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

Monday, November 20, 2006

The audit and compliance what?

I received notice that the unveiling of the much ballyhooed Audit and Compliance Bureau would be conducted at California Baptist University at 4pm today, albeit for only a small fraction of the city of Riverside whose taxes pay for its operation. Given the little publicity the department has focused on this alleged event involving this important division, I thought surely, it must be a rumor. Hopefully, they will introduce their bureau to a much larger crowd at a later date.

The invitation-only event was to take place for two hours today and six months after the department stated that the bureau had began reorganization. That means that 99.99999% of this city will hopefully read about it in a media outlet even if they can't be there.

Those invited included members of Chief Russ Leach's advisory committee which is where the bulk of the information came from. This committee, created in 2001, is supposed to serve as a conduit of sorts between the department's leadership and the community through community leaders selected by the department. However, since its meetings are more secretive than a CIA briefing and members are apparently told not to repeat what they hear to the outside world, it doesn't seem to serve that purpose. But it looks nice, and I heard the food and drinks are good.

That is apparently what Asst. Attorney General Lou Verdugo would refer to as encouraging "community engagement" in your police department. Maybe it's close, in the same ball park if you want to start small. But if you were one of the 100 or so people who congregated at University and Ottawa moments after the shooting of Lee Deante Brown in frustration and anger, committees like this one must feel a million miles away.

The event turned out to be an award ceremony for police officers and not a presentation on the audit and compliance bureau but it led to more interesting conversations today with people about what this bureau is and what it does. Most people simply have never heard of it, don't know what it does and there's no real reason why they should. Even the name created confusion.

For the 99.9999% of Riverside in the dark, the Audit and Compliance Bureau is simply the offspring of the previous Attorney General's Task Force. If you guessed that this original panel had anything to do with State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's stipulated judgment then you have guessed correctly. It was originally set up in 2001 to directly oversee the implementation of the mandated reforms in that decree. Originally it consisted of a cross-section of the department, meaning that it was headed by a lieutenant and included a sergeant, detective and officer in its membership, along with clerical support. Its responsibilities were to oversee the day to day implementation of Lockyer's list of reforms.

The old task force issued semiannual reports to the city council and that is pretty much all anyone ever saw of it. If you ask people on the street what the attorney general task force, or the chief's advisory board for that matter are, the vast majority of the people questioned will have never heard of either. Why should they? The department has kept both of these elements of its implementation of first the stipulated judgment and the Strategic Plan pretty much under wraps, but it does allow city residents about six minutes(three, per city council meeting) input on its operations each year. Few people take advantage of those two opportunities, including many who can't make those two meetings which originally were held in May or December each year.

Towards the end of the reign of the original task force, the progress reports were relegated further and further down the discussion calendar at city council meetings, back in the day when they actually had lengthy discussion calendars. In 2005, it was relegated even lower than that, to the consent calendar, to the ire of many community members who complained about that.

The new bureau was originally created after the city's budget sheet showed that the attorney general's task force would only receive operation funds until the expiration of the stipulated judgment in March 2006. Members of the public including several in that 99.99999% not invited to these events protested its planned dissolution. Apparently, the new bureau is the compromise of sorts.

The newer, down-graded audit and compliance panel is headed by Lt. Brian Baitx and includes two sergeants including one who told the chief's advisory board a couple months ago that when it came to deciding whether or not to work in the bureau or as a field supervisor on the graveyard shift, he chose the former. Which means that this appears to be only the second least coveted job assignment for a sergeant in the RPD. Makes you wonder how well a bureau assignment would stack up against a stint in the Internal Affairs Division.

What's wrong with this picture is why does this bureau appear to be tucked away some where in one of the department's facilities, rather than standing front and center out in the community where everyone, not just a select few, can learn about its operations and its purpose? The bureau should give presentations and take regular input from the community on how it can improve its function even further and become a more effective mechanism for promoting accountability and further reform of the department.

It would also be helpful if the department could staff it with officers who really want to serve on it, not just because they'd rather not be somewhere else.

Speaking of the Strategic Plan, City Manager Brad Hudson provided an update on the acquisition of the promised digital video recorders that the city had assured the state attorney general's office that it would purchase last year. The city will be testing out two or three models next January, and then will decide which to implement, before purchasing enough recorders to equip the rest of the squad car fleet. Hopefully, the $500,000 allotted by the city council on this purchase will be spent on this equipment.

Of course, that is subject to change at a moment's notice.


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