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Facebook-funded police substation to open in Menlo Park

Facebook has given some of its money and a bit of its open-source attitude for a new home for Menlo Park's officers in blue.

A new Menlo Park Police Department substation and neighborhood service center will open its doors Saturday in the Belle Haven section of the city.

The facility is designed to encourage collaboration between members of the public and the police who serve them amid exposed rafters, Bauhaus-inspired furniture and brushed concrete floors.

If that sounds like the office environment of Silicon Valley infiltrated the police precinct, it's because it has — Facebook designed and funded the entire project.

“It's very untraditional, but I think it's the way of the future,” said Police Chief Bob Jonsen. “This is a perfect example of a private-public partnership that will grow in time.”

The new facility at Willow Road and Hamilton Avenue, just a half-mile from tech giant Facebook's headquarters, will have a fingerprint station and booking camera but won't be equipped to house prisoners. Low-level offenders will be cited at the substation and released, while serious crimes will still be investigated out of the department's main station.

The center will also offer free public Wi-Fi, an ATM, and access to basic financial services through the San Mateo Credit Union, all identified as much-needed amenities in recent neighborhood meetings.

In an era of shrinking city budgets and community-based policing, a corporate-funded one-stop shop where locals can mingle with officers while running errands promotes openness and cooperation, Jonsen said.

“Security protocols are built in that a police substation should have, but you'd never know it walking in the door,” Jonsen said. “We wanted that Facebook feel. We gave them almost complete control of the design.”

The Belle Haven neighborhood, separated from the rest of Menlo Park by U.S. Highway 101, has the highest rate of violent crime in the city, but safety is on the rise. A former fortified substation was an outdated vestige of more dangerous times, Jonsen said.

“This neighborhood is changing. It's not a neighborhood where I feel you need bars on your windows anymore and if the police need bars on their windows, what kind of message are we sending?” Jonsen said.

Lack of funds had held up development of a new substation for over a decade until Facebook stepped in last June offering to foot the bill, which included construction costs of $139,635.

The city will pay the same monthly rent it did on its old space — $900 — and Facebook will cover the $2,800 monthly difference for the next three years, according to the City Manager's Office.

The social-media giant has also provided $600,000 in funding for a new patrol officer charged with creating anti-truancy and crime-deferral programs for at-risk youths in the neighborhood.

And as for what Facebook expects in return?

“[The donation] doesn't allow for any special conditions attached to it,” Jonsen said. “I don't think that's why they're entering into this agreement. They're doing it for the good of the community.”

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