Police critic raises questions about new chief’s record, selection process

Daily Post Staff Writer

A police critic is bashing the city of Palo Alto for what he calls a secretive process in hiring its new police chief, Bob Jonsen, and raised concerns about the new chief’s record in dealing with minorities.

While interviewing for Palo Alto’s next chief, City Manager Jim Keene opted not to release the finalists’ names, which he did in 2009 about a month before promoting Assistant Chief Dennis Burns to the top job.

Keene released the three finalists’ names in 2009, after being pressured to do so by some in the community, which gave residents a few weeks to vet the

But no such announcement was made this fall, before Keene hired Menlo Park Police Chief Bob Jonsen to take over the position starting Jan. 9.

Police critic and former Santa Clara County Assistant Public Defender Aram James ripped the more secretive hiring process, saying that in his experience,
Keene is a “guy who likes to do things behind closed doors.”

Racial profiling

He also has raised concerns about Jonsen’s leadership of a Menlo Park department accused of racial profiling and selective over-policing. James said that at a time of high tensions between police and minorities, the process should have been even more open in 2017 than in 2009.

But Palo Alto Human Relations Director Rumi Portillo told the Post that she had followed the advice of Teri Black and Co., the national recruiting firm the city contracted with this year, to keep the candidates’ identities confidential.

Attracting top candidates

“Maintaining candidates’ confidentiality throughout the process helps to attract the best candidates and minimizes the risk of compromising their current employment status,” Portillo said in an email. “Furthermore, it helps to preserve the integrity of a selection process rather than allowing it to become a popularity contest or campaign event.”

Portillo said that in her experience, top candidates won’t participate in recruitment if their candidacy might be announced. She said that once Jonsen was
selected, city employees continued to vet his references and other sources who knew him before announcing the hire.

In the case of both hires, Keene appointed a panel of citizens and top city employees to interview candidates. This year, the 13-member panel included one former Los Altos police chief, Tuck Younis; one top prosecutor, Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky; one former Santa Clara
County Superior Court judge, LaDoris Cordell; two current and former Human Relations commissioners, Daryl Savage and Valerie Stinger; nonprofit leaders
Iris Korol and Michele Lew; and six city employees, the Rev. Paul Bains, who serves as police chaplain, Fire Chief Eric Nickel, City Attorney Molly Stump,
Deputy City Manager Michelle Flaherty, Community Services Director Rob de Geus and city spokeswoman Claudia Keith.

Panel representation

James criticized the makeup of the panel, claiming that it should have included some members who are routinely victimized by police harassment and abuse,
though both Cordell and Bains are black and Bains is the senior pastor at St. Samuel Church in East Palo Alto, one of the cities where James accuses police of
“acting like occupiers” and enacting “community terrorism.”

Savage, who now works for the FBI, is “very outspokenly pro-police,” James said, adding that while there’s nothing wrong with that position, the panel should have featured more balance.

Jonsen sent an email to the Post declining to respond to James’ concerns.