Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Is the department's audiorecorder policy toothless?

Last year, the CPRC recommended that the department expand its audio recording policy to include all professional contacts patrol officers and their supervisors had with the public. After some stalling, the department ultimately refused to implement this policy. When members of Chief Leach's Advisory Board expressed a wish to discuss this issue, Leach shut the door on that dialogue when he said it was a policy decision made by him.

His disinterest in expanding this policy echoes that of RPOA president Pat McCarthy who has been quoted in the Press Enterprise as being opposed to any expansion of the policy which dictates when the officers' digital audiorecorders must be turned on.

The audiorecording policy was the brainstorm of State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who included this reform in the stipulated judgement between the department and his office.

The policy stated that officers were to turn on their recorders during every professional contact they initiated with a member of the public, unless doing so posed a threat to their safety or that of others. It was written during the first six months after the stipulated agreement had begun, and the necessary equipment was purchased for the department's field operations division.

Unfortunately, there was nothing written in the stipulated agreement governing the implementation of the required policy, and problems arose almost immediately. Officers refused or forgot to turn on their audio recorders. Even as many community members and members of the CPRC implored them to turn on their recorders for their own protection against false complaints, officers still failed to push the "on" button. Several commissioners went further and said publicially that if more officers followed the policy, then the CPRC would be able to exonerate more officers on complaints. This plea, like all others, was ignored by those who it was supposed to help.

Pleas like this were useless, because the officers adhered to a stubborn police culture which dictated that their business and how they conducted it was not anyone else's business. Another manifestation of the us vs them mentality. The likely source of the boycott against the use of the audiorecorders probably was the field training officer division, which would tell the probational officers to forget what others told them and then the FTOs would explain to their pupils what their job was really like. Field Training Officers are the gateway to, and the translators of police culture.

The first incident that attracted my attention was reported by a Black homeless couple, who were approached by Officers Camillo Bonome and Scott Borngrebe at the downtown bus terminal, for the usual, are you on parole or probation line of questioning that Black people from many different walks of life in Riverside are familiar with experiencing. It ended allegedly in an assault and battery of the woman, by Bonome, or of Bonome, by the woman depending on which version of the events is true. What caught my attention immediately upon reading the police reports submitted by Bonome and Borngrebe and signed off on by Sgt.(and watch commander, it turned out)Dave Reeves. If what the officers wrote about their recorders was lost on Reeves, it was not on most civilians who reviewed the information, including it turned out, the CPRC. The couple had filed a complaint with that commission and it had been assigned to Reeves(surprise, surprise) to investigate even though he had initially tried to discourage the woman who had been arrested on COC charges from filing the complaint against Bonome and Borngrebe.

What really set off a red flag on the incident had to do with the issue of the audiorecorders and their status during the incident.

Bonome and Borngrebe have a few things in common, besides working together for the same agency. Both are experienced, and both have been awarded with the Medal of Valor(law enforcement's highest honor)in different years. You would think that they know what the rules are and how to follow written policy. But did they?

Bonome admits right up that he not only neglected to turn on his recorder, but he left it in the car, not due to a memory lapse on his part, but for his partner to download.

Borngrebe had a similar problem, as he expressed in the following words.

Officer Bonome and I had just finished a call and I was downloading our audio recording devices onto the computer when he observed two subjects sitting on luggage dollies directly underneath a ‘no loitering’ sign at the bus station. Officer Bonome stopped the patrol car and contacted the two subjects while I was finishing the downloading of the recorders. As I finished the downloadings, I looked up and saw Williams kick Ofcr. Bonome in the groin,”

One wonders why the rush to deal with a couple of Black folks who were only loitering. Why not wait until the several seconds spent downloading your recorders into the computer is completed before approaching the subjects. Either they will still be loitering, or they would have picked up and left, therefore not loitering anymore. Still at least Bonome could not wait.

I found out recently that this was one of the first complaints submitted to the CPRC that had actually attracted their attention to the issue of whether or not there was compliance with the written policy governing their usage. More complaints followed, where the same issue was raised. There were partial recordings, or absent recordings, as well as cases where multiple officers failed to turn their recorders on during the same incident. Even in one case, an allegation of an altered recording.

Finally, in August 2003, then city manager George Carvalho said, enough is enough and imposed a zero tolerance on violations of the audiorecording policy. Still, according to several members of the CPRC, violations continue to occur.

For example, according to the CPRC, there has never been one single audiorecording of a fatal officer-involved shooting, even though the shootings of Anastacio Munoz, Robert McComb and Rene Guevara originated from situations where it was required that the officers turn on their audio recorders. The same is true of at least several of the nonfatal shootings involving police officers during the past several years.

In 2003, Officer Bill Crutchfield shot twice at a fleeing Black man who he alleged aimed a gun at him twice. Crutchfield's bullets hit the man twice, once in the back of the thigh and once on the inside of the thigh. Even though the incident began as a "consensual pedestrian check" conducted by himself and Sgt. Guy Toussaint, neither officer ever turned on their audiorecorders during the entire incident. According to the summary of Crutchfield's interview written by Det. Greg Rowe, Crutchfield said he never turned on his recorder and examination of the device showed absolutely no recordings on it for that day.

The incident occurred around 6 AM and it is not known what time Crutchfield's shift began that day because as a member of the department's PACT team he probably works a different schedule so maybe this shooting occurred at the beginning of his work shift. On the other hand, much of what PACT team members do, is initiate contacts with members of the public, most often those who are either on probation or parole. When Toussaint and Crutchfield initiated their contact with the subject, they did not know his identity or whether or not he was actually on parole. They saw a Black man walking towards a Black woman. Toussaint's report stated that the man was "walking at a fast pace and had his right hand clenched in a fist and swinging his arms erratically"

Toussaint, who supervised Crutchfield, also carried a digital audiorecorder, but like his subordinate, he also did not activate it, according to the statement he gave to Det. Rowe. It is not clear whether his recorder was void of any recordings for that shift as well.

It is also not known whether the department excused the failure of both men to activate their recorders as mandated by the policy, or whether they held them accountable. If sergeants are failing to activate their recorders in accordance with written policy, then what are the consequences, because if there are none, then it is no wonder that the patrol officers are also failing to comply with departmental policy.

Audio recorders are neutral portrayers of what goes down during an interaction between police officers and members of the community. They can exonerate an officer's conduct or damn it, depending on the circumstances. They can determine whether or not he is honest, or brand him a liar. No wonder so many officers feel the power that these simple electronic devices hold. No wonder it intimidates them so much.

But accountability through technology only comes through their use. Without that, then there are nothing more than expensive wires, metal and plastic paid for at taxpayers' expense. An investment by us in a system that bares no teeth.

Honey I left it in the car excuse


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