Police Chief Who Helped Create ‘Facebook Unit’ Steps Down

‘It’s obvious to me that I’ve lost the trust of the city council,’ police Chief Dave Bertini said during a virtual town hall

Sarah Emerson
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJun 23, 2020

--

A “like” sign at the front of Facebook in Menlo Park. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

One of the key architects of the “Facebook Unit,” a controversial team within the Menlo Park Police Department in California, abruptly stepped down on Friday, citing a loss of community trust. Menlo Park police Chief Dave Bertini announced his sudden, early retirement during a town hall forum about issues with local law enforcement.

Earlier this month, local residents protested the police unit, which is financially supported by millions of dollars from Facebook, the city’s largest employer. They demanded Facebook cease funding the Menlo Park Police Department.

Around 2016, Facebook approached the Menlo Park Police Department about creating a police force to patrol the area surrounding its campuses. Facebook offered to fund the department in exchange for “assigning a specific team of police officers to the Facebook campus,” Bertini wrote colleagues in an internal email published by Motherboard last year. (At the time, Bertini served as commander.) In 2017, Facebook agreed to donate $11.2 million to the city’s general fund over five years so the money could be allocated to policing needs. While the city may use these funds however they see fit, draft agreements and emails between Facebook and Menlo Park officials show that Facebook’s donation would ultimately support the new police unit. Nothing suggests the funds have been used for alternate purposes. The unit became fully staffed last year with six officers and one sergeant.

Today, it is one of the nation’s only privately funded police forces, and it underscores the immense influence Facebook wields over the small city, which is home to about 32,000 people as of the last census. There have been several protests outside of Mark Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto mansion this month over Facebook’s involvement with local law enforcement.

Friday’s town hall was meant to address policing issues within the Menlo Park community. Several residents on the video conference accused the police department of racism, a lack of overall transparency, and crossing an ethical line when it came to the…

--

--

Sarah Emerson
OneZero

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE