Public Safety & Justice

Should Private Companies Like Facebook Pay for Public Safety?

After the Silicon Valley city that Facebook calls home slashed its police services, Facebook put funding down for a new police officer.
by | June 2014
Cars driving past a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
Cars driving past a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. AP/Jeff Chiu

It can be easy to forget that Facebook, the online community of more than a billion users across the globe, is also a company with a big physical presence on a piece of land in California.

That place is Menlo Park, a city of 32,000 people in the heart of Silicon Valley. Like many California municipalities, it has slashed spending in recent years. Menlo Park cut back on its traffic enforcement and eliminated its school resource officers. Even with the improving economic picture, the city still cannot afford to replace all of the police services it lost.

Enter Facebook. In March, the company agreed to foot the bill for a new police officer, whose job will be to reduce truancy and improve school and workplace  safety in the neighborhood near a new Facebook office park. The company will pay $200,000 a year for three years -- plus any unexpected spikes in pension costs -- to keep officer Mary Ferguson-Dixon on the beat. Facebook can opt to fund the position for another two years if it chooses. The company is also paying $2,000 a month in rent toward a new storefront office where Ferguson and other police officers will work.

The arrangement has raised eyebrows among people who question the use of private dollars for public safety. What’s more, some have voiced concerns that the Facebook facilities would get special attention from the new officer. But Commander Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department, who helped negotiate the arrangement, says that will not be the case. “They have no power over the police department. [Ferguson-Dixon] belongs to us; she doesn’t belong to Facebook.”

Bertini says Facebook signed on to the agreement to be good neighbors and to make sure their employees feel safe. The increased police presence will also help other employers with a large presence in Menlo Park, such as Tyco Electronics and SRI International.

And Facebook is not the only business to help with police costs, Bertini adds. The city has worked out a deal for another, still undisclosed, company to pay for a canine unit, he says. “We’d be glad for other companies to follow Facebook’s lead.”

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