BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Councilman Greer Stone said he has received a letter from the state Department of Justice that contradicts what Palo Alto police Chief Bob Jonsen told City Council before they voted to continue encryption on April 4.
In light of the new information, Stone said he wants council members to reconsider their decision, and he is writing a memo to call for another vote.
Stone reached out to the state DOJ after council voted 6-1 on April 4 to continue encrypting radios.
Before that meeting, Jonsen told council that Palo Alto is under a mandate to encrypt from the DOJ. Jonsen’s stance was based on his interpretation of a DOJ memo from October 2020, which gave police agencies two options: encrypt radios, or create a policy telling dispatchers not to read personal information over the airwaves.
Alternatives to encryption legal
Scores of agencies have created a policy because they have analog radios that can’t be encrypted, including the CHP and a number of San Mateo County departments. The policies tell dispatchers and officers to read only pieces of personal information over the airwaves, and they have been approved by the state DOJ.
Jonsen claimed that because Palo Alto has the digital technology to encrypt, the city can’t go the policy route.
“Agencies that had the technical capability and infrastructure in place to transmit … over encrypted channels must do so,” he wrote in a memo.
Stone said he “vehemently disagreed” with Jonsen’s stance, so he wrote a letter to the author of the DOJ memo, Chief Joe Dominic. Dominic responded on May 16 and said Palo Alto could in fact go with a policy.
“The decision of which option to utilize does not solely depend on whether encryption technology is feasibly or practically available to an agency,” Dominic said. “Rather, the decision may be based on a variety of factors pertinent to that agency’s operational needs, including its resources and particular mission, as well as legitimate interests in transparency and accountability.”
Stone trying to bring issue back to council
Stone said he met with City Manager Ed Shikada to see if council’s April 4 decision could be looked at again. Too much time had passed to reconsider the vote under city policy, and Shikada said meetings are too busy before council’s summer break. So, Stone said he will write a colleagues memo this summer to have another vote. He will have to get a second council member to sign onto the memo.
“This is just more evidence that we made the wrong decision of encrypting, and we should move toward unencrypting as soon as possible,” said Stone, the lone council member who voted to unencrypt.
City can show leadership on this, Stone says
Palo Alto leads other cities on a lot of issues, and this First Amendment issue should be no exception, Stone said.
“We have to ensure a free and robust press,” Stone said. “When it comes to law enforcement, being able to have that accountability is paramount.”