There has been some rumblings in Atherton over the past few years about the Atherton Police. The town pays more for its police services than for any other component of town operations. As a strictly residential community, the relative size of this expense may not actually be a problem. Nevertheless, some residents have questioned whether Atherton should be employing its own professional, dedicated police force, as it currently does. They have pointed out that a few other local communities have implemented a less costly solution by contracting with the San Mateo County Sheriffs department.
Even though some other local communities have decided to contract out their police services, it is my opinion and I believe this opinion is widely shared, that no other surrounding communities are quite like Atherton. Furthermore, it is by no means clear that those communities that have chosen this path have started from the same degree of police services that Atherton has long enjoyed. In the past year, the Council made the affirmative decision to not look into the possibility of outsourcing any of Atherton’s police services at this time. I was very involved in this decision, which I believe to be the right decision.
Atherton residents have had a close, cooperative relationship with their own dedicated police force for as long as anyone can remember. Atherton residents also benefit from a number of special residential services that are provided by our police force which are not widely available in other communities, such as the ability to connect their home alarm systems directly to the police department. Nearly all Atherton residents advise the police dispatchers when they are going to be away from their homes, which triggers more frequent surveillance by officers on duty. Most every one that I have spoken with really appreciates the special police sesrvices that they get and feel secure in their homes.
When any single line item in a budget is the largest, it will always stand out for criticism. While we need to stay diligent on what our police services are costing us, it seems apparent that the majority of residents feel very strongly that home security is a priority and they want to continue to maintain an extremely high level of service from our police. That being said, most residents also recognize the importance of managing the costs is associated with a dedicated public police force and keeping them appropriate. In particular, there are issues associated with rising costs relating to pension and employee benefits that may exceed market rates. In order to provide the services that resident want at a price that they are willing to support (largely from renewals in the Parcel Tax), the council and staff need to address both sides of the equation in the course of good faith contract negotiations. Unless the town is unable to negotiate for the services that they want at a price residents will support every four years, there isn’t a reason to do away with the Atherton police force, which has performed admirably on behalf of residents for a very long time.
I believe that my experience with strategic negotiations can help the residents of Atherton maintain their close, cooperative relationship with the police. The council’s careful, mindful and professional management of its relationship with the police union is one of its most important Council responsibilities on behalf of residents.