Palo Alto Police Chief aims to improve preparedness

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Palo Alto Police Chief Pat Dwyer is taking steps to provide the city with a faster responding and more efficient police force, with the goal of improving general preparedness in the case of an emergency.

According to Dwyer’s statements at a conference at Palo Alto High School on Thursday Dec 5, rapid response to crisis in the city is essential. However, the former San Jose Police Captain appears confident with the system that is presently in place.

Recognizing the small number of police officers living in Palo Alto, which could prolong response time, Dwyer pointed out that that number has recently risen from one to eight. Despite only having 96 officers in the department, Dwyer said that number was sufficient for performing daily tasks. "We are very adequately staffed on the street, and more so than other cities our size," he said.

Yet, despite being confident of his department’s ability to respond quickly, Dwyer is taking additional precautions to secure the safety of the city. Recently, he hired a third captain to increase police preparedness. To instill a certain level of readiness in the community, sometime after Jan 1, a pair of preparedness drills will take place at Barron Park schools, according the Mercury News. Such drills will probably consist of "quasi-terrorism acts" and "chemical spills," according to Dwyer. In support of the drills, he implied that a key factor in being ready for emergencies is how much the community has practiced for them.

"We play like we practice," Dwyer said. "If we don’t practice this stuff, when the real thing happens, we’re not going to be ready."

On the subject of terrorism, Dwyer said that he considers it a legitimate threat to the city. "Terrorism is a very real threat, and if you don’t think it can happen here, think about Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City doesn’t have …the high profile that this community occupies nationally." In addition, he mentioned that Palo Alto owns it own utilities, making it an even greater potential target for terrorism.

On a more local note, Dwyer addressed the five sex offenders in close vicinity of Palo Alto High School, and the manner in which his forces remain prepared for any of their potential acts. After numerous rape cases in the city this year, Dwyer explained that the department monitors sex offenders but does not stalk them. However, in rape cases, those identified as offenders by Megan’s Law become chief suspects, given the area in which they reside in relationship to where the rape took place.

Dwyer also addressed preparations for troubled Palo Alto students, hoping to prevent recurrences of cases like Steven Wertheimer’s suicide or the bomb possession at Jordan Middle School. Such preparations include psychological counselor members of the PAPD, trained at Critical Incident Training in San Jose, to help diffuse similar types of situations that may arise in the future. In addition, the department already has a trained hostile negotiations team in place.

While Dwyer supports a higher level of preparedness, he stated that he does not agree with broadening search rights. In his opinion, doing so is a "legitimate concern."