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

Monday, January 22, 2007

Canary in the mine: The public safety committee meets

The public safety committee convened for the first time since November, and the stakeholders involving the Community Police Review Commission met for the first time in public since action was taken involving the CPRC earlier this month.

Representing the city, were Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis, Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach, Lt. Larry Gonzalez and City Attorney Gregory Priamos. It wouldn't be the first time most of them had met on this issue. It would just be the first time the public was invited.

Of course, by the time the community was informed of the steps that its two other partners, the city and police department had taken involving the CPRC, its executive director, Pedro Payne had already submitted his resignation.

Still, community members appeared in a room stacked with city employees who in previous years had never given the CPRC much thought to find out what would happen next. The total appearances of DeSantis, Leach and Priamos at either CPRC meetings or meetings involving could probably be counted on one hand, five fingers.

That changed in 2006, after the CPRC had issued its sustained finding on the shooting of Summer Marie Lane by Officer Ryan Wilson when the chair and vice-chair of the CPRC at the time held their first private meeting with Leach, and representatives from both the city manager's and city attorney's offices. This wasn't long after City Manager Brad Hudson and DeSantis had decided not to be the ones to make the final ruling in the Lane case, but to allow Leach to make that decision and not surprisingly, he backed his own investigation.

Last autumn, Hudson banned Payne from attending any community meetings or engaging in any community outreach because he said it would appear that the CPRC was biased against the police department. The commission's outreach plummeted during this time period, according to its monthly reports. That was of course, blamed on Payne, even though the commissioners themselves admitted at several meetings that they lacked the time to do the outreach given that most of them had full-time jobs and already spent up to 18 hours or more each month reviewing citizen complaints. Not to mention that the three-member public outreach subcommittee lost two of those members due to the sudden resignation of one commissioner and a surprising decision by another commissioner not to be reappointed to a second term.

At the last public safety committee meeting in November, Hudson said that Leach did not wait until the CPRC issued its finding before making a decision on discipline in an officer-involved death case. That stunned quite a few people who thought that putting the commission in the city's charter had been enough to preserve its powers on investigating officer-involved deaths. It also provided a preview of what was to come, which was the largest change to the CPRC which would not be included in an accompanying written report or power point presentation that skirted that issue even as it listed elaborate changes in other areas of the CPRC's operation.

Commissioners have felt the pinch of City Hall's sudden concern about the CPRC's every move.

"We are almost being told step by step what we have to do," said Commissioner Jack Brewer.

At this latest public safety committee meeting, DeSantis unleashed a power point presentation which included the following actions taken involving the CPRC.

1) Hire a new executive director through a rigorous nationwide search who will offer outstanding technical qualifications as well as credibility with the local community.

2) The briefing of the CPRC's investigation into the Lee Deante Brown shooting that was supposed to take place in January will be postponed until at least February. DeSantis' reason was that the department's investigators had uncovered "new, highly relevent evidence" in this case and the CPRC will have the opportunity to see it after the recently rejuvenated investigation by the police department and the review by the Riverside County District Attorney's office concludes. Hopefully, this is the "evidence" that the CPRC requested from the department several months ago.

3) Outreach will be robust and encompass the community, which is interesting considering the recent ban on Payne's ability to do outreach and attend community meetings. Presumably the new executive director, when or if this person is ever hired, will not have his or her movements restricted in the same manner.

4) Consultant Joe Brann has apparently been retained to "formulize protocols(and related procedures) to further the Commission's accomplishment of its mission." Brann was formerly the auditor assigned by the former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer to oversee the implementation of the stipulated judgement which was dissolved last March.

Then at the end, DeSantis added a carrot on the list, and that was that the department was going to implement training to assist police officers in contact with individuals who were mentally incapacitated. He said that the city council and police department were enthusiastic about engaging in this work, but given some of the responses in the meeting to inquiries abut this training, that remains to be seen. The proof is in the pudding and Leach's comments on the timeline of the much needed training did not inspire much confidence. Leach had used "cookie cutter" terminology when asked questions about the development of the department's cultural diversity training and he raises a good point about needing to tailor the training to the needs of individual departments, but what came out of that process was diversity training that was later called "inadequate" and "outdated" by Leach and the push to develop more relevant training in this area which is still under way.

As mentioned, one thing noticeably missing from the list of "improvements" to the CPRC were any changes that would take place involving the CPRC's investigation of officer-involved deaths. Commissioners and community members quickly moved in to fill in the gaps in that area.

Brewer complained about the new decision not to allow the CPRC out to investigate officer-involved deaths until after the police department and D.A.'s office(working in tandem on different fronts, it appears) are finished with their respective investigations.

"We are told we can't send out an investigator for six months," Brewer said, "That is ridiculous."

But if some people complained that the new rules would not allow enough attention to be paid to officer-involved deaths, at least one person complained that too much attention was being paid to them. That was Leach who added that the CPRC should pay more attention to submitting policy recommendations and noting trends and patterns in the department which indicate problems with certain officers, watch commanders and shifts.

However, because the CPRC was given through circumstances, five officer-involved deaths from a department with less than 400 sworn police officers during the 12 month period between October 2005 to November 2006, it is simply doing one of the jobs that it was mandated to do by the city charter.

Brewer continued to express his concern about some of the other elements of the DeSantis plan as well. He questioned the wisdom of doing an expensive nation-wide search if the city was just going to hire another executive director who would be unable to do anything. He cited the hiring of two of them so far who when they went out into the community were pulled back by the city.

Not surprisingly, his colleague on the commission, Jim Ward was even more vocal. Ward, the only African-American on the nine-member commission said that it was the police department, not the CPRC which was experiencing the problems.

"The problem is with the Riverside Police Department and the city officials trying to micromanage the police commission," Ward said.

While Ward said he believed that improvements had been made during the stipulated judgement, he believed that more needed to be done, especially to address the culture that was still deeply entrenched in the police department. He said that the presence of DeSantis, Leach and Priamos at the meeting attested to the degree the CPRC was being micromanaged.

"I do not believe that we are the problem," Ward said, "I think it lies elsewhere."

He commented on Hudson's and DeSantis' decision last year to not allow the commissioners to place items on the agenda or even put an agenda out without their approval.

"We can't even put out an agenda," Ward said, "What kind of independence do you have if you can't put out an agenda?"

Community members spoke at the meeting and many of their comments along with those made by Ward and Brewer seemed to increase the displeasure of several of the city employees and at least one city council member.

Deborah Wong, of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability urged the city not to make any major changes until a new executive director was in place. But at this point, that is like closing the barn door after the animals have departed because the city has already made these changes to this community mechanism before even bothering to inform the community, until after the fact.

City Council member Steve Adams provided the greatest gift that he can give, which is that he opened his mouth. By far the most colorful councilman on the panel, Adams doesn't hold back his words, decorum be damned, and there is something very refreshing about that.

The other interesting thing about Adams is that he is a retired Riverside Police Department officer from a while ago, who even today, well actually yesterday, appeared to merge his past as an officer with his present, as an elected official and a businessman, inserting "we" occasionally to include himself with more currently employed police officers including investigators even though it's been over 15 years since he wore a uniform. And it appears that Leach found comfort in numbers as the two left together with Priamos after the meeting's conclusion.

Adams first castigated Brewer's comments about not being able to put an investigator in the field right away. Like Adams, Brewer is a retired law enforcement officer having done his time with the Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Adams said that there were already two investigators from the police department and the District Attorney's office out doing investigations of officer-involved deaths and that adding a "third arm" would just cause problems, and even taint the investigations if witnesses were providing different accounts to different investigators.

"We investigate," Adams said including himself in with the police department and of the CPRC, "You review."

Obviously, Adams hasn't read the city's charter lately. Perhaps he should check it out before the recommendations by this subcommittee are sent to the entire city council.

Former CPRC commissoner Frank Arroela said he had enjoyed his short stint on the CPRC but felt the community and the police department needed to work together.

"We can't continue to bash it," Arroela said of the police department.

Arreola had served on the CPRC after Adams appointed him to represent his ward, before resigning in November or as one person put it going to Adams to get him removed from it. Arreola currently works for the city as Adams' legislative field representative, news that had shocked some current commissioners as well as community members who had believed at this point they have heard anything.

When the meeting was nearing its end, Chair Andrew Melendrez assured everyone that the CPRC will remain intact. Of course it will, because it would be a violation of the city's charter to disband it, much to the considerable pique of those sitting on the city council who oppose it.

Though it was interesting to hear Adams voice his continued support of the CPRC, especially when he added that he was a vocal supporter of it while running for his city council seat four years ago. Back then, he was endorsed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association Political Action Committee and received over $10,000 in campaign funding from them. The RPOA strongly opposes the CPRC and usually they endorse local candidates who oppose it as well. Perhaps, Adams slipped through that net, clever person that he is. Well, if the RPOA wasn't informed on his status regarding the CPRC during the last election, I would guess they know now because after all, an elected official would never say something at a public meeting if he believed something differently in private.

When the majority of the city's voters showed their support at the polls for the police commision by passing Measure II, many people thought the most difficult days of the CPRC were over. It turned out that the city was just getting warmed up. On the city council, there are four members who oppose the CPRC, but still have to put up with it because the voters' mandate.

"It's a different time, a different group," Councilwoman Nancy Hart said of the changes


No, not really. The faces might be the same. The time is from Riverside past and now, present.

This chain of events shouldn't be that surprising if you know your RiverCity history. The CPRC's much weaker predecessor was subjected to the same "killing with kindness" by the city and the police department until it was rendered ineffective. Of course, we all know what happened down the line after those actions. What is past is prologue and history is only repeated until the lessons it passes down from one generation to the next are fully understood.

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