A police officer paid for by Facebook will be the nation’s first privately funded cop, a move dubbed by some as an act of generosity and by others as encroachment on public services.
The Menlo Park City Council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday accepting $600,000 over the next three years from Facebook to hire an officer stationed in Belle Haven, a relatively poor community near the company’s headquarters.
“It’s a way to keep the community safe,” Menlo Park mayor Ray Mueller told NBC Bay Area, noting that the contract states the officer will spend a majority of patrol time maintaining safety around the schools.
The officer will also help the area’s large companies prepare for their greatest threats.
"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 assist)," police Cmdr. Dave Bertini told the San Jose Mercury News.
According to NBC, Menlo Park went to great lengths to make clear that the position would be for a Menlo Park police officer, not a "Facebook cop."
"They even made Facebook acknowledge that even though they are footing the bill, they will not be the ones calling the shots," said NBC's Chase Cain.
But the agreement is alarming to those concerned about increasing ties between government and industry.
"I don't think there is anything ethically wrong with it," Terry Francke of Californians Aware told NBC. "But I don't think it's good government. The notion is that government services are paid for by everyone. This comes awfully close to naming rights. So, what will things be called now, 'Google City Hall?'”
Andrew Leonard of Salon slammed the idea in a post, claiming the move sets a precedent bound for corruption.
"I am all for corporations being good citizens of their communities, but private bankrolling of public cops sets a horrible precedent," he wrote. "For starters, it presents obvious conflict-of-interest challenges. How will police departments treat Facebook employees who might be caught in criminal behavior, when their own budget is partially paid for by Facebook? Everyone involved is swearing up and down that nothing of the sort will ever happen, but if this model spreads, there are bound to be abuses."
But supporters say this Facebook is merely exercising its social-corporate responsibility and won't expect special favors.
“They are bending over backwards to be good neighbors,” Bertini told NBC. “There is no quid pro quo here.”
If so, Facebook is only the latest San Francisco Bay Area tech giant to reach out to the community by funding local services. Following protesters blockading Google buses from shuttling employees from the city to its Mountain View headquarters in December, the company announced last week it would front $6.8 million for youth Muni bus passes.