The Menlo Park City Council in California on Tuesday unanimously consented to allow Facebook to foot the bill for a beat cop. But the fact that a private company is paying for a police officer is not without controversy.
“I find this particularly concerning,” Alessandro De Giorgi, a professor of justice studies at San Jose State University, told KNBC-TV, worrying about the future implications and the perception of conflict of interest.
Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller told KPIX-TV that’s not something to worry about in this case.
“The only way that you would have a conflict of interest is if somehow someone tried to exert influence over our police force,” Mueller said. “That’s not going to happen.”
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the officer, who will be hired by the police department but paid for through funds provided by Facebook, will police the Belle Haven area, providing support to a poorer community that is also in Facebook’s backyard.
Cmdr. Dave Bertini told the Mercury News last week before the council approved the agreement that the officer, though he or she would be uniformed and in a marked car, wouldn’t be getting calls or issuing traffic citations.
“It’s truancy patrol or something like a security patrol at Facebook,” Bertini said, according to the newspaper.
“Let’s say Facebook has a need of assistance, or some other large company, and says, ‘We want to have drills for an active shooter or a bomb threat. We need you to help us put that together.’ They’d have an actual person [to do that],” Bertini added about how the officer could be on hand to support Facebook in addition to the area’s schools.
Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation based in Washington, D.C., told KNBC, this method of financing a new law enforcement position is “unprecedented,” but “may be the model of the future.”
“I’m not sure what’s motivating Facebook,” he added. “But Zuckerberg has been part of this philanthropic movement. I applaud them for their social consciousness.”
Bertini told KNBC that just because Facebook is putting up $200,000 per year for this officer’s salary and benefits doesn’t mean there is any “quid pro quo here.”
Watch KPIX-TV’s report about the privately funded cop:
Andrew Leonard, a writer for Salon, wrote that it’s a “horrible idea.”
As for conflict of interest, Leonard wrote that if this model of financing a cop spreads, “there are bound to be abuses,” despite assurances that special treatment won’t happen.
“The mere fact that Menlo Park and Facebook think private sponsorship of a cop is a good idea betrays a social order in which the notion that we all pay taxes to provide public services to everyone has completely broken down,” Leonard said, saying that he thinks Silicon Valley corporations should be paying “their fair share” in taxes to help fund these efforts instead.
The social networking company is also giving the city $215,000 for rent and improvements to a new substation in the area, according to the Mercury News.