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Atherton Police Can't Afford To Live In The Community They Serve

ATHERTON (KPIX 5) -- Not a single Atherton police officer has ever lived in Atherton, where the median price of a home is nearly $7 million.

As a result, some officers have lengthy commutes and need a place to crash after a long shift.

For years, police and emergency dispatchers crashed at a house owned by the town of Atherton between shifts.

But now, the home in Holbrook-Palmer Park has been taken back by the town and those emergency workers have now been forced into a much smaller space.

The new space is tucked away inside the Atherton Police Department.

Atherton police Commander Joe Wade showed KPIX 5 the sleep room. It's a place where employees can rest after their 12-plus hour long shifts.

However, the sleep room is more like a sleep closet. It has a twin bed, with a comforter and a pillow. It is nestled in between the dry cleaning and jugs of water.

Wade admits it's a modest accommodation, but also notes that their department is small.

Keep in mind, Atherton police say they were first in the nation to even have a sleep room.

And it's no wonder they do.

Ten years ago, Santa Clara County Deputy James Council fell asleep at the wheel of his patrol car, crashed into a bicyclist, and killed him.

Shortly after that, the Atherton Police Department prioritized officer fatigue.

Wade said, "But just having a place to be able to lay down…before you take that long ride home after being up all night, this definitely can help."

In 2014, as more of their officers began commuting longer distances in ever-worsening traffic, the town of Atherton began allowing officers and dispatchers to use the town's Gilmore House, a three-bedroom home located in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

However, when Chief Steven McCulley was hired last year and tried living in the house with his wife and the other officers, it didn't work out.

The town council let the chief have the house to himself, while they looked for another crash pad.

For now, there is one bed in the police department where officers can get some sleep.

At a council meeting last week, an Atherton sergeant with a three-hour round trip commute spoke up about the urgent need for decent sleeping quarters.

"So I'm scrambling a little bit to figure out what I'm going to do," the sergeant said. "I'm thinking of buying a camper to put on the back of my pickup truck."

Relief is coming.

Atherton is planning to break ground soon on a new civic center and police headquarters and there will be two dedicated sleep rooms.

However, it won't be done for years.

Until then, Atherton is considering renting apartments, perhaps even using RVs like many San Jose police officers are doing right now.

Wade stressed the importance of sleeping quarters.

"Being able to attract people to come out here to work on the peninsula, knowing that housing isn't affordable, I think that finding some way to provide relief from that, at least when you're here at work, is good for everybody," Wade said.

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