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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shades of Diallo: Rallies and razors

Hundreds of demonstrators crowded the streets of New York City yesterday, clustering in Manhattan in protest of the NYPD shooting of Sean Bell, 23, and two of his friends on Nov. 25.

Rev. Al Sharpton and the city’s community leaders had announced plans to hold a march along 5th Avenue later this month, but it appears as if people were not willing to wait that long to take it to the streets. When people want to march, they will march rather than wait to be instructed on where, when, why and who to follow.

Crowd rallies to protest NYPD shooting

Rally against NYPD shooting

Fueling the demonstration was news that two more friends of Bell, Terry McKenzie and Gerald Williams, were arrested and taken into custody for an ongoing narcotics probe. Apparently, this development is not related to the NYPD's apparent probe into the going ons in Queens through its Internal Affairs Division.

The protest, itself was protested by the Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael Palladino, who after having warned people not to jump to conclusions about the shooting has continued to do so himself. Why not, as it appears that everyone surrounding Sean Bell is under greater scrutiny by the police department than the five officers who shot 50 times at a group of unarmed men and the lieutenant who hid and listened even though he believed his officers were in mortal danger.

(excerpt, New York Daily News on rally)

Noting reports that Bell and his two pals who survived the 50-shot police barrage had been targets of an NYPD narcotics probe, Palladino said, "The magic question on the shooting is, 'What do these three men do? How did Bell plan to pay to get married and raise his children?' "

No, actually the main question here is, was this shooting justified and did the officers who shot Bell comply with NYPD departmental policy? That is the department's focal point of its investigation as it would be for any other department in a similar situation and it should remember that. But at least, Palladino put it out there about what he thinks the investigation is actually about, which appears to be something very different. He is in the sense, a defense attorney.

Here's one suggestion to Palladino, his union and the other police unions: Do not shave your heads.

Over 200 members of the Riverside Police Department's rank and file did that to protest the firing of four officers who shot and killed Tyisha Miller in 1998. The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives detailed that here.


Disciplining supervisors and managers for the actions of their subordinates is not common and is often met with great opposition. The most notable case was in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Tyisha Miller in Riverside, California.

The Riverside Police Chief not only fired the officers who shot and killed Ms. Miller, he also fired the sergeant that supervised the shooting scene…citing the sergeant’s failure to provide leadership contributed to the death of Ms. Miller.

The chief’s decision was not viewed as popular and met with extreme opposition. The opposition was so fierce that officers in the police association shaved their heads in protest and spent thousands of dollars to initiate a door-to-door marketing campaign against the chief. In the end, the police association lost the campaign and the community demanded change

Change came to Riverside, slowly and in part due to a consent decree imposed on the city of Riverside by the state's attorney general office in 2001. The Department of Justice also investigated the police department, after the Congressional Black Caucus led by Rep. Maxine Waters became upset by what had happened in Riverside, including the officers' decision to shave their heads.

That took place after the four officers who shot Miller were fired by then Chief Jerry Carroll in June 1999 and began small, with a small group of detectives who were featured in an article of the Press Enterprise.

After this, heads quickly became balder throughout the department’s field operations division, and by the month’s end, at least 2/3 of the department’s patrol officers had joined in the protest by taking a razor to their heads. A great number of officers had allegedly shaved their heads at a local high school during a meeting held by the leadership of their police association. The Press Enterprise photographer caught them as they were leaving the meeting and right on the front page of the metro section the next day, was a group of officers leaving the building. Former police officer and current councilman Steve Adams also had attended that meeting just to see what was going on. He left the high school with his own hair intact.

A week later, the city council chambers downtown were packed with bald heads, as several retired police officers representing them used words instead of razors to demand that the city council reinstate the fired officers. They told the city council that they might not be there next time the city council needed their assistance as it had in 1998 when the mayor and several city council members were held hostage at City Hall by a former city employee.

Complaints soon began to come in of Black and Latino motorists who were intimidated of being stopped by these bald officers especially more than one of them. A climate of fear struck those communities, whether that was the intention of those who shaved their heads or not. A group of community leaders at one point asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer to get the governor to activate the National Guard to police the streets.

When I first saw three of them one night, I thought maybe they had shaved their heads because they were suffering an epidemic of scabies at the police department. It took several minutes for me to realize what they had really done. Even after the shooting, the number of bullets fired, the racist jokes and comments that emerged, this action by the officers still left me and others in a state of shock.

After much protest, the majority of the officers did grow their hair back by summer’s end and not because the weather was getting colder. Some of them deeply regretted doing it. Others blamed it on herd mentality. At least one person reported that an officer had apologized to them for doing it.

Even with a department still in the process of much needed reform, it is difficult to imagine them doing the same thing today. For one thing, they are smarter and much more politically astute than their predecessors. One can hope that they are also more enlightened about adopting what may be viewed as racist symbols and more interested in voting among its own leadership through ballots, not razors.

The stipulated judgement between the city and the state required that its diversity training include a module on the community's reaction to the shooting of Miller and its aftermath including the head shaving.

This department's current union's leadership is at least making forays into different community gatherings, can Palladino say the same?

Riverside's reform process at the halfway mark, November 2004, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Riverside released from stipulated judgement in March 2006.

Grace among tragedy is a column about reaction to Nichole Paultre's quite plea for justice in the shooting death of her fiance, Bell. People always seem amazed when the relatives of those who are shot to death by police officers conduct themselves as Paultre did. They need to get out more because Paultre's behavior is not rare. Just the other day, the media wrote stories about the "family" of mothers whose sons have been killed or brutalized as in the cases of Abner Louima by the NYPD. And this circle of women don't belong to the only family.

Meanwhile, in Riverside, here is a letter sent recently to the city government on the need for mental health crisis intervention training in the police department.


I am writing to voice my support of the development and implementation of mental health crisis intervention training in the police department. I spoke on this issue during the city council meeting on Nov. 14 and at several other meetings. The police department has taken critical steps in this direction but it needs the support of the other two partners in the ongoing reform process, the city government and the community members.

When I requested information from the police department on its policies, procedures and training involving the mentally ill, I received copies of two departmental policies. One of those was policy #4.50, which addressed the procedures involved with doing 51/50 detentions. This policy was created in 1984, revised in August 1986 and received its approval by signature through former Chief Ken Fortier sometime in the 1990s. If these policies were automobiles, I guess they would be considered classics by now.

From what I understand, patrol officers in the police department currently receive four hours of training in the form of dealing with 51/50 calls pursuant to what is mandated by the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training in Sacramento. Both officers who were involved in the April 3 shooting of Lee Deante Brown had received this training, including one who had received it about two weeks before the shooting, according to training records submitted with the department’s investigation on that shooting.

Many law enforcement agencies are starting to implement more training to address how their sworn employees engage the mentally ill populations in their cities and counties. One of the first cities to implement this training was Memphis , Tennessee in the late 1980s. Many others have followed suit, often after a high-profile incident involving police officers using lethal force against a mentally ill or disabled individual. Often there is more than one fatal incident before that action is taken.

In 2001, it was determined that one out of every ten calls that law enforcement officers responded to as first responders involved people who were mentally ill. That number has certainly increased in the five years since then, as the population of mentally people who have discharged from mental hospitals and institutions grows, in response to deinstitutionalization measures imposed several decades ago and other factors. According to statistics, about 1/3 of homeless people are mentally ill and another 1/3 of them have ingested drugs which diminish their capacity and their ability to respond to an officer’s verbal commands. Those two populations of course also overlap one another, as appears likely in the case of Brown.

Other individuals suffer from medical conditions that in certain circumstances may affect or diminish their mental capacity including diabetes, autism, hypoglycemia, thyroid disorders, epilepsy and many others not to mention that prescribed medication for medical conditions can have a similar effect. Individuals who are cognitively or mentally disabled and elderly people experiencing senile dementia or other medical conditions have also been killed by officers who use lethal force, in other cities as well.

The common thread among many people is that relatively few of us in our society are completely untouched by one or more of these issues including people in our city. It’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t have a parent, sibling, grandparent, child or other relative or friend who is not affected by these issues. I have talked with many people who are concerned about this issue and how it is handled not just by our police department, but our city government. It is important for the city’s leadership to take the initiative to participate in this process, not to micromanage any city employees or departments, but to inquire, research, discuss, provide insight and express support of the creation and implementation of mental health training.

Those of you who have read the Community Police Review Commission’s public reports that it issues on its investigations of officer-involved deaths will also be aware that this body has also voiced its support of the department’s efforts to create and implement a mental health crisis intervention program through its written public reports on the officer-involved deaths of Todd Argow and Terry Rabb. If you have not yet read these reports yet, they are available online at the CPRC’s Web site or through hard copies distributed at its office. These issues were prevalent in discussions of these incidents as well. The CPRC is a vital voice in the process as well, given that about 60% of the voters opted to put it in the city charter in 2004.

Argow was a former city manager employed by several medium-sized cities in California who suffered from severe depression and was shot and killed after he came out of a residence with an unloaded gun, which he aimed at a police officer. Before the shooting, there was a period of time when the department had attempted to communicate with Argow where the existence of more extensive mental health crisis intervention training and/or better partnerships with mental health organizations, both public and private may have assisted the officers in that process.

Rabb was a diabetic, who suffered an episode of severe hypoglycemic shock which rendered him unable to respond to verbal commands given by two police officers. They tried to restrain him when he didn't obey their verbal commands and after one of them attempted a carotid restraint, both of them placed him in handcuffs and sat him on the ground. Rabb suffered cardiac arrest several minutes later. Although the information had been dispatched that Rabb suffered from several medical conditions, one of the officers allegedly made comments when he first arrived that Rabb appeared to be on an illegal drug, either cocaine or PCP, whereas it was clear that the medical personnel who accompanied the officers realized that Rabb was actually suffering from what's called “hypoglycemic unawareness” due to an extremely low blood sugar(a reading below 20 in his case), according to their interviews with the CPRC investigators.

I spoke with individuals who are diabetic, all of whom had experience similar episodes and were unable to think rationally or coherently. They easily related to what Rabb was likely experiencing and provided valuable information on what this situation is like to the person experiencing it and also how they might present themselves to those who are trying to help them. The ability to assess a situation involving an individual who may be mentally or medically ill is an important skill for a police officer, who is most often the individual who is the first responder in many cases.

The commission is currently investigating the Brown shooting and received a preliminary briefing on that process by its investigator, Butch Warnberg last month. According to Warnberg’s preliminary report, Brown had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been prescribed medication at some time to treat his illness. His toxicology test results will be discussed at the next briefing by the CPRC’s investigator on this shooting.

Capt. Pete Esquival, formerly assigned to the department’s personnel and training division provided valuable insight to the CPRC in its discussions of these issues that arose during the process of it drafting public reports on the Argow and Rabb investigations. He did the initial work on researching the development of training for the police department until he was reassigned. In conversations with Esquival, he had expressed concern and great interest on this issue.

Many cities and counties across the United States have already implemented these programs to assist their law enforcement agencies in interacting with those who are mentally or medically ill and more agencies are addressing this issue. Most of these programs are based on two models. The Crisis Intervention Team model is a commonly used program by many major cities including Akron , Ohio , Cincinnati , Ohio , Columbus , Ohio , Houston , Texas , Salt Lake City , Utah , Portland , Oregon , Memphis , Tennessee , Louisville Kentucky among other cities and counties in other states including Colorado , Georgia and Maine . The creation or expansion of the crisis intervention teams were critical components of federal consent decrees imposed on several cities including Los Angeles and Cincinnati . The LAPD had also received a recommendation to consolidate its new CIT program with preexisting programs including its SMART program which is based on a different model..

Under the crisis intervention team model, law enforcement officers receive 40 hours of specialized training which encompasses a wide variety of topics, including mental illnesses, treatments and how to interact with the mentally ill including those who are combative or violent. The city of Riverside was first exposed to the CIT model when representatives from the Memphis Police Department gave a presentation on their program to the Mayor’s Use of Force Panel in 1999.

The co-partner model is one utilized by several law enforcement agencies including those in the city of Long Beach, Los Angeles(through SMART) and in San Diego County which pairs up law enforcement officers with mental health professionals.

The challenges discovered with both models which have been evaluated and studied both within the cities and counties that utilize them as well as in general, are to ensure that there are enough teams staffed to serve the needs of the law enforcement agency and the city’s communities in terms of interfacing with mentally ill individuals especially in jurisdictions where there are high populations of people and/or large geographic areas. Challenges also arise in terms of ensuring that there is adequate staffing in terms of having these teams available 24/7 or as close to that as possible especially during evenings and weekends. Some of these issues and others are raised in the following article.

Dying for treatment: Mentally ill and the police

However, the studies conducted, particularly on the crisis intervention team model have yielded positive results, in that often there is a lower rate of excessive force or even use of force incidents involving the mentally ill and fewer fatal incidents. It is important for there to be medical organizations, private (which is most often the case) and/or public in the development or implementation of these training programs and that community involvement in the process is encouraged. These elements and others have helped make other programs successful.

Further analysis of the recommendations to the LAPD on its mental health training programs as part of its consent decree, in 2002 are included in the below report and provide insight into the issues pertaining to the creation and implementation of mental health training programs in law enforcement agencies in general.

LAPD recommendations on mentally ill training programs

The creation and implementation of a mental health crisis intervention program including training needs to be a major priority for the police department and for the city for many reasons. The creation of mental health training is not an indictment against any particular fatal shooting or other incident involving use of force. It is a tool that officers can use in situations involving individuals who are mentally ill, medically ill, mentally disabled or otherwise unable to understand let alone respond to their verbal commands. The department should be supported by the city, including the elected city government in its efforts to update its training in this critical area.

Developing this training is part and parcel of the philosophy of community policing which is an integral element of many of the objectives of the department’s Strategic Plan. It helps foster community trust in the police department and is another way for the community to remain vested in the process. It also provides police officers with additional tools to assist them in addressing incidents involving the mentally or medically ill. Many police officers who have use lethal force leave their agencies within five years of the incident as has been the case in relation to several shootings involving this police department since 2001. Some police officers never recover from these incidents. Community members who lose loved ones and those who witness these fatal incidents do not recover either.

If you are interested in more information on this issue, I can provide you with many online resources to read, depending on your area of concern and interest.



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