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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Sunday, January 07, 2007

David and Goliath

Last year was a difficult year for civilian review boards all over the state, mostly because of the California State Supreme Court's decision on the Copley case. Inside Bay Area has been writing stories about what has happened in that area, including Berkeley and Oakland.

When we last heard from Berkeley, the city had suspended its public hearings after the court decision which came down last August. According to the following article, the city is waiting to hear what an Alameda County Superior Court judge to say before deciding what to do next. That is expected to happen no later than February.

Both the Los Angeles Police Department and the San Francisco Police Departments have suspended their hearings, and Oakland has taken its hearings behind closed doors.

Judge to rule on legality of public hearings

Both the Berkeley Police Officers' Association, a long-time opponant of the review board and the city have taken their arguments to court. At least in Berkeley, these entities are on opposite sides.


The August ruling reinvigorated the Berkeley Police Association's four-year legal effort to close the commission's hearings to the public. In November, the association's lawyer asked Judge Winifred Smith to rule that the Supreme Court decision closed the matter.

Berkeley's city attorney argued that because the city manager and police chief — not the commission — mete out discipline, the public hearings should continue.

"They are two completely segregated systems. The commission does not have disciplinary authority," said the city attorney, Manuela Albuquerque. "The process is very important to running our police department. It is a fact-finder in a public setting."

The California Newspapers Association will be taking its concerns to a state legislator near it, according to one of its representatives.


The board of directors of the California Newspaper Publishers Association has approved seeking a member of the Legislature to author a bill that would make public records of misconduct allegations that are sustained, said Tom Newton, the association's general counsel.

Such a fight would be "uphill sledding" against powerful law enforcement unions that have "gotten laws on the books that have been interpreted so narrowly by the courts," Newton said.

"The public has an overriding interest in (access to) confirmed incidents of misconduct," Newton said. "We hope we can convince the Legislature of that."

Actually, it's more like this, from the film, Erin Brockovich.

Ed Masry: "This is a whole different ball game. A much bigger deal."

Erin Brockovich: "Kind of like David and whats-his-name."

Ed Masry: "Kind of like David and whats-his-name's whole fucking family."

Civilian review boards and commissions are still spreading across the country despite the challenges they face from forces that do not want civilians to know what their agencies are doing. Some boards and commissions even have to contend with adversarial treatment from the same governmental entities who are entrusted to carry out the voters' wishes to keep them independent and strong. Still, these "Goliaths" can only slow progress, not stop it. Boards and commissions which provide civilian oversight over law enforcement agencies are here to stay.

And those that fight them, whether they are law enforcement associations, police chiefs or sheriffs, or even city officials have only themselves to blame for this upward trend. If they still had the trust of the public to effectively investigate their own employees and oversee the operations of their agencies, then civilian oversight mechanisms would not exist, let alone be flourishing. Their spread is slow given the logistics of the process involved with establishing them, not to mention the backlash and battles those who fear them launch against them and their supporters. These "Davids" are still popping up all over the United States and Canada, regardless.

But interestingly enough, it's this backlash which feeds the demand for the creation of more boards and commissions. These battles launched by those who fight civilian review provide people with clear in-your-face examples of why these boards and commissions are necessary. It's great advertising.

Not surprisingly, given the attacks against Berkeley's review board, the police department it is charged with overseeing has also had a bad year, according to the Berkeley Daily Planet. The only thing that would be surprising about it is if people were actually surprised.

2006, not a good year for Berkeley

At least three police officers at Berkeley Police Department have been either charged or are being investigated for criminal conduct during this past year. Complaints have been raised by community activists that Berkeley's civilian review board is not actively investigating at least one of the cases. In January 2006, the police department had issued a press release about Officer Cary Kent, a veteran officer who has been charged and later convicted of stealing drug evidence, but the Berkeley Police Commission has done little since.

Part of that is because the city attorney herself banned its members from holding discussions on the Kent case.


“We’re waiting to hear from the judge on the lawsuit,” said Sharon Kidd, Police Review Commission chair and member of a subcommittee that had planned to examine the Kent case, but which ceased its work in conjunction with the suspension of complaint hearings.

Kidd said she disagrees with the decision to halt commission discussion of the Kent case. “It’s a criminal matter of public record—the commission made the decision,” she said. “The city attorney wanted us to put everything on the back burner.”

Copwatch’s Andrea Prichett argued, however, that if the commission won’t take up its responsibilities, the City Council should step in—and that councilmembers have been derelict in their responsibilities.

“When the PRC breaks down, it is the responsibility of the City Council members to personally attend the meetings,” Prichett said.

Berkeley's city attorney Manuela Albuquerque may have shut down public hearings but it is refreshing to actually see someone in her position doing her job, by defending the commission's right to hold public hearings in court. Other cities aren't that lucky.

Not much has been disclosed about the other two incidents involving Berkeley police officers.


Further impugning the department’s reputation was the incident of officer Sean Derry who in September was arrested by San Francisco Police after he allegedly shot his service revolver outside his San Francisco home while inebriated. Derry was placed on paid administrative leave immediately after his arrest and will remain so until his case is adjudicated in San Francisco.

A third incident reported by various media, including the Daily Planet —all using anonymous sources—involves an officer said to be under investigation for allegedly stealing evidence. Like Derry, he has also been on paid administrative leave since August. The Daily Planet is not using his name since it appears that he has not been charged with a crime.

In an interview Tuesday, Chief Doug Hambleton said press reports misrepresented the facts in the case of the unnamed officer.

“Somebody made some wild speculations,” he said, adding that when the investigation is complete, he will clarify facts in the case.

PRC Chair Kidd said the commission had not been briefed on either the Derry incident or the second one. “Hopefully, we’ll get more information on that from the chief’s report” at the next commission meeting, she said.

Better not take that one to the bank. Maybe you should place your bet first on whether or not your next commission meeting will actually take place because it might take a while for those facts to be "clarified" by the department's police chief.

Thank you to Chief Hambleton for the free advertising for Berkeley's review board. Now instead of fighting against civilian review that's been in your city since oh, the late 1960s, why don't you go deal with the problems in your police department starting in your evidence unit? If you're too busy to do so, by all means continue to provide further assistance to the efforts to educate more people in Berkeley and other places while civilian review is so necessary.


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