supporting affordable housing through inclusionary housing policies, providing millions of dollars in dedicated local funding, and leveraging partnerships with nonprofits to create new homes in San Mateo. During the COVID-19 crisis, the City allocated $440,000 toward rental assistance for lower income residents and child care providers. The City was also the first in San Mateo County to enact a moratorium on certain commercial evictions to protect small businesses struggling to make ends meet due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.  

Through our Community Funding Program, the City directs federal dollars to services that provide lower income residents with access to food, shelter, clothing, affordable housing, legal services and small business startup assistance. The City also helps fund infrastructure improvements in areas of San Mateo with lower-income households, and provides financial assistance for first-time homebuyer and home repair programs that help economically disenfranchised community members.  

The City maintains close partnerships and provides direct financial support to many nonprofits in the area offering vital services and resources in multiple languages for our lower-income and minority communities. This includes the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, HIP Housing, Samaritan House and more. The City also supports a worker resource center in collaboration with Samaritan House to facilitate safer employment opportunities for day laborers. In recognition of the area's high cost of living, the City was also the first in San Mateo County to raise the local minimum wage. 

The City Council has also taken a firm, public stance against all forms of racism, bias and discrimination through several resolutions. On July 20, the City Council proclaimed that black lives matter and committed to continue efforts to address the root causes of racial inequity in our community.  


Militarization of Police 

Citizen Question

Why is military equipment offered to police agencies? What military surplus equipment does San Mateo PD own? When is this equipment used? 

Department Response

The San Mateo Police Department does not own any military surplus vehicles or weapons. Historically, these vehicles and weapons have been available to police agencies for decades. We’ve only made two military “type” procurements to ensure the safety of our city – a robot and optical sights. The robot is used by officers to safely observe dangerous situations from a distance and can be used to deliver items to people who are barricaded. Optical sights are attached to rifles, which provide officers the highest degree of sight accuracy. Of note, the United States Department of Defense coordinates their program through the Defense Logistics Agency and additional information can be found on their website.  


Crowd Control and Community Impact      

Citizen Question

I did not participate in the BLM protest recently [on June 3, 2020], but I am very concerned to hear how the police apparently escalated the situation when the protestors arrived at the police station. As professionals, I would expect the police to read the group and not show force until needed. What are your current policies for riot and crowd control situations? 

Department Response 

San Mateo County subscribes to the universal law enforcement goal of protecting life and property, and the rescuing of victims. Police agencies within San Mateo County have a mutual aid agreement, to include responding to major disasters, civil disorder, or unusual occurrences. In cases of civil disorder, it is the County’s protocol at the onset of civil disorder, an immediate effort will be made to resolve the outbreak through deliberate and thoughtful use of all necessary personnel and equipment.  

Depending on the scale of incident, mutual aid requests can occur on a local, regional, and state level. When mutual aid is requested, the local police chief determines that an emergency situation in their jurisdiction may become or is already beyond the control of the department’s resources. The requesting agency works with San Mateo County Public Safety Communications who relays the request to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services for authorization of mutual aid. The requesting agency provides information on the size of the incident and what type of help is needed (i.e., numbers of officers, specialized equipment, etc.). Each agency participating in the call for mutual aid are required to follow its own department’s policies and procedures. However, the final command decisions, as to actions taken by the entire mutual aid team, rests with the requesting agency.  

For additional information about the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Mutual Aid System, please visit CalOES. The San Mateo County Mutual Aid Protocol can be reviewed online..  

We understand a portion of our community felt uneasy and intimidated by the additional support teams deployed at this event. We have heard several concerns, as well as many messages of support. Every voice matters, and we take all of them into account as we review the management of the event internally. We will be evaluating those reactions alongside the facts of the protest, which was unprecedented in size for our community and much larger than the planning estimate, complete with no injuries to anyone, no damage or looting, no police use of force, and no arrests.  

Based on the amount of participants, and the fact attendees flanked two sides of the police department, it appears that unbeknownst to most in attendance, there were parties involved in this protest who believed to be attempting to block the freeway, headed toward the Hillsdale Shopping Center, and armed themselves with rocks and firearms during this event. Protestors also shouted threatening statements at officers, and attempted to breach and access our police department at two points. We are thankful these instances were all contained.  

Our response to every situation is different, based on the unique set of conditions presented to us. We understand that portions of our community were impacted and many attendees were unaware of actions taken by the 2,000+ demonstrators. For a summary of activity during the event, please review our post-incident overview


Police Policy and Public Suggestions 

Citizen Question

What will happen with comments made to the police chief on policy issues? What changes have been made from community feedback? 

Department Response 

The San Mateo Police Department regularly reviews, and revises policy based on changes in statutory, legislated, and case law. In addition, feedback from the public is taken seriously and has helped shape our policies.   

Many questions have been asked regarding our use of force policy following recent events. The policy was in revision at that time, and measures were taken to ensure that our policy clearly reflects the concerns of the public. This policy was also reviewed with our City Council in a recent study session. Among several issues of particular attention to our public, San Mateo Police Department’s use of force policy addresses the following: 

  • Recognizes the value of all human life; 
  • Requires de-escalation practices and consideration of lower level force options on the force continuum; 
  • Requires a duty to intercede in cases of excessive or inappropriate use of force; 
  • Prohibits the carotid restraint and use of any chokeholds or strangleholds; 
  • Discourages shooting at or from moving vehicles under all but extreme public danger circumstances, and requires officers to move out of the path of vehicles whenever possible; 
  • Requires a verbal warning prior to use of deadly force whenever feasible;  
  • And requires a distinct reporting, documentation, and management review process for use of force. 

 These items and more are further explained on the San Mateo Police Department’s accountability web page.  


Laws and Policies 

Citizen Question

How many police department and City policies do officers have to follow? How many state laws are there for officers to enforce? 

Department Response 

SMPD employees are subject to over 60 City employee policies and nearly 160 department policies. Our department policies are all posted online and we encourage you to read them. 

California State Laws are present across twenty-nine distinct code books, many of which are enforceable by police. Police officers most commonly focus on the Penal Code, Vehicle Code, Health and Safety Code, and Welfare and Institutions Code – but others, like the Government Code and Evidence Code, also guide some law enforcement functions. In addition, City of San Mateo municipal codes are available to our officers related to City-specific regulations.  


Personnel Investigations and Accountability 

Citizen Question

What good are the rules for law enforcement officers when it’s next to impossible to have them punished when they violate those rules, when they are self-investigated by the police department? Why don’t we have an independent review of police when there’s police misconduct? What about “qualified immunity”?   

Department Response 

When policy violations are identified, the outcome for officers can range from a discussion with that officer up to formal discipline and/or termination. For more serious or significant policy violation allegations, the San Mateo Police Department follows an internal affairs investigation process strictly guided by the California Public Safety Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights Act

The investigation is often conducted by the department’s Professional Standards Unit and, at times, the investigation is outsourced to an independent investigator. Upon completion and review by the chief of police, these investigations are subject to a series of checks and balances that include review by other City departments like human resources and the City Attorney’s Office.  

In the event the allegations include criminal conduct, the San Mateo Police Department refers the case to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for independent investigation. In addition, the District Attorney’s Inspector’s Office independently investigates critical incidents like officer involved shootings to assure independent review of the officer’s actions.  

The vast majority of inquiries regarding police officer conduct involve questions about department procedures or identification of a straightforward training issue. These inquiries are typically handled with the officer’s direct supervisor.  

Qualified immunity is a legal principle that provides protection for certain public employees against claims for liability for damages in civil rights cases and can provide grounds for early dismissal from litigation when the public employee is sued. While qualified immunity protects officers acting in their professional capacity while performing in an objectively reasonable manner, it does not protect public officials who are proven to have violated an individual’s constitutional rights. The purpose of qualified immunity was to facilitate a balance between the interest in preventing, and compensating for, constitutional violations and the recognition that government officials and employees are required to make prompt discretionary decisions. The limited protections of qualified immunity applies only in the context of civil litigation and solely in those cases when an officer’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable officer would have known. Qualified immunity does not afford police officers protection from criminal prosecution. 


Police Officer Training – De-Escalation, Implicit Bias, and Racial Profiling 

Citizen Question 

Do officers receive training in de-escalation, implicit bias awareness, and racial profiling awareness? What is the effectiveness of this training? 

Department Response 

Nearly all San Mateo Police Department officers have received training in crisis intervention, de-escalation, implicit bias, racial profiling, and procedural justice.   

De-escalation is incorporated into a variety of trainings, to include possible scenarios when force could be used. These trainings are frequently either live-scenario based or done on an interactive computer simulation projected onto a life-size video screen. These skills are practiced frequently on the street as well, and our officers rely heavily on each other for help and feedback to continuously improve these skills.  

In addition, the San Mateo Police Department joins many of our partnering agencies in San Mateo County in sending our officers to an additional week-long training to address people in crisis and increase awareness of people with mental health conditions and other disabilities that may impact communication. Nearly all San Mateo Police Department officers are trained in these crisis intervention training (CIT) and dispatchers ensure that officers with CIT skills are specifically dispatched on calls where the need is apparent. The effectiveness of this training has become apparent in a number of calls when our officers have successfully de-escalated violent situations and helped connect a person in crisis to a mental health professional. 


“The War on Drugs” and Its Relation to Modern Law Enforcement in California 

Citizen Question

Is there still a war on drugs? Does San Mateo receive federal funds in conjunction with the war on drugs? Is there criteria under which the City gets those funds? 

Department Response 

We believe that chemical dependency is a health issue and a portion of our budget helps connect those experiencing addiction to resources like Star Vista’s First Chance program. Police officers are often the lifeline to those who are looking for help, taking the first step toward recovery. Possession of drugs and the sale of narcotics continues to be illegal in California. In light of recent California, however, new laws have reduced, if not eliminated penalties for most crimes of drug use.  

We also know that the rising rates of property crimes are a likely byproduct of reduced penalties for drug use and influence. We combat this issue in a different way, rather than incarcerating every person under the influence. People arrested for crimes of drug use and influence, whenever possible, are brought to First Chance, a recovery facility run by local nonprofit Star Vista. First Chance takes a full assessment of their clients and determines whether Behavioral Health Recovery Services (BHRS) or other resources might help lift them out of their current situation.  

As for more formal drug enforcement, San Mateo Police Department’s Crime Reduction Unit (CRU) addresses street-level drug dealing, and the department pays for a County Narcotics Task Force (CNTF) officer. CNTF focuses on larger-scale drug dealers and their criminal enterprises.  


Budget Items – Specialized Units and Funding for Socially Beneficial Services 

Citizen Question

What funding is being allocated to specialized units like school resource officers, gang enforcement, and homelessness? Couldn’t the budget for these areas of focus be directed to social services? Couldn’t the City’s structural deficit be aided by cuts to the police budget in overtime, public relations, and non-personnel contracts?  

Department Response 

On July 20, 2020, Chief Barberini made a comprehensive presentation to the San Mateo City Council in a review of  the Police Department’s budget. In detail, the presentation outlines the integration of the San Mateo Police Department’s duties and the work of community partners offering vital social services. The collaboration to provide these services help people experiencing homelessness, mental health crises, or substance abuse. It also provides resources for gang prevention and intervention, as well as conflict resolution.  

Over the past 25 years, San Mateo Police Department’s budget has consistently represented  (about 34%) of the City’s general fund. The proportions of the budget dedicated to salaries, training, minimum staffing and other overtime, contractual obligations, facility maintenance, and modest operational costs have also remained consistent. Following public input, the City Council acknowledged the current budget as it is organized.  

Many of our regional safety net programs are provided through County services which are supported by local, state, and federal funding sources. The City collaborates with our County and nonprofit partners to connect people to resources to address homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health crises. 


Budget – School Resource Officers, Gang Prevention and Intervention 

Citizen Question

Is there a gang problem in San Mateo, and couldn’t it be solved by other service providers instead of the money allocated for prevention, intervention, and enforcement? Can we do the same with school resource officers (SROs)? 

Department Response 

Although the City of San Mateo is a relatively safe city, it is one of the largest on the San Francisco Peninsula. As a larger city, it also has pockets of areas with vulnerable and fragile families, poverty, financial inequities, and other risk factors. These types of areas are very vulnerable to gang recruitment and gang activity, and do need to be regularly addressed through all three strategies of prevention, intervention, and enforcement. These factors come to the public’s attention most frequently as an emergency call for public safety services and therefore are nearly always first noticed and addressed by police. Over the years, the San Mateo Police Department has developed relationships and tools to deal with the immediate issues and aftermath of criminal gang activity and violence, as well as successful strategies that promote prevention and early intervention of gang membership and activity. 

The San Mateo Police Department employs our award-winning Neighborhood Safety Partnerships as a strategy in gang-vulnerable areas. This is a wrap-around approach that works with landlords and residents alike to clean up vulnerable neighborhoods, provides multilingual support for needy families in partnership with local nonprofits, and gets youth connected with police in a positive way through our Police Activities League.  

The San Mateo Police Youth Services Unit (YSU) incorporates school resource officers, Police Activities League, and a program to divert youth from the juvenile justice system into one cohesive and dedicated team. This team includes a three-way partnership between the Police Department, the San Mateo Union High School District, and the San Mateo-Foster City School District to provide school resource officers to six San Mateo high and middle schools. In addition, they partner with San Mateo County Probation and local counseling services to provide dedicated intervention and diversion resources in one place at the San Mateo Police Department.  

This allows for the San Mateo Police Department to be on the front lines identifying and assessing our most at-risk youth and most fragile families, and immediately connect these families to the support they need to be safe and successful. The school resource officer team, through the evidence-based successful Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) curriculum, ensures that every sixth grade public school student gets a 13-week course in anti-bullying, good decision-making, resiliency, and self-reliance. As of 2019, every graduating senior of a public high school had successfully completed the G.R.E.A.T. program as a sixth grader. Prosecution of incidents documented by school resource officers involving students at the middle school level have dropped dramatically during this three-way partnership with the districts.  The San Mateo Police Youth Services Unit is a model team which is being replicated elsewhere in the County.  


Budget – Homeless Outreach 

Citizen Question

What is the Homeless Outreach Team? Can we eliminate it and spend the money on social services? 

Department Response 

Contacts with people experiencing homelessness in San Mateo normally starts as a request for emergency assistance or to address a safety issue, and often occurs at a time of day when police are the only service available. This puts police officers in contact with our homeless community more frequently than any other public services.  

San Mateo Police Department’s Downtown Unit is a multipurpose team dedicated to maintaining relationships with downtown businesses and is used as a central resource for addressing homelessness. While our officers respond to complaints involving people experiencing homelessness, the Downtown Unit closely monitors our homeless population and connects individuals to a variety of services. The Homeless Outreach Team is a model program comprised of downtown officers and experts from San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) and LifeMoves, a local nonprofit serving the homeless community. The Homeless Outreach Team provides assessment and case management to connect homeless individuals to needed services.  


Bias-related Calls Reported to SMPD by the Public 

Citizen Question

Moving forward, how will the police handle “Karen” and “Chad” calls? How can we, the public, modify our behaviors to reduce bias-related calls? For clarification - “Karen” and “Chad” calls refer to a trend of labeling people who call the police for frivolous or bias-based reasons. 

Department Response 

San Mateo Police Department dispatchers take significant steps to determine the validity and type of incidents reported by the public. Reports of strictly “suspicious activity” or “someone looking out of place” receive follow-up questions to determine criminal activity or specific, articulable facts that officers require to stop and lawfully detain a person in accordance with the United States Constitution.  

Absent any articulable crime or facts validating the need for public safety services, these calls may not be dispatched or may simply be listed for awareness by patrolling officers. The San Mateo Police Department is very sensitive to, and aware of the negative impacts of an unnecessary, frivolous, or bias-based report. We actively work to avoid these types of situations if no immediate safety needs are present.  

The best way for our public to help us with reducing these types of calls is to be self-aware and understand what is suspicious behavior and what is not. Learn more about See Something, Say Something, and reporting to the police. 


The Importance of the Relationship Between SMPD and Our Public 

Citizen Question

What can we, the public, do to keep our officers on the street, proactively keeping us safe, and staying with SMPD? How can we be of more help as a community? 

Department Response 

Let’s start with the members of the San Mateo Police Department. We are comprised of 115 sworn police officers, and another nearly 50 members of our professional staff. We recruit a diverse group of professionals who come from multiple cultures, speak many languages, and have a strong desire to provide you with the best possible service every day.  

Hiring the best depends on you. After all, the members of this department come from the community. If you or someone you know is interested in serving the public in a way that provides outstanding safety and quality of life to the San Mateo community, we are hiring!  

These are challenging times, and our public is asking important questions. We are doing the best we can to answer as many of those questions for you, as fully as possible. Examples of this are the series of virtual meetings we have held with our community. We also encourage you to keep asking questions, which you can send as an email to pdpio@cityofsanmateo.org, and if you have specific compliments or concerns about an interaction with your San Mateo Police Department, please visit our comments web page to learn more about how to submit it.  

Community members can partner with the San Mateo Police Department by getting to know their neighbors, and being part of a robust network with Neighborhood Watch. San Mateo continues to have a large formal neighborhood watch team of over 300 neighborhood watch blocks.  

In addition, if you don’t follow the San Mateo Police Department already through NextdoorNixle or other social media platforms, we encourage you to join our public relations team virtually.