Microsoft, Amazon, and PayPal Executives All Have Seats on the Boards of Police Foundations

New research shows tech companies’ police involvement goes way beyond their products

Seattle police stand guard after dispersing a protest against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd outside a precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, on June 1, 2020. Photo: Jason Redmond/Getty Images

In a recent letter to executives, hundreds of Microsoft employees asked the company, among other demands, to cancel its contracts with the Seattle Police Department and other law enforcement bodies, OneZero reported earlier this month. In the days following, Microsoft announced a moratorium on selling facial recognition software to police. Amazon and IBM pledged similar commitments. But the relationship between technology’s biggest companies often go much deeper than contracts and product purchases.

OneZero reviewed published research and publicly available information that reveals how these companies are intimately involved with police foundations across the country and are represented on police foundation boards of directors and donor lists. OneZero found a number of these types of partnerships in cities with a strong tech industry presence, including Seattle, San Jose, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.

The Seattle Police Foundation cemented its relationship with Microsoft two years ago by welcoming Microsoft’s director of worldwide public safety, Kirk Arthur, onto its board of directors.

Technology companies make substantial donations to police organizations. On Thursday, corporate watchdog group LittleSis revealed a list of private-sector donors to police foundations across the country. Those donors include Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Motorola, and Viacom.

Police foundations are nonprofit organizations that are often privately run and exist to support police departments through fundraising and advocacy efforts. They also provide a controversial loophole when it comes to purchasing equipment for local law enforcement, as nonprofits aren’t accountable to the same transparency rules as public agencies. In the past, police foundations have donated thousands of surveillance cameras, spy technology such as Palantir, “Stingray” phone tracker devices, and license plate readers to police departments with little to no public knowledge. Some have even used their influence to coordinate deals between technology companies and police departments.

These same foundations have surprisingly close ties to tech companies. In Seattle, for instance, the Seattle Police Foundation cemented its relationship with Microsoft two years ago by welcoming Microsoft’s director of worldwide public safety, Kirk Arthur, onto its board of directors. While Arthur’s stated mission at Microsoft is to enhance public safety and justice, the exact nature of Arthur’s duties at the foundation are unknown. Microsoft declined to comment on the matter, and the Seattle Police Foundation did not respond to OneZero’s questions about Arthur’s role at the nonprofit.

In addition to Arthur, the Seattle Police Foundation’s board also includes Christopher Ellis, Amazon’s corporate security manager (Ellis joined the board during his tenure as director of security for the Seattle Mariners). Amazon declined to comment on the record for this story.

Rod Diefendorf, COO of venture capital analytics firm PitchBook, was on the Seattle Police Foundation’s board until earlier this month, when he resigned. PitchBook has also discontinued its monetary support for the organization, indicating that it would donate to “other organizations which better embody our intended result” such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

While the San Jose Police Foundation says it does not fund weapons or ammunition acquisitions, it does issue grants to police for “technology and state of the art equipment.”

In California, both Apple and PayPal are represented on the San Jose Police Foundation’s board of directors. Apple’s David Lake is a longtime San Jose resident and works at the local Valley Fair Apple Store as a senior manager. Meanwhile, PayPal’s David Murray is the senior director of global safety and security at the company and joined the San Jose Police Foundation’s board last year. Until 2018, Murray was a special agent with the U.S Secret Service, according to his LinkedIn profile. PayPal declined to comment on the record for this story while Apple did not respond to OneZero’s request for comment.

Kate Levin, executive director of the San Jose Police Foundation, said that her organization’s focus is community improvement and described the nonprofit as one of the nation’s smaller police foundations. While the San Jose Police Foundation says it does not fund weapons or ammunition acquisitions, it does issue grants to police for “technology and state of the art equipment.” When asked about the grant program, Levin said the organization had not “funded much in the way of equipment and technology.”

IBM has recently promised to reckon with its part in racial injustice. In a letter to Congress this month, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna held technology accountable for violating “basic human rights and freedoms.” At the same time, longtime IBM employee Sandra Kataoka, currently a partner at IBM iX — the company’s client-facing arm — serves on the board of the Sacramento Police Foundation and once served as the organization’s president. According to her profile on the nonprofit’s website, Kataoka’s role at the Sacramento Police Foundation is to focus on community engagement. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Police Department is being investigated for multiple cases of police brutality. Neither IBM nor the Sacramento Police Foundation responded to OneZero’s request for comment.

IBM has also supported the New York City Police Foundation, which in turn supports the New York City Police Department. The police agency is a customer of IBM, using its software to run the department’s surveillance hub. The company donated between $10,000 and $25,000 to the foundation, according to tax documents obtained in 2014 by MinnPost.

In Washington, D.C., Steve Taylor, formerly a general manager at Lyft, served on the board of the Washington, D.C., Police Foundation during his tenure at the rideshare company between 2015 and 2019. Taylor was listed on the foundation’s website until this month.

Rebecca Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C., Police Foundation, told OneZero that Taylor “left the Board because he left Lyft,” but did not comment on what his role entailed. Lyft spokesperson Dana Davis only confirmed that Taylor no longer works at the company.

Update: This story has been updated to indicate that PitchBook’s COO Rod Diefendorf recently resigned from the Seattle Police Foundation’s board and the company has stopped its monetary support of the organization.

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

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