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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Black city employee watch: Another one gone

Regularly, there are articles posted here as part of the ongoing Black City Employee Watch. Actually, this watch is open to all men and women of color who work for the city of Riverside, inside and outside of City Hall.

Another Black or Latino city employee has been shown the door by Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson and his direct employer, the city council. This employee follows five other men or women of color who held management or director positions at City Hall who have departed or been demoted since Hudson was first hired by the city.

In response, the city council has placed its proposal of an employee contract for Hudson to be voted on at its Jan. 9 city council meeting and you can read the details here. It's a five-year contract for $248,000 a year.

Pedro Payne, the executive director of the Community Police Review Commission has "stepped down", according to a statement released by the city. The Press Enterprise wrote a brief piece on this turn of events.

Community Police Review Commission director steps down

One commissioner addressed the loss of Payne.


Commission Vice Chairman Jim Ward said he does not believe Payne resigned, but that Payne's balancing act between the community and the police cost him the job.

"In my opinion the community perspective and the police perspective are on a collision course; it doesn't matter who they put in that position; they'll be put in the middle of it," Ward said.

Well, if this has always been such a concern then it would have been much more apparent before a year ago, when it was suddenly raised as an issue by the city. A year ago, was when an executive director was actually serving on the commission who had community contacts and experience dealing with and doing outreach to community members. This same executive director discussed in several meetings held by the CPRC that he had made attempts to do more outreach with the police department but it appeared that the police department was reluctant to do so. At this point, the city manager should have gone to the police department and encouraged it to engage in the process. Instead, he tried to correct what he felt was an imbalance on the community outreach end, by banning Payne from attending community meetings last autumn, according to the Press Enterprise.

Community outreach virtually stopped last autumn according to the monthly CPRC reports submitted during that time period. With the commissioners left to add outreach on top of at least 18 hours a month, as listed on the boards and commissions recruitment sheet, spent doing case review, few could do much more and the situation wasn't helped by the abrupt resignation of commissioner, Frank Arroela in November. Arroela was the commissioner who was doing the most community outreach and he was an active member on the CPRC's outreach subcommittee.

Arroela's resignation was soon followed by outreach committee member, Commissioner Bonavita Quinto's surprising decision to turn down a reappointment for a second term, which no one saw coming because she had always appeared enthusiastic about serving on the CPRC. At an earlier community outreach meeting, Quinto had voiced her enthusiasm about the CPRC including her own future participation in its work. But she will be stepping down in March.

Payne was the first executive director who had held meetings with new police hires explaining to them what the CPRC did and answered their questions about the process. He had tried to continue the roll call training which had been successfully conducted by two commissioners in the past but as he told the commission, the police department was not interested in continuing this practice which had been a positive experience for the commissioners and apparently police officers as well. Instead the department wanted to do something else. So at some level, it appears that any perception of bias against the police department is at least partly the responsibility of the police department, not the commission and not its executive director.

It has only been in the past year, that a police department employee has not only been attending regular public meetings but has in fact been present during the closed case review sessions as well. It has only been this past year that an executive director engaged in outreach to the Riverside Police Officers' Association which apparently responded.

So how can you claim bias when there's been more attempts and outreach at making the CPRC more inclusive to the police department this past year than in any other year? You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink, which is its choice. But then that horse shouldn't turn around and whine about it and stomp its feet in a snit. Especially a horse that keeps changing colors depending on whom is holding its reins and who's watching.

Yet, the city of Riverside is still concerned not with its perception of the existance of bias in general, just bias against the police department. After all when the city council voted 7-0 to hire Hudson, they knew or it was their responsibility to know that Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis were not fond of anything that involved either community participation or imput in the city's operations, which meant trouble for the CPRC right off the bat because that is what it is and that is what it does, in accordance with the city's charter.

After all what did Hudson and DeSantis do when they actually realized they had to occasionally go to community meetings in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods? They took out concealed weapon permits because as they were quoted in the Press Enterprise they had to go to attend meetings in dangerous and unsafe neighborhoods. The city council then soon after voted 6-1 to limit public participation at city council meetings, something community activist Marjorie Van Poule has been educating the public every week during the meetings.

It's not so much that either of these two men even value police officers either. Hudson and DeSantis put that on display through how they treated the city's police officers during contract negotiations with both police bargaining units this past summer. All of the city bargaining units including the two police ones were speaking out in public and in one case, just like they did with city residents, the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge tried to stop a lieutenant who headed one bargaining unit from talking during the public comment period.

Individual police officers were harassed for doing so or for even asking questions, including by elected city officials. In this guise, perhaps the city saw them as part of the community that they are reluctant even hostile to engage with.

One city council member responded in the news article, and her comments actually shed some light on the situation that went unmentioned in the terse statement by the city included in the news article, because that is probably more than the city wants anyone to read.


Councilwoman Nancy Hart said the position is difficult because the public, the district attorney, police officers and others all have expectations, and everyone on the commission must keep an open mind.

"It needs to be somebody with a lot of integrity and a lot of being able to hold his cards close to the vest," Hart said. "It needs to be some kind of directorship where all parties get heard."

It already had someone who was and did all these things, which is the real problem here.

If city council members paid more close attention to what this commission did, they would know this and would base their opinions on something more than just what Hudson and Tom DeSantis have probably told them. In meetings, listening to city council members discuss the CPRC, it's fairly obvious that few of them know very much about it and what it was set up to do. They would discuss and work with those individuals themselves and base their opinions about them on that because that's what elected officials do in many other cities. Has Hart or any other city council member sat in on a CPRC meeting or watched as they did different forms of outreach to both the communtity members and the police department?

This past summer, the police department and city's commitment to the promises the city council made last March 28 about the implementation of the Strategic Plan didn't just fall by the wayside, it fell off the map. A city employee called me very concerned about that turn of events, and expressed fear that the department's reforms would be reversed thanks to the city manager. This individual asked me for my assistance to help push for this process to get back on track and it did in a sense get back on track. This same individual at the moment is probably looking for the five people left in this city he still hasn't trashed me to yet.

I sometimes ask myself, after watching what's been going on during the past few months, what would former Attorney General Bill Lockyer think? What would Deputy Attorney General Lou Verdugo think? They provided through their administrative powers a process that provided the city and police department with an amazing opportunity to fix its own problems and create a much better law enforcement agency. They then turned control of that process back to Riverside with a mandate to keep it going.

In nine short months, Riverside has squandered what it has been given because those that were entrusted to continue the reform process were either not up to the challenging task or just not that interested. Their recent actions involving the CPRC and also during the labor negotiations process speak to that very loudly. If the reform process was continuing smoothly internally, there would be no need to weaken the CPRC externally which is what the city has spent the last year doing. But there probably is enough reason, if what is supposed to be happening, isn't in fact happening and that this might become evident to the CPRC at a later date through its own investigations.

There was a recommendation to strengthen the CPRC that was made in a final report to Lockyer on the police department, which made a lot of sense. The city and the department at that point should have been more than up to that challenge and would have if either had truly learned anything in the previous five years.

Instead, the city management and the police department are doing whatever works to weaken its effectiveness, perhaps beginning with officer-involved death investigations after effectively dismantling community outreach at least for a while. In January, the CPRC's investigator was supposed to return and provide another public briefing on the Lee Deante Brown shooting including an analysis of the trajectory angles of the gunshots that were fired by Officer Terry Ellefson and include that in with all the witness and officer statements as well as the coroner's report. With Payne's departure, that process has likely been aborted, perhaps permanently.

Its power to investigate officer-involved deaths was fine enough when the shootings were justifed to the sense that most people wouldn't argue against. However, with the shootings of Summer Lane and that involving Lee Deante Brown and possibly even Douglas Steven Cloud that attitude changed, along with the number of civil law suits and claims for damages filed against the city in connection with these deaths. So it is now especially since the State Attorney General's office is not in the picture(but apparently still watching from afar) that this is being done.

If half as much energy and money for example, was spent on creating and implementing mental health crisis intervention training for the department's officers as was spent trying to fight the law suits and future law suits in relation to the deaths of Brown and Terry Rabb, this department would be much better for it and would have formulated another part of a bridge to the communities it is supposed to serve and protect. We may have fewer officers who have to deal with having committed fatal shootings especially multiple ones, as well and definitely fewer law suits.

But the police department's commitment to opening up its process to public imput has closed off in a fashion that mirrors the city council. The police chief does have an advisory board which may be useful for the police department in some fashion, but it has zero impact on the communities that this department serves, because the vast majority of people in this city are not even aware it exists. Fewer people know what it does and the majority of those individuals don't care because the gap between it and them is too large. The police chief should be going out to the community not requiring it to come to him and he used to do this until lately. One of the main questions I receive from community members as of late, is where is the police chief, why isn't he as visible as he used to be, which are the same questions they were asking about Payne.

The same goes for the department's audit and compliance unit, which for the most part appears locked up in an office somewhere. It was created and entrusted to provide a vital function but the fact that it's shunted off somewhere speaks volumes about its importance to the city. It could be a useful mechanism to outreach to different communities on the reform process, but in that sense it's been vastly underutilized.

Soon to be underutilized will be the CPRC, which was one of the canaries in the mine when it comes to the state of the Riverside Police Department. And this is one ailing canary.


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