Unfazed by budget cuts, police are readying for attack

The budget-cut fairy may be rearing its ugly head again, but that will not stop police from getting advanced anti-terror technology, said Palo Alto Police Chief Lynne Johnson at an exclusive press conference Monday.

"Palo Alto has some potential really viable targets for terrorists," said Johnson. "We want to be prepared if something does [happen]."

Regular Palo Altans will be pleased to hear that civilians are not going to be left out of the precautionary festivities. Although not terrorism-related, Johnson hinted that it just may be time to start dusting off those duck-and-cover skills. "Our goal is a fairly large community exercise–not a terrorist drill, but we’re actually going to do an earthquake drill sometime this fall."

Unfortunately, terrorism may not be considered to be a more immediate threat than budget cuts. Currently, Johnson said, about 10 positions from "across the board" in the department are on the list to be terminated, including assistant police chief (Johnson’s former beat), police officers, and civilian staff. Fortunately, all but one of the positions are vacant, reducing the unpleasantness associated with the nasty business of budget-related layoffs.

Talking about preparing for the worst is not nearly as effective as actually making preparations, and with Palo Alto’s current $9 million deficit, Johnson admitted, the money for new programs might be hard to squeeze out of a tight fiscal budget.

A good question to pose would be how a financially limited Palo Alto is supposed to protect itself from any outside troubles. More defensive measures will need more money.
But where is the money coming from for these extra measures? Federal funds. Johnson said the United States Government, already suffering from a projected $521 billion deficit according to CBSNews.com, is forking over an undisclosed amount for Palo Alto’s own anti-terrorism department.

In the wake of 9/11, police all over the country are souping up security for the big ‘maybe.’ Before he retired last year, former Palo Alto police chief Pat Dwyer created a contract position for an anti-terrorism department. At present, Johnson said, Palo Alto’s preparations include special anti-terror training for peace officers and new equipment like biochemical suits, used to protect rescuers in event of a biochemical attack.
Looking at addresses of the friendly neighborhood boys and girls in blue might serve as a deterrent to those convinced that Palo Alto is indeed as prepared for anything it can be. "We could be operating with a very light crew in an emergency situation," said Johnson. Due to exorbitant living costs in the Silicon Valley, 18% of off-line officers live as far as 40-150 miles from Palo Alto and 6% live 20-30 miles away, according to Johnson. Should a disaster come calling off-hours, it may have to be put on hold until Palo Alto’s finest can get through rush hour.

During these times of downsizing and menacing international turmoil that could end up trampling Palo Alto’s azaleas, maybe instead of making sure that the officers on duty have those swanky new suits of chemical armor, the city should make sure that there are enough officers on duty to fill them.