Council gives police auditor larger role

Michael Gennaco
Michael Gennaco is lead attorney with the Office of Independent Review, which provides police auditing services to the Palo Alto Police Department. Post file photo.

By the Daily Post staff

Anytime a Palo Alto police officer points a gun at someone, the incident will be reviewed by then city’s independent police auditor, City Council decided tonight.

“I tend to think that pointing a firearm is a threat of deadly force and if a police officer does that, it should be under a circumstance where it is entirely necessary,” Vice Mayor Pat Burt said at tonight’s meeting.

Burt recalled that one of his coaches in college was a full-time police officer whose beat was the eastside San Jose when it was rougher than it is today.

“He took great pride in that he had never pulled a firearm in five years of service in eastside San Jose,” Burt said. “That was a great point of pride for him as an officer, that he was able to de-escalate countless events and never go through that. So I think that’s an aspiration for us.”

Burt’s colleagues on council agreed and included that in one of the changes they made to the new contract with the city’s police auditor, Mike Gennaco of the OIR Group. Gennaco’s job is to produce an independent report of any disciplinary actions taken against police officers. Gennaco also reviews the firing of Tasers and the “use of force” by officers.

Council hired Gennaco in 2006, and initially the plan was to have him review incidents and then send his report directly to the city clerk for distribution to the council and the public without editing by police. But in recent years, the reports appear to have been reviewed by police administrators, the police union, the city manager and the city manager before going to council and the public.

In December 2019, council changed Gennaco’s contract so that he wouldn’t be allowed to review internal complaints officers file against one another. Instead, those complaints were to be routed to the city’s human relations department, where they would remain confidential.

That allowed the city to conceal the investigation into the complaint an officer filed about Capt. Zach Perron’s use of the n-word toward a black officer.

After the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd, Palo Alto council members turned their attention to police matters and decided to revise the city’s contract with Gennaco so that he could review a broader range of reports. Tonight, those changes were approved by council unanimously.

One change is that Gennaco will now review all use-of-force reports where a baton, chemical agent (like pepper spray), a Taser, a “less-lethal projectile” (rubber bullets, for instance), police dog or firearm is used.

Council also said Gennaco should review all injuries to people that require more than minor medical care in the field.

Gennaco will also review incidents where an officer points his or her gun at somebody.

Gennaco has also been required to issue two reports a year, each covering a six-month period of time. But often those reports have been late.

Council last night set a specific schedule for the release of reports. The next one is due in August. Next year, reports are due in February and August.

If information on a case during a six-month period isn’t available to Gennaco, he supposed to note that in his report, so that the public knows the information is missing.

In addition, Gennaco, whose office is in Playa del Ray, will start appearing before council when his reports are released.