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, January 09, 2007

The banishment of Gage

Earlier this week, the Press Enterprise ran an article on the decision of four of the city council members to back the campaign rival of current city council member Art Gage. You can read about it here.

Apparently, council members Frank Schiavone and Ed Adkison had divorced their former GASS member, Gage and have picked up Dom Betro and Andrew Melendrez along the way. Some say, a new quartet is being born, based on a game fish rather than an energy resource.

GASS or BASS, it matters little to the Community Police Review Commission which was put on the chopping block and sold out by the entire city council in favor of a lucrative contract with the city manager, Brad Hudson.

One of the excuses for turning on Gage was his decision to try to cut the budget to the CPRC in 2004 by up to 90%.


He cited a motion Gage made in June 2004 to cut the Community Police Review Commission's budget from $300,000 to $5,000, which no council member seconded.

Gage was trying to curry favor with the police union, not do what was best for the city, Adkison said.

What's funny about this statement is like Gage, Adkison had sought campaign contributions from the Riverside Police Officers Association in his two elections to city council. And like all the candidates who received funding from the RPOA, Adkison opposed the CPRC, so much so he voted against the ordinance that originally put it into place, twice. On the other hand, he did propose a motion to collectively place all the charter amendments on the 2004 ballot including the one which would place the CPRC in the charter. It was actions like the one taken by Gage that had led to its inclusion in the recommendations for ballot initiatives by the Charter Review Committee. Maybe that's why these council members are really upset about it.

The council members including Adkison who refused to second Gage's motion in 2004 did the right thing back then, including those who had opposed the CPRC. However, it's funny to hear that Adkison still harbors strong feelings about this incident, given that he and the six other council members support the five-year, $248,000/year contract given to Hudson despite the fact that as city manager, he has as one speaker put it, eroded the CPRC, or as Dan Bernstein put it in his Jan, 9 column, hollowed it out.

It makes Adkison's attack against Gage on this issue appear like political opportunism. There's a lot of that going around.

Council Members Dom Betro and Nancy Hart both endorsed the measure which placed the CPRC in the charter, which showed that back then both had realized the importance of removing it from an arena where it had become a political football. Andrew Melendrez had ran for office voicing his full support of the CPRC as well. As of yet, none of the three have backed up their promises with actions this past year, unless you count Betro's plea to community members at a meeting to lambast the RPOA for the law suit it filed against the city last year in connection with the Summer Lane shooting case. Only that law suit was actually filed by the officer involved in the shooting, who had received legal representation from the RPOA as is required. It's hard in the face of this latest inaction by the city council to see that request as anything besides political opportunism because it's entirely possible that Betro may have to face off against a candidate supported by the RPOA this June.

Last year, State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office had recognized the CPRC's importance as well, by including in a list of recommendations upon releasing the city from its stipulated judgement that the CPRC should be strengthened and thus be more independent. This is very significant because the civilian review board was not included in either the stipulated judgement nor is it in the Strategic Plan which is to guide the department's course of action until 2009.

However, the civilian review board's creation was one reason why the State Attorney General's office did not come down on the city even harder which may have included placing the police department under the conservatorship of a judge, according to one former city council member who participated in a CPRC workshop in 2004. That message still rang clear in that final report, but it rang hollow to the city's government once the state lifted its decree.

Now, 10 months later, the city council members and Mayor Ron Loveridge should look back this past year and ask themselves which each of them has personally done to accomplish this goal. The answer would be that they did nothing and in fact, stood by in collective silence as one of their direct employees has been doing his best to weaken it and render it ineffective.

They were quiet when Hudson failed to make a decision on the Summer Lane case, after the CPRC had decided that Officer Ryan Wilson had used excessive force in that shooting and the department had found it within policy. Instead, he allowed Police Chief Russ Leach to make that decision.

They were quiet when the city manager banned the CPRC's executive director, Pedro Payne from conducting outreach in the community or attending community meetings because he said it gave the appearance of bias towards the community at the expense of the police department.

They were quiet when the city manager made comments at a public safety committee that Leach did not wait until the CPRC reached a finding before making his decision. And both Melendrez and Hart served on that committee.

And they did not make any noise or even inquire publicly about the recent resignation of Payne, except by speaking very loudly when they awarded Hudson the contract.

Concerned city residents appeared at the city council meeting on Jan. 9 criticizing the actions taken against the CPRC. Even more concerned city residents have been discussing this latest development this week.

At the same city council meeting, photographs of a Latino man whose face was badly bruised and cut by baton blows according to witnesses after being mentally ill and having had an encounter with three Riverside Police Department officers not long ago served as a reminder of why the CPRC matters as a process that city residents can trust to handle their complaints. At least one involved police officer said to individuals that he had no idea the man was mentally ill, just that he looked suspicious to them and besides, they already were trained in handling the mentally ill.

The department's training of the mentally ill currently consists of several hours, under the mandate of this state's Peace Officers Training and Standards. The recommended amount of training associated with most crisis intervention programs is 40 hours.

The training of this city's police officers in terms of how to interface with mentally ill individuals is an important task, but how well the city is progressing in developing this inportant training depends on which week you ask. And city residents have been coming to me and asking if this training is in place and if not, when will it be created and implemented.

The CPRC offered its support to the police department of its apparent decision to develop crisis mental health intervention training. Not that this support has improved its ability to survive as a viable accountability mechanism in this city.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a decision has come out in the case of an officer who had shot and killed a teenage car thief suspect who allegedly had been backing into him.

Officer who killed boy, 13, cleared

The Los Angeles Police Department's Board of Rights exonerated Officer Steven Garcia in the shooting of Black teenager Devon Brown. The city's police commission had decided that the shooting was out of policy, but that finding was negated by the police department's board which consists of two departmental employees and a civilian.

Reaction to the decision was strong, from both the head of the police commission and LAPD chief William Bratton.


The Police Commission acts as the civilian oversight body for the LAPD and has the authority to shape policy, but it cannot discipline officers. Its finding in the Brown case — which ran contrary to the recommendation of Police Chief William J. Bratton — was initially hailed by both African American leaders and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a sign that the LAPD, with its long history of officer misconduct cases, now had firm civilian oversight.

John Mack, president of the Police Commission, said Tuesday that he felt as if he and his colleagues on the commission had been undermined."I'm very, very disappointed in that finding," said Mack, who was unaware of the ruling before being informed by a reporter. "Our commission felt the facts were clear. It was my expectation that the board of rights would see the facts as we saw them and take disciplinary action."

Bratton said he supported the disciplinary panel's conclusion."I think that's an appropriate finding," he said. "I'm very comfortable with that."

He would probably be more comfortable if the police commission didn't exist, but the police commission is stronger and more independent than that in Riverside, which has been feeling the heat after its issuance of its sustained finding on the Lane case over a year ago.

The interesting thing is that in both cases especially in Riverside, both bodies rarely reach sustained findings in cases of officer-involved deaths, yet when both did, their findings were nullifed by the police departments in both cities. One clearly had the authority to do so, the other only did because the city manager handed off his own responsibility to him because there was no process in writing.

How both cases will further impact the departments that were involved remains to be seen. But what's already been seen in Riverside, is that as the CPRC becomes as one speaker again, said eroded, the number of wrongful death law suits filed against the city in relation to its police department have increased. The litigation rate for officer-involved deaths has gone from 16% to 80% in a very short span. It's not clear at this point in time if that's a trend that will continue.



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