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

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The songs of summer

Humidity is rising - Barometer's getting low
According to all sources, the street's the place to go
Cause tonight for the first time
Just about half-past ten
For the first time in history
It's gonna start raining men.

--Weather Girls

Actually, it's only raining a certain type of men in Riverside these days. Men dressed in dark suits. They came to town in the beginning of summer to inquire about a recent occurrence and have yet to leave. Here's hoping that they find what ever it is they are looking for. The truth is out there.

Video killed the radio star.
Video killed the radio star.
In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone to far.
Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR

--The Buggles

Also coming to town, will be the digital video recorders that were promised just before the stipulated judgment was dissolved last March. During the five years of the judgment, the department had fulfilled its mandate of purchasing cameras and installing them in 10 vehicles, by 2003. However, during the last two years, only three recorders had been purchased and installed, far less than the 25 additional ones that the city was supposed to be looking for money to pay for. Community members asked what was up with that, and City Manager Brad Hudson said at a city council meeting that the city would allot $500,000 from the general fund to purchase enough video recorders to equip the entire fleet of squad cars.

These recorders were to be installed by autumn, but at the moment, the city is still looking at different vendors and trying to find the latest technology so that what they purchase now is not obsolete in six months, according to Hudson. Apparently, the recorders have been bumped down a few places on the city's shopping lists, but never to fear, they will be purchased. At least that's what Hudson and his sidekick, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis have promised.

Video may have been bad for radio after the birth of MTV, but apparently it's one tool that is good at helping improve the accountability of law enforcement agencies, as well as document those who commit traffic violations so they can't argue to the judge about it later on.

On another front, the millionaires' club could be about to gain a new member. Stay tuned to that situation as it develops.

Let's go down by the riverside
Leave your problems all behind
You can rest troubled minds
Down by the riverside

--Kirk Franklin

It was another busy week in Riverside, the city where the street festivals have disappeared along with the orange groves. Krispy Kreme and Greensleeves restaurant, two of the city's subsidized businesses have packed up and left town. It appears that the Downtown Supper Club may join them soon.

Despite all these recent events, everyone is still talking about the law suit filed last week by the Riverside Police Officers Association against the Community Police Review Commission. No wait, it was against the city of Riverside.

It sparked many questions. Why in the blazes is the RPOA trying to bring the Summer Lane shooting back in the forefront of public debate? Why does it want to appeal a finding that was essentially nullified by both the police department and the city manager's office? It's not like this happens every day in the rest of the world where people stick to appealing findings that are well, actually ruled upon and enforced. It will be interesting to see what case law is used by the attorneys to support its thesis.

People have once again been scratching their foreheads and asking, why, but apparently that's been going on for years.

An easy response might be that this is, after all Riverside, or what was described by one movie director as the "desolate landscape on the edge of the desert." However, to respond this way would be a copout.

Another way to respond to perplexing issues such as this one is to say that maybe there are larger forces at work here that dictate taking yet another look at the first fatal officer-involved shooting ever to be determined to be in violation of the use of force policy by the CPRC. Perhaps the RPOA has been chosen to serve as a vehicle for that reexamination, through its law suit. These forces often work in mysterious ways and given the circumstances, that could certainly be the case here.

Another less spiritually driven way to answer these same questions is to examine how the RPOA views the CPRC. Clearly, this union recognizes its right to exist and to make the decisions that it has made including that involving the Lane shooting. After all, if that were not true, it would simply have ignored the finding like it tried to ignore the first subpoena issued by the CPRC in 2004 against former officer, Tina Gould. Then Chief Russ Leach put his foot down on that one.

People and their organizations appeal findings they do not like or disagree with, not findings they do not recognize at all. Perhaps, this law suit is another way of underlining that the CPRC has indeed arrived. It certainly in some respects is a victory for this body of civilian oversight in the midst of an otherwise somber atmosphere that has cloaked it since the non-decision by Hudson and DeSantis late last year.

It's possible that the men in suits who arrived in Riverside this summer could provide an answer to these questions but apparently they are quite busy doing their own thing. Besides, this whole dynamic that is being revisited again has already been asked and answered by their people who have been there and done that. It's a pattern so grooved in stone that even the state attorney general's office could not break it, not that he did not try.

As the Eastside goes, so does Riverside

--Oh, dozens usually at election time

The current cause préférée among many city officials, elected and otherwise, once again appeared on the agenda at the city council meeting on Sept. 13. Over 30 people sat in the audience and listened to the latest progress report on the multi-tiered approach to dealing with issues in the Eastside. These people included community leaders, police officers, representatives from Victory Outreach, members of city staff, in fact everyone but actual residents of this neighborhood. Where were they? The answer to that question speaks to the process selected by the city to "reform" that neighborhood from the outside, inward. After all, the march generated by the University of California, Riverside is coming and the Eastside is but a bump in its path as far as it's concerned on its journey towards finally hooking up with the downtown area.

Most of the police officers were actually there to receive awards from the Eastside Think Tank for participating in the softball match between neighborhood residents and police officers that took place last month. Lt. Larry Gonzalez who is the area commander for the city's eastern region including this neighborhood was the first to speak about the enforcement and suppression efforts being done by the police department during the past year.

Gonzalez told the city council that arrests between June and July this year were triple what they had been in 2005. He said that the department's different specialized teams including the Problem Oriented Policing(POP), Police and Corrections Team(PACT) and the Metro/SWAT team had made numerous arrests but the majority of them had been made by patrol officers assigned to that area. He added that units from narcotics, gang and vice had addressed issues in the University corridor by focusing on gathering intelligence on individuals first rather than take a "shot gun" approach as they had in the past. It may have worked to reduce crime in several of these areas including fatal shootings(at least until last night) and other violent crimes that have at times, made the neighborhood appear as Councilman Frank Schiavone said, a "war zone".

However, prostitution is again on the upswing, even after several "stings" conducted downtown which like those done in other cities, dispersed the "john" traffic to a wider area just like a rock would spread ripples if tossed into a lake. Removing the "supply" as it has been called, does not remove the "demand".

In fact, currently many women in the Eastside and other areas of the city have been harassed while walking down the street by men on foot or inside vehicles who are seeking out prostitutes. Even while walking in front of Longfellow Elementary School, in the Eastside, women have been harassed by "johns" who must figure that if they can't find prostitutes, the neighborhood women will do just fine because if they are poor, they must be desperate enough to accept their money and are thus fair game. It goes to show that you have to address the demand as well as the issues which create the supply, on a much larger scale than what happens or can happen in one city. Arresting this problem is not going to solve it.

City officials and others have seen the Eastside as a "war zone" but in reality, it's a neighborhood birthed by racist housing laws that were not repealed until the late 1960s. It is one of the city's oldest institutions. African-Americans bought property inside an area that was much smaller than it is today, because they could not do so elsewhere in a city that had been founded by abolitionists. Latinos joined them because they were also forbidden from buying property elsewhere, except within another small square-shaped area that became known as Casa Blanca. Many of the Latinos also bought houses near the orange groves where many of them spent their days working. Some of those families still live there today.

Eastside museum exhibit

Casa Blanca school: history

Years later, the neighborhood's residents are predominantly Latino and Latinos currently outnumber African-Americans five to one. There are also many newer immigrants that have settled within its boundaries which seem to fluctuate based on what ever city map is being looked at. The Redevelopment Agency expanded the neighborhood's boundaries further eastward into what is known as the University neighborhood area. That was done to facilitate the commercial development of properties in close proximity to UCR through the use of funding that should have been allocated to the Eastside. That misappropriation of funding has had its impact to the west of UCR, and is most visible on University Avenue where the "haves" and "have nots" are divided by Chicago Avenue which happens to be the eastern boundary line of the Eastside.

Hudson also outlined other components in his report, most of which involved other city departments.

Ralph Nunez, who heads the Park and Recreational Department spoke about the programs that have been put in place at the different parks and community centers. Project Bridge, the city's only gang intervention program has a new coordinator and two new outreach workers. It serves the needs of over 100 youth over the age of 12 in the city, according to Hudson's report. This program which spent years as the "hot potato" being tossed back and forth between Park and Recreation and the police department finally wound up under the jurisdiction of the former. Hudson reassured the audience that the program was doing much better after being on life support the past two years.

Nunez said that several park facilities had been upgraded, tutoring programs were being offered through UCR and the city was considering whether or not to bring little league baseball back to Patterson Park. All that sounded good and full of hope, but people wondered whether this neighborhood was being "saved" by or for them, or whether it was being "saved" to clear the way for the expansion of UCR's west campus towards the downtown, past the 91 freeway. That led to the next part of the discussion, which was the role of development in the process.

Belinda Graham, who represented that end of the project told the city council that the city had purchased four "public nuisance" structures including the abandoned Arco gas station(complete with buried toxic waste), two residences and the Stardust Motel. When she mentioned that the two historic residences would be rehabilitated and moved to other neighborhoods, she forgot that one of those houses had been destroyed along with several others in mysterious arson fires. She also did not address the issue of why these houses were not seen as worthy of these efforts while they were still sitting on property lots in the Eastside.

The city talked about a lot of things. What they didn't do, was talk about one thing.

What went completely unmentioned in this presentation was the fact that an area of about a square mile smack in the middle of the Eastside had been chosen to become the city's first involvement in the creation of a property owners' association. Within the boundaries of this land, sits more rental properties including apartment complexes than inside any other similar sized portion of the neighborhood. In fact, few other areas in a city can rival this one in term of rental properties, in a city where renters are nearly on parity with home owners.

The city even flew in a consultant from out of state to do a study of this project and he held meetings with rental property owners including those who had poor records at keeping up their properties. The city offered financial incentives to these property owners to finally do the right thing and upgrade their properties to more livable standards, in the hopes that these property owners would upgrade their clientele. After all, who can think of a landlord in existence who upon improving his or her property is not going to pass along that expense to their renters?

The consultant from out of state actually took that mindset one step further by asking the property managers this, why would anyone want to rent their property to the kind of people who currently occupy your units? The message was sent that these current tenants, many who are poor and people of color, would be pushed out by "raised" rents in favor of other more desirable tenants capable of paying those higher rents and the only population close enough to do this and currently facing a housing shortage are UCR students. The city through its subsidizing of their improvements would facilitate the property owners and managers in eventually providing housing for university students.

After all, the city had already facilitated housing projects specifically for UCR students closer to UCR. This time it would be at the expense of poorer people who lived in the designated area. The excuse given, is that the crime rate is higher in this area and there are more calls for service, but when the city staff showed a map of calls for service, it turned out that only two apartment complexes close to each other in one corner of the designated area which historically have had many problems, were responsible for the majority of those calls.

Apartment managers in this new association can evict tenants based on currently unspecified guideline and those tenants will be unable to rent anywhere within the new housing association. This will be facilitated by the fact that more and more of these properties are owned and managed by fewer companies and several of the largest ones are based outside Riverside County including in Orange County. A misdemeanor conviction can disqualify you from living in a rental unit but a felony conviction for a sexual offense(and thus being a registered sex offender) may not.

Even though the city has met with apartment managers several times on this project, it has yet to meet with any of the tenants which is hardly surprising.

When people complained about that fact, Council member Dom Betro fell back on the city's favorite strawman. If you do not support "progress", then you want the neighborhood to remain like it is, as if there is only one road towards improving the lives of those who live in it. Any process that will succeed is one that allows those who live in a neighborhood to participate fully in the process, not by creating a neighborhood where consultants can say(in whatever context) that they are undesirable tenants.

So when it comes to the Eastside, just like with other issues in this city, there are two faces being presented. There is the image of little kids playing little league baseball, and a personal computer in every household. Then there's the reality that an entire population within the heart of the neighborhood including families with children who might want to play little league or use free computers may be targeted for removal, in order to be replaced by university students, not to mention a long-range plan sponsored by UCR that basically reduces the Eastside into little land plots of houses placed here and there. Even though its long-range plan heavily impacts the Eastside, UCR does not see fit to even notify its community leadership when it will hold these meetings that are part of a process that will literally change the face of this historic enclave within the next 20 years.

Other city council members were impressed with Hudson etal's presentation. Casa Blanca and Arlanza were two other neighborhoods where council members hoped to see similar programs.

"Everything is in its time," Council member Nancy Hart said, "I don't begrudge a penny spent on an area that isn't mine."

Council member Steve Adams said he hoped to see a similar program enacted in the Arlanza area in six months. Council members Art Gage and Schiavone expressed their hopes for Hillside and Casa Blanca respectively Gage said that the Hillside was not seeing police officers because those resources were being used in the Eastside. One solution he said, was to hire 25 more police officers. On the policing side in a growing city that is in the process of annexing sizable portions of land, that is one way to start. However, that is only one piece of a much larger process of which self-determination must play a role. The city has shown that it still has not learned that lesson.

City Council Agenda

click on item #31


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