Pleasanton Police and Data Transparency

Data transparency is often regarded as the first step to further reform in police departments. While the Pleasanton Police Department is not the worst in making data easily available to the public, it certainly needs a lot of improvement.

It’s extremely important to have data transparency in police departments. Transparency is the first step in having more accountable police departments. According to the National Police Foundation , the benefits of data transparency include:

  1. Community analysis of open data could yield important insights into policing
  2. Open data helps the community understand what police do and provides opportunities for two-way engagement
  3. Open data demonstrates transparency and can promote legitimacy
  4. Public safety data is important in addressing broader community concerns
  5. Open law enforcement data can help identify new tools and better processes to improve public safety

In terms of budget and data transparency, the City of Pleasanton is doing well in only one of the four following categories: sexual assault/domestic violence, homelessness, budget transparency, and use of force.

Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence: The 2019 police report does a good job of reporting sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence data in terms of providing numbers. Forcible rape is clearly outlined in Part 1 Crimes with numbers going back to 2015. Sex offenses and domestic violence is similarly reported under “Other Crimes and Offenses,” also with numbers going back to 2015.

Purely in terms of data transparency, Pleasanton Police is doing a much better job of reporting these numbers than many other cities and municipalities. We’re also fortunate to live in a city where sexual assault, forcible rape, and domestic violence are not prevalent crimes and have a high clearance rate in our department. A way that the PPD could improve however, would be to work with various organizations in the Tri-Valley to make these numbers go down. The 100% increase in forcible rape from 2018 to 2019 is very concerning, but partnering with organizations that specialize in dealing with this type of crime would prevent something like this from happening in the future.

Homelessness: Despite the Pleasanton Police Department listing “homeless outreach” as a branch of the Special Enforcement Unit in their 2019 annual report ,unfortunately, the PPD has not provided enough data on homelessness in Pleasanton. There are no records of the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in 2019 or even any general trends over the past few years. According to The Independent, there has been a 43% increase in unhoused individuals in Alameda County over the past two years, yet Pleasanton has not released any numbers detailing the situation in our city specifically. Similarly, there is no information about the organizations that PPD partners with for their homeless outreach program. When many organizations in support of the homeless, like Livermore’s CityServe, exist throughout the Tri-Valley, we wonder why PPD doesn’t come forth and partner with them to address our growing homeless population.

The council and the PPD should work together to create a plan that will help us decrease our homeless population. San Mateo has a plan called the HOPE Plan which looks to reduce the homeless population by creating new housing units, increasing outreach, and community support. While Pleasanton is not San Mateo, we also need to adopt a similar plan to help shelter the homeless population and get them back on their feet. We don’t even know how big of an issue homelessness is in Pleasanton because of the lack of data from the PPD. Only after the PPD starts clearly reporting on the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Pleasanton, along with other useful data such as the numbers about available beds in local shelters, could we start to fix the issue of homeless in Pleasanton.

Budget Transparency: Although Pleasanton’s police budget falls short of being fully comprehensive, there are a few areas worth keeping. First, our city breaks down its budget by division of the police department – such as administration, operation, and investigations – giving residents a more clear idea of where the city’s expenditures are going. The budget also includes a detailed listing of personnel positions and clearance rates, useful statistics that give the reader a better idea of what the police department looks like.

Our most recent budget – which covers fiscal years 2019/2020 and 2020/21 – is lacking in one notable regard, however: there is no itemized listing of expenditures. Other Bay Area cities illustrate how to get this right. The city of Campbell includes budget data so specific that the city mentions exam fees, equipment, and transportation. Emeryville includes office supplies, landscape maintenance, and fuel costs in its yearly report. Atherton similarly notes POST training expenses, subscriptions, and utilities.

Pleasanton is fully capable of implementing this level of specificity. For non-personnel expenditures, our budget already lists categories like “repair and maintenance” and “capital outlay.” It would be even better for our city to go one level deeper, and describe what those categories consist of. Transparency is the prerequisite to accountability, which in turn, is the prerequisite to reform. In order for residents to effectively evaluate the merits of community policing and help determine whether the city should invest in policing alternatives, residents need to better understand the costs currently associated with policing.

Use of Force: Pleasanton’s use of force reporting presents a mixed bag; although there are a few examples of decent transparency, some key statistics are entirely left out. The most recent annual police report from 2019 lists the percentage of calls that result in force being used, the types of force being used, any preventable street crimes, other crimes and offenses in general, and the level of injury sustained when force is used. Each of these metrics provide a solid foundation for good use of force reporting, but unfortunately, our police department doesn’t build on it.

Missing from the report are crucial barometers of police conduct, namely a breakdown of how many times force was used by race, age, and gender. This level of transparency is not unreasonable; San Francisco County, with a much larger population than Pleasanton’s, uses these 3 characteristics when releasing its use of force data. Reporting on use of force in greater detail is an issue that is beneficial to both the police and the community; given the fact that Chief Swing has extolled the virtues of the PPD numerous times, being more specific with use of force data is an opportunity for him to show the community just how virtuous the Pleasanton Police Department is.

Overall however, Pleasanton should take the same level of detail and care that they give to statistics on sexual assault and domestic violence, and apply it to their data on homelessness, the budget, and use of force instances. Pleasanton has taken positive steps in becoming more transparent in certain aspects, but there is far more they need to do.