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Should We Like the New Facebook-Funded Police Station?

Is the Menlo Park substation an example of the company giving back to the community—or a troubling erosion of the public sector?  

A new police substation opening in Menlo Park is not perhaps news-worthy, except in the local context. But when the new $140,000 facility goes in operation on Saturday, it will be news—because tech giant Facebook has footed the bill for it.

But is this gift another corporate good dead along the lines that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been urging—or a step towards a RoboCop future? 

The Bauhaus-style station is located just a half a mile away from Facebook's headquarters. The company donated money for the cost of construction, as well as $600,000 for a new patrol officer. Facebook is also covering the rent on the land for the next three years. The location of the new station, Bell Haven, is a relatively high-crime region of the city, although it has become safer recently. 

So what's to worry about? Certainly there are concerns about preferential treatment. Why else do people put those stickers on their cars that say they donated to police organizations? But, according to the local Chief of Police, "[The donation] doesn't allow for any special conditions attached to it. I don't think that's why they're entering into this agreement." It's not the case, for example, that Facebook chose the location for the station.

But there's another—more pernicious—component at work here: taxes. You know, the ones that many of which Facebook legally avoids paying. This sort of a la carte approach to government funding—where wealthy individuals and companies give to UC hospitals or local police departments—isn't necessarily wrong. But it certainly does deform public policy in favor of their preferences. In the end, oligarchy might not be as sexy as RoboCop—but it's much more likely.


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