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, November 15, 2006

People are people: Diversity training and the RPD

Part of a series

While reading through next week's city council agenda, I encountered an item on it that made me want to vomit, but I can't write about it for reasons I can't get into here. However, this item reminded me of a related topic and that is how the police department conducts its cultural diversity and sensitivity training. You know, the kind that tries to teach police officers that people of color aren't well you know, animals.

This autumn, the department entered into a contract with UCR extension to offer a beefed up diversity curriculum to its officers, but most people in Riverside remain unaware of what that training entails and what impact it will have on the city's police officers. And after I saw that particular item on the agenda, I wonder if those in the police department's management are giving more than lip service to this form of instruction or whether they need to line up and take the classes first.

In the past, the department relied on several programs to train its officers. They didn't work. Tyisha Miller and all the racist comments made afterwards by an assortment of officers made that abundantly clear.

One well-known program that was set up to teach cultural diversity to law enforcement officers is provided through the Tools for Tolerance program by Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The department utilized this resource during the 1990s up to at least last year, according to documents received from the department in response to a California Public Records Act request.

Its objectives include the following:

Specific objectives include:

Employing the impactful, inter-active learning experience of the Museum of Tolerance in order to expose the dynamics of racism and bigotry, prejudice and discrimination in both an historic and contemporary context;

Engaging participants in a facilitated discussion around issues of tolerance, diversity, personal values and responsibility, and their relevance to the work of a police officer;

Increasing participants' awareness of the evolving role of law enforcement and the tools necessary for an effective response

The Riverside Police Department has sent its officers there to do the two-day training course. However, the reception to this program has been mixed.

Former Chief Jerry Carroll used to talk about how the experience including the bus trip to and from Los Angeles bonded officers to each other. These discussions by Carroll took place of course in the months following the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998, when an angry Black community filled churches and meeting places, in the months before they filled the city's streets. They took place to reassure the angry crowds at "healing" meetings that they were trying to do the right thing, as a form of placation.

Others however appeared to disagree.

According to a law suit filed by Officer Roger Sutton in 2000, an officer had referred to the program as "Nazi school". Former officer, Bill Rhetts, who is no friend of gays and lesbians due to homophobic writings on his Web site, sharply criticized the training course in a letter to the center, for being biased against Whites. His letter was the subject of a program on radio station, KPFK in Los Angeles in 1999.

Here is his letter:

Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA. 90035
October 27th, 1999

Dear Simon Wiesenthal Center Staff,

It is imperatively important to set the stage for this letter, by saying to you first that "I love all of man kind, including Jews ~ after all, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a Jew!" This month I was sent by my police department to attend your two day museum of tolerance school. You need to know that I believe your school was an exceptionally great reminder as to the sin of hate, and it’s terrible consequences. In no way do I condone sin, or the unlawful murder of those of the Jewish descent, religion and or the malicious murder of anyone for that matter.

Although I do have a couple of issues that I would like to bring forth, which have been brought to my attention through many others that attended your two day school. To be most honest with you, the curriculum was very biased. Your staff failed to recognize the hate groups from those that are not Caucasians. As a matter of fact the only speaker that did mention that issue, was one of your guest speakers "TJ" (a former white supremacist skin head.) TJ taught the truth by stating that there is racism within all races. He then gave his sincere heart by sharing with us police officers some issues that some of us did not know, such as particular officer safety issues. I thank TJ for his change and his courage.

Then one of your instructors had the audacity to tell the class of police officers that "we had no enemies, criminals are not our enemies, crime is!" I ask you, who commits the crime? A criminal does.

Crim·i·nal (krîm¹e-nel) adjective Abbr. crim.1. Of, involving, or having the nature of crime: criminal abuse.2. Relating to the administration of penal law.3. a. Guilty of crime. b. Characteristic of a criminal.4. Shameful; disgraceful: a criminal waste of talent.
Crim·i·nal noun ~ One that has committed or been legally convicted of a crime. [Middle English, from Old French criminel, from Late Latin crìminâlis, from Latin crìmen, crìmin-, accusation. See CRIME.] — crim¹i·nal·ly adverb

Crime (krìm) noun1. An act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction.2. Unlawful activity: statistics relating to violent crime.3. A serious offense, especially one in violation of morality. See Synonyms at OFFENSE.4. An unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition: It's a crime to squander our country's natural resources.[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin crìmen.]
Now that we clearly see and hopefully agree that the practicing criminal whom commits the crime, is our problem, lets go further.

Then the instructor on your staff wrote on the chalk board these three categories…. She itemized War & Combat ~ Genocide ~ and Law Enforcement. It was very offensive that she would place law enforcement next to the category of genocide.

gen·o·cide (jèn¹e-sìd´) nounThe systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.[Greek genos, race + -CIDE.]— gen´o·cid¹al (-sìd¹l) adjective— gen´o·cid¹al·ly adverb

The instructor never expounded our explained why she placed them on the chalk board, but we had to see those two together, as if she was implying that cops are thugs.
Then the instructor writes another two columns with the words soldier and educator. She then tells us that "we should move more towards the role as an educator." I tell you, we must first be soldiers. Once a situation has become safe, then we can educate, sympathize and be compassionate educators; but never to compromise our safety or our sol·dier·y.

Lastly when the course concluded, we were all issued a CD called Digital Hate 2000. We were told that this CD identified over 1,400 hate/extremist web sites. Curiosity got this cat, so I observed the CD myself. Beyond a shadow of any doubt, I agree that most of the sites are purely hateful and racist. Unfortunately though, you included some evangelical Christian sites with them. I contacted the organizations that I always thought were biblically sound, and asked for there statements of faith and other literature. My investigation concluded that they were undeservedly included on you hate CD.

You yourselves have proven to be very unfair, biased, hateful and prejudiced by doing this. Have you forgotten that it was soldiers that lost their lives freeing Europe on "D day" in 1944. Soldiers that saved them from the Nazi Germans. Have you forgotten that it was Soldiers by God’s grace, that won our Nations freedom. Our Nation was built with four tools, an ax, a plow, a rifle and a book (the Bible.)

In closing, it is the police officer soldiers of our cities that protect your freedoms in these modern times. In our own nation’s history, American soldiers bore arms against the King’s army, taking many lives, but winning freedom...the very civil rights which you espouse. A century later, Union soldiers bore arms against their own countrymen, whom had drawn a line, and named themselves the Confederacy. Although many were killed in the process, freedom was won for a group of people whose civil rights had not previously been recognized.

Today, the war is not against countries around us, a King denying our free practice of religion, or our Republic divided over the ownership of fellow human beings. Today, the war is for the safety of our neighborhoods. The police are called and appointed as warriors, to protect the populace. They are the agents of those whom are unable or unwilling to protect themselves against the bullies of our society, who would prevent their quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the freedoms our God has given us, and our Constitution affirms.

The line is drawn between those who would enjoy these rights, and those who would deny them. The police officer stands in the gap, to protect the innocent. He is not obligated to shirk or shy from this sacred responsibility, and in the eyes of the law, he does not become the aggressor when he stands firm, to protect himself or others.

When you insult those who serve and fulfill so sacred a trust, you insult each peaceful member of our nation who stands behind them, reliant upon their protection.
I would ask you to please reconsider your prejudice towards evangelical Christians. We love the sinner, but hate the sin that he commits, including my own. A Christian is commanded to have a zero tolerance for sin.

Feel free to contact me any time you would like.
In His Truth,
Bill RhettsPeace Officers for Christ Int.Regional Representative ~ Inland Empire

CC:email recipientsfax recipientsU.S. mail recipients

It's not clear whether Rhetts ever received a response to his letter.

In 1999, Rhetts was under investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Division for comments he allegedly made after the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998. His comments were allegedly this, "In L.A., they treat you like a King. In Riverside, it's Miller time." Rhetts said that his comments were taken out of context and that he had merely been trying to "educate" younger officers in the department. But one should ask and many did, what is educational, or even particularly humorous about teaching newer officers that the LAPD beats African-Americans and the RPD shoots them to death?

Eighteen months of investigating and the department was still unable to determine what Rhetts' comments meant, according to an account that he provided at his own Web site.

At the time, he retired in May 2000, Rhetts was the vice president of the Riverside Police Officers Association. Hardly the marginalized officer in the department that he was portrayed as being while under investigation and after he left. Rhetts later turned up in a Los Angeles Times article about officers in the LAPD who had committed three or more onduty shootings. Rhetts has had four, including one in the Riverside Police Department. One of his statements which stood out in the article, was that it was his current belief that he should have never, ever been a police officer in the first place. That statement was approximately 20 years in coming.

Rhetts had not been the only police officer who had allegedly made racial comments after the Miller shooting.

Former officer, David Hackman made comments about "Watts death wails" and caricatured the behavior of Miller's grandmother, Joan Miller, in association with the grieving being done by Miller's relatives at the gas station where she had died. Hackman received a suspension for those comments and resigned from the department in May 2000. His troubles followed him up to Hollister where he served a short stint as a county deputy, before retiring on a medical disability. They followed him down to Anaheim where he was involved in an incident at a baseball game which involved in felony charges being filed against him. In 2005, the county of San Benito paid $21,000 to settle a civil rights law suit filed against Hackman and the last agency he had worked for as a law enforcement officer.

Update on David Hackman

Former sergeant, Gregory Preece also was fired in 1999 in part for comments he made at the scene of the Miller shooting. He had compared the arrival of Miller's family after the shooting, to a Kwanzaa gathering. Several years later, an arbitrator overturned his firing, but gave him 30 days suspension for the comments. He received a physical disability retirement and currently works for the FBI as a crime analyst. Irony, indeed.

In 2001, Preece had received an award from the city for his role in the rescue of the city council and mayor who were held hostage by a former city employee. In a chamber filled with hundreds of police officers, he received the loudest applause of anyone there, except for perhaps the Medal of Valor recipients. He was, it appears, the first award recipient to have referred to people of color as "animals" as in "animals are coming by the busload," at some point before winning his award. Unfortunately, as I was recently reminded, he won't the last to receive an award after making those type of comments. Not even a five-year court mandated reform process that cost the city over $22.5 million has changed that. Throwing money at that kind of problem has never made it go away.

Other RPD officers made comments in the locker including one who said that all the officers should turn their radios to rap stations in memory of Miller.

Earlier than that, former Sgt. Christine Keers had filed a sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation law suit, alleging among other things that officers had created a "hostile working environment" for women by making sexual and sexist comments in their presense, showing pornography films in the roll call room and leaving fliers depicting sexual cartoons on her work desk and in other places. About twenty of those fliers were attached to her law suit as exhibits in that case. She filed a law suit and it eventually settled for a large sum of money.

There were also the comments cited in Sutton's law suit, about bringing alcohol to the students at a career day held at Sherman Indian High School to soften them up because the only way they, American Indians, were going to see police officers was from inside a jail cell. Comments made in roll call about "Ty-i-shit" and how it was impossible for a Black woman to be a UCR student, because well, she was a Black woman were made by the sergeant who led those roll call sessions. This individual's image of a Black woman on welfare surrounded by kids was obviously etched in his mind to represent all Black women. Stereotypes seemed paramount in the RPD, mostly involving men of color and women.

There were jokes about Jews, including one where one person asked another, what was the difference between a Jewish person and a pizza. The answer was, a pizza doesn't scream when you put it in the oven. Jokes about women and the "scoot marks" they left behind as they paired off with other female officers on a workshift and drove off in the "lesbian" squad car. Even Italians weren't spared. According to the Sutton law suit, there was a video tape floating around that stereotyped Italians as mafia men.

Often those attitudes of racism, sexism and homophobia were expressed through actions, as State Attorney General Bill Lockyer noted in a speech he gave in San Diego several years ago. Those collective actions and the resultant investigation led to his office's decision to sue the city of Riverside in order to get it to reform its police department.

Bill Lockyer talks about Riverside

"I decided there were systemic problems with the Riverside Police Department," Lockyer said.

"There were a lot of instances in which African-Americans were beaten, Hispanics beaten and tossed in the lake, and Gays and Lesbians harassed and beaten. I spent a year and a half negotiating with the Riverside Police Department for such basic demands as psychological evaluations for officers before they are hired, up-to-date training, community relations boards, availability and training in use of non-lethal weapons, TV cameras in the chief's office and the squad room and video and audio recording in police cars."

The intent of these reforms, Lockyer said, was to break the macho culture of the police department and the racism and sexism that went along with it.

Since the stipulated judgment has been dissolved and that "macho culture" is apparently a thing of the past, it is puzzling to learn that this type of behavior certainly does not appear to hinder and probably helps officers get lauded even today. It is puzzling why management makes the decision to honor some of the individuals keeping knowledge about their behavior private when those behaviors include those they condemn in public particularly when they are speaking in predominantly Black and Latino communities like the Eastside, for example.

The department's representatives can talk about cultural diversity training out of one side of the mouth, then through their actions, show that they are the ones who need it the most. They do so every time they hold up those individuals and laud them, including Preece and that other guy.


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