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, December 19, 2006

Skating on ice and through consent decrees

The Vera Institute of Justice’s analysis of Pittsburgh’s consent decree is pretty interesting reading. It is an excellent and thorough analysis of the consent decree that existed between the city of Pittsburgh and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division between 1997 and 2002.

Pittsburgh was home to the first law enforcement agency to be placed under consent decree in relation to an investigation into its patterns and practices. This probe took place not long after the American Civil Liberties Union had gathered hundreds of complaints by the city's residents alleging acts of misconduct committed by police officers including the use of excessive force and racial profiling. After the ACLU and NAACP filed a class action law suit involving 66 plaintiffs, both invited the Justice Department to investigate its complaints and that division soon initiated its own investigation under a relatively new piece of legislation that had been passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994.

The history of Pittsburgh, a city of mainly Black and White people was very different in many ways from that of Riverside, California, thousands of miles away. However, in many ways the events that led that city into its consent decree were similar to those which preceded Riverside's own contentious journey towards that process. Riverside was also a member of an elite club of law enforcement agencies which had garnered the attention of several divisions under the Justice Department, but it was actually the State Attorney General's office which imposed a decree and in deference to the wishes of a rather distraught Mayor Ron Loveridge, referred to its own process in softer terms, calling it a "stipulated judgement".

The city of Pittsburgh bit the bullet and pledged to implement its consent decree fairly quickly, in comparison to Riverside, which threw a couple of temper tantrums(and that is not counting those during the actual 18 month negotiation process) and repeated the mantra that had been used by Pittsburgh's own city officials, "Why us?"

Why not? The city had received a failing score in its pattern and practices investigation with the following parties getting the lowest scores in ascending order: Then City Attorney Stan Yamamoto, Then City Manager John Holmes, the city council and the police department. After the document was signed, the face of city government began to change fairly quickly, as fed up voters sent many an elected official packing and Yamamoto and Holmes were sent off to new jobs during the first year of the judgement.

Not too long after these episodes of angst, pique and indecision had worn themselves out, the city council finally voted 6-1 in March 2001 to enter into the ahem, stipulated judgement.

Like Pittsburgh, Riverside had a new chief at the helm of its police department after it had sent former Chief Jerry Carroll packing and after some political musical chairs involving the final three finalists for the position, chose Russ Leach. And after a period of years, the name of the police chief was finally painted on the door at the department's Orange Street station. It appeared that the revolving door which led to the department's administration had stopped swinging...for a while at least.

Like Riverside, Pittsburgh had also put in place a civilian review board called the CPRB. It had been created through a voters' initiative and had passed overwhelmingly despite a campaign against it launched by the current mayor's administration and surprise, surprise, the police labor union. The city residents who were interviewed for the Vera Institute's study of Pittsburgh's consent decree said that they trusted their review board more than they trusted the city(not police) division that investigated complaints against the city's police officers. They also said that they wished that their own board which lacked subpoena power, was a stronger model.

Riverside waited until 2004 to take its own civilian review board to the voters, and they too passed an initiative in this case, to put it in the city's charter.

In the wake of the implementation of Riverside's own CPRC, many of the same sentiments that were expressed in Pittsburgh have been expressed especially during the past year when it faced intense micromanagement by a newly emerged quartet in the city of Riverside.

All federal consent decrees pertaining to law enforcement agencies are based on investigations into patterns and practices in involved agencies and are based on the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute which is the text taken from Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

Ҥ 14141. Cause of action

(a) Unlawful conduct

It shall be unlawful for any governmental authority, or any agent thereof, or any person acting on behalf of a governmental authority, to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers or by officials or employees of any governmental agency with responsibility for the administration of juvenile justice or the incarceration of juveniles that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

(b) Civil action by Attorney General

Whenever the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that a violation of paragraph (1) has occurred, the Attorney General, for or in the name of the United States, may in a civil action obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to eliminate the pattern or practice.

The Justice Department provides this useful FAQ on DOJ pattern and practice investigations . One of the questions it addresses is how are agencies selected by its civil rights division for further examination? After all, the department receives many requests from individuals and organizations asking it to investigate law enforcement agencies in different cities, counties and states. The investigations are conducted by the United States Attorney's office in conjunction with the civil rights division and usually end up being settled by the federal parties and the involved jurisdictions with an agreement drawn up of a list of reforms to implement within a frame of time, usually five years.


Q: How does DOJ decide which law enforcement agencies to investigate?

If the initial review uncovers information tending to support the existence of a pattern or practice violation, authorization may be sought from the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division to conduct a pattern or practice investigation.

We have more credible allegations of a pattern or practice that warrant investigations than we have been able to pursue. We exercise our discretion to prioritize certain investigations or certain types of allegations. In general, we consider a variety of factors, including the seriousness of the alleged misconduct, the type of misconduct alleged, the size and type of law enforcement agency, the amount of detailed, credible information available and the potential precedential impact.

So far, our investigations have focused on allegations of excessive force, including associated search and seizure issues, and racial or ethnic discrimination in traffic or pedestrian stops. All types of law enforcement agencies have been investigated: state, urban, suburban and rural. We have investigated both large and small agencies.

Riverside was unique even among the group of law enforcement agencies under scrutiny by the Justice Department, in that it was also receiving scrutiny from a state agency as well. Many people watched the two investigations unfold and wondered which one if either would prevail. Few people doubted that the police department would be placed under a consent decree of one form or another fairly soon considering all the investigating going on. In the end, the state got there first, or as one letter writer in the Press Enterprise called him, "that carpetbagger of the North".

Five years eventually passed and many of the same reforms that were implemented in Pittsburgh were done in Riverside. As the end of both decrees neared, Black city residents in both cities expressed more concern than those who were White that the reforms may not stay in place once the governing agency went away and that it would instead be business as usual. In both agencies, police officers had expressed the opinion that the oversight by outside law enforcement agencies was a very negative thing and when both decrees were lifted, the sentiments expressed in the media and other places by several police officers was that the yoke had been lifted off of their backs. Not much said in either city about how it was merely one process that had ended and another equally important one that was beginning. A transition more than a finite process. But then the elected officials in at least one of the two cities had problems understanding that as well.

An RPD officer working at City Hall had said the following in 2002 to someone entering the building to attend a city council meeting. Just wait until 2006 and things will go back to the way they were. Well, four years have passed and it remains to be seen what will happen in a police force where most of the officers don't have memories of a department that existed pre-consent decree and the collective memories of those who do has grown considerably smaller in five years, much to the frustration of the reminents in both groups who probably still vent here and there about it.

The Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights critique of consent decrees provides an interesting look at how the different presidential administrations have affected the Justice Department's ability and willingness to conduct pattern and practices investigations of law enforcement agencies.

When George W. Bush ran for office, he had promised the National Fraternal Order of Police that these investigations would only be conducted when absolutely necessary because in general, he did not support outside interference by federal agencies of local governments and their law enforcement agencies. And the statistics showed that fewer of these investigations were initiated during his terms of office than had been done under former President Bill Clinton.

As of 2003 total, the following agencies were under investigation by the Justice Department:

Charleston, WV
Cleveland, OH
Detroit, MI;
Eastpointe, MI;
City of Miami, FL;
New Orleans, LA;
New York City, NY (two investigations: one regarding use of force, one regarding the street crimes unit and stop and frisk practices)
Portland, Maine;
Prince George's County, MD;
Providence, RI;
Riverside, CA;
Schenectady, NY
Tulsa, OK


Columbus, OH
Los Angeles, CA
Cincinnati, OH

Now on to some more skating...

Press Enterprise writer, Dan Bernstein wrote a good column which included news about a previously undiscovered quartet in the city's midst. Not the much ballyhooed GASS quartet, which by now, had changed its acronym to one that more closely resembles a popular game fish but that’s another story.

It's not the other quartet that has brought such difficult times to the Community Police Review Commission this past year and plans to continue into the new year.

Actually, it's the new ice skating quartet from the Riverside Police Department.

What’s up in Riverside?


Picture Sasha Cohen without the talent, carolers, skates or the benefit of sunshine. What have you got?

A quartet of Riverside's finest, "figure skating" on the downtown rink. At 3 or 4 in the morning! On duty!

"Fairly decent rumor," e-mailed RPD Chief Russ Leach.

"However, it was late November, not December, and they kept their boots on. Think they would be stupid enough to skate in socks?" (Wouldn't touch that one with a 10-foot club.) Story continues that the chief got wind of the ice-capade and entertained the skaters with a spirited reading from the Riot Act. (He did not deny it.)

So, were they squeezing in some clandestine training for the individual, pairs or the newly created team synchronized skating event? After all, you don't want your rivals, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Twinkletoes or the Corona Police Department's Dancing Axels to know your best routines.

I guess this discovery means they are out of the medal hunt...for now.

Bernstein also wrote about how the recent firing of former Riverside County Sheriff's Department Asst. Sheriff Stan Sniff did not pass the “sniff” test. After seeing how past employees who ran against incumbant sheriffs have fared, it shouldn't be that surprising that there may be something fishy going on here. I guess there will be more to come about this episode.

Speaking of election years, one is coming up with the day of first reckoning set in June to take place in an odd-numbered city ward near you. If we can't get this election done right, there will be run-offs in November.

Let the games begin.


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