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

Thursday, January 18, 2007

From coast to coast: Rallies and reasons

The furor in Los Angeles continues over the decision by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to close the department's board of rights hearings from the public, in the wake of the California State Supreme Court decision.

More than a dozen community leaders protested this action at a recent city council meeting, and told their elected officials that actions like this one foster anxiety and a sense of distrust by the community against the Los Angeles Police Department. Fortunately, other people in positions of power in Los Angeles agreed according to this Los Angeles Times article.

City Council, commission launch inquiries into reopening hearings

The head of Los Angeles's police commission spoke on the issue.

(excerpt, article)

Police Commission President John Mack announced he has appointed a working group to determine how the LAPD might be as open as possible in holding boards of rights hearings while also supporting state legislation to reopen the hearings.

"This is essential if we are ever to achieve mutual trust and eliminate suspicion and distrust" by the public, Mack said.

Even a former LAPD chief turned city councilman voiced his concern that there was no accountability from City Hall in terms of at explaining why these actions had been taken.

(excerpt, article)

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief, said he was concerned that the boards of rights were closed without the city attorney and LAPD appearing before the council to explain the change.

"No one can understand why the change was made. There has been no public discussion," Parks said.

In Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlantic Journal-Constitution published an opinion piece by Mike King, Think outside blue line, which states his support of requiring the independent review of officer-involved shootings by civilians. This view comes in the wake of the controversial fatal shooting of an elderly Black woman by police officers conducting a "no knock" raid of her home.

In his piece, King cites the shortcomings of investigations that are conducted of shootings by the police agencies themselves and also the county prosecutors who rely on the work of police agencies to file criminal charges in other cases. This brings them too close to the situation, King stated before citing what happened after a news agency had issued a public request for statistics on investigations conducted by several county prosecutory agencies involving officer-involved shootings.

(excerpt, article)

In DeKalb County, the record of the prosecutor's office in examining such cases provides little confidence that the public or police officers are being adequately served.

Using the state's Open Records Act, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter David Simpson requested files from the DeKalb district attorney for 20 closed cases from 2001 to 2005 in which DeKalb officers were involved in fatal confrontations with suspects.

Records in the available cases showed the prosecutor's office relied on information provided by the DeKalb police department to determine whether criminal charges were warranted; prosecutors rarely sought out witnesses of their own.

Moreover, the prosecutor's office examined possible departmental policy violations in only two of the cases. (In both cases, it determined that the violations did not merit filing criminal charges. The police department fired two officers in connection with the incidents.)

More distressing, the district attorney's office couldn't find records in 10 of the 20 cases, which calls into question how aggressively the cases may have been pursued.

That's almost understandable. District attorneys and police officers work together closely to prosecute criminals, and the DA's main job is limited to findings of fact that might lead to criminal charges. They aren't empowered and rarely feel the need to tell police what they could have done to avoid the shootings in the first place.

Sixty miles to the east of Los Angeles, recent actions taken by the city manager's office against the Community Police Review Commission, which apparently resulted in the resignation of its executive director, Pedro Payne have also inspired much community discussion throughout the city, as has the direction that the police department has taken in recent months.

The mood at the walkathon was somber when discussion turned towards these issues. Even as city officials insist that changes aren't being made to the CPRC, people discussed it and its director, Payne as if they had lost a member of their own families. When discussion turned to the RPD, moods turned even more pessimistic especially when views were expressed that the police department has become more closed off from community involvement, not less.

One of the most committed and dynamic community leaders in all of Riverside is Eastside resident, Christina Duran. Last month, Duran was not invited back to serve on the police chief's advisory board. The letter stated that the move to take her off was simply done in order to recycle community leaders off who had been on a while and to invite new people, a process that by itself, makes some sense.

However, Duran had only been on the committee a little over a year and other members had been on at least five years or longer without receiving similar treatment. How come they are not being cycled off of the board as well?

When it ousted Duran, this committee eliminated from its discussion process, a much needed voice in the community. One could argue that Duran has more ties with the community she lives in than most of the people who currently serve on that committee. And unlike many people, Duran is not afraid to ask questions that stimulate her concern and her desire to gain knowlege about the police department that spends more time in her community than it does in most others. Duran joins committees not only because she cares deeply about the issues that she discusses, but she also is not afraid to ask what needs to be asked, what other people would ask around her if they had her courage to take risks in fully participating in a give-and-take process.

Duran should rest assured that even though she's been kicked off of what may be Riverside's version of Survivor island, it is really their loss not hers. And unlike at least one current member of the advisory board, Duran doesn't hold a person's race, gender or sexual orientation against them.

The fact that City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis assigned one of their analysts, Mario Lara, to serve as the interim executive director of the CPRC just goes to show how little they really understand about the operations of this city's boards and commissions including this one. Even when Payne was initially assigned to be the interim director, the city hired former commissioner, Bill Howe as a consultant to train Payne into the position. Even though realisitically, it could take months to recruit, screen, interview and hire Payne's replacement, no such plans have been announced to train Lara how to do the job in the meantime. I guess they just make up these things as they go along. After all, they are indeed taking the CPRC to places where it hasn't been before, in a matter of speaking.

In New York City, more and more police officers and fire fighters employed by the city's agencies are becoming sick, including those who have become hospitalized because of the toxins they were exposed to while conducting rescue and recovery operations after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The New York Daily News wrote about it.

At least four individuals have died of a lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis, including NYPD officer, James Zadroga. Another police officer needs a lung transplant. Given that this disease is progressive, expect the number of deaths and required lung transplants to continue in the years ahead. To say the rash of illnesses among those who breathed in toxic air at the site where the World Trade Center had once said has nothing to do with that is just ignorant.

"Wake up and do something about our health"

Alison Palmer, 38, worked at ground zero as a police officer. Now she's retired and sick with cancer.


"I never smoked a cigarette in my life. I don't drink alcohol. I don't use drugs. It's not a hereditary type of cancer," Palmer said. "There's no doubt in my mind it's from Ground Zero."

Police officers, paramedics and fire fighters working for agencies in other cities and states have been sickened in the years that followed the attacks at the World Trade Center as well, including many from agencies in Riverside County. About half of those who went to work at ground zero from Riverside County have suffered respiratory illnesses and other medical conditions and several have taken disability retirements. The Press Enterprise updated this issue in an article written five years after 9-11.

Riverside County employees sick after deployment to New York City

Here is a detailed chronology of the battle to seek federal funding for those suffering illnesses from rescue and recovery operations after 9-11. It includes accounts of efforts made by senators to pass legislation which would have provided over $2 billion for this medical assistance, but that item was vetoed by Republican senators without even coming up for a vote.

Here are excerpts from Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech. Read the rest of it here.

"This amendment goes to the heart of our obligations to one another with respect to homeland security. It arises out of the attacks of 9/11, the extraordinary physical damage that has been done to thousands and thousands of New Yorkers and other Americans because they responded to that disaster, because they worked in the area of Ground Zero, because they lived or volunteered there. Each of us is marked in our own way by the events of five years ago. I need not recount them. We have just gone through a very painful anniversary of those attacks. My hope is that we would not mark this fifth-year anniversary merely by wreath layings and speeches and solemn readings of the names of the victims, but that it would serve as a reminder of our unfinished business and a call to action on behalf of the service and sacrifice of first responders, workers and volunteers who participated in the rescue and recovery at Ground Zero. I have worked the past five years to honor the memories of those who died, to take care of their families and to help rebuild New York.

I have fought for the funding that has generously been offered by the American people to support the economic recovery of downtown New York, building new buildings, helping to support small businesses, creating new transportation infrastructure to replace that which was obliterated. And I have worked to secure funding, starting in the fall of 2001, to monitor those who were affected by the exposure to the toxic gases and substances in the air as a result of the attacks and the implosion of the buildings. I believe that we have a moral obligation as a nation to take care of those who both took care of us and who attempted to return to their ordinary lives as a way of demonstrating solidarity and commitment, resilience and courage in the face of the terrorist attacks. There's much we have to do, which is why we are debating this bill about port security, but there is so much more than port security. The Democrats offered a comprehensive amendment to this bill that contained the recommendations of many experts, including the 9/11 Commission. Sadly, it was unsuccessful, but that doesn't mean it wasn't merited and that we cannot rest until we have a comprehensive, well-funded strategy to deal with the threats we face. But Mr. President, I rise today to talk about a very specific issue. The toll of that fateful day goes beyond the families and friends and colleagues, the brave responders who saved 25,000 people in the greatest rescue mission in the history of the world. Their lives will always stand in our memory and in honor. But thousands of others rushed into that burning inferno.

Thousands of others were there when that enormous, devastating cloud of death and destruction covered much of Lower Manhattan, crossed the river to Brooklyn, crossed the river to New Jersey. We have been working to understand the health implications for the people who breathed that air. And that's why I've fought to get money for a monitoring and screening program that was established both at the fire department to take care of our firefighters and also at one of our great hospitals, Mt. Sinai, to figure out what happened to everybody else. The work that commenced from the moment the first plane hit was hazardous and difficult. And for as long as nine months we had firefighters and police officers, trade and construction workers, other workers, volunteers, residents -- we had probably at least 40,000 people coming and going and staying on that site.

They worked and lived amidst the dust and the fog and the smog, a toxic mix of debris, smoke and chemicals. I first visited the site about 24 hours after the attacks. I was within blocks of the epicenter of the attack, and I could not see anything, but I could smell it. I could taste it. I could literally feel it. And as I watched that curtain of darkness part and the firefighters walking out covered in black soot, dragging their fire axes, barely able to stand after being on duty for probably 24 hours, I had the first inkling that the damaging effects of 9/11 would last far beyond the actual attack. Now unfortunately our government officials in charge of making sure health and working conditions did not negatively impact our first responders sent mixed signals at best. I would go further. They misled people. They said the air was safe. They made no effort to reach out and share the dangers that people knew were in this air. And it wasn't only people from New York who responded. It was people from all over the country.

My colleague, Senator Voinovich from Ohio and I, have a bill that would set up a system for the president to carry out a program for the monitoring of the health and safety of first responders that are exposed to harmful substances as a result of the disaster rather than reacting on an ad hoc basis as we've had to do in the wake of 9/11. Because of what I witnessed firsthand and what people started to tell me. You know, the trademark World Trade Center cough appeared within days, people had trouble breathing, had trouble swallowing, they were coughing. That's why I was so insistent upon getting $12 million to establish the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mt. Sinai. We quickly realized they would need a lot more work because thousands and thousands of people were signing up and coming. So we secured an additional $90 million, and we expanded the number of workers and volunteers, and that was in addition to what we did for the fire department, which ran its own program. Well, last week Mt. Sinai released a report that confirmed our worst fears. It confirmed an earlier report of the New York City fire department study. Tens of thousands of firefighters and all the others who were there were not only exposed but were suffering from significant medical and mental health problems. We are seeing young men and women in the prime of their lives who were in excellent physical health experiencing asthma, bronchitis, persistent sinus sites, laryngitis.

They are suffering from serious diseases, reactive airway disease, their lungs are collapsing, their livers are polluted. In fact, we are now seeing the first deaths. It is not enough to say we stand with the brave men and women who responded when we needed them. We have to do more. We appropriated $125 million and after a year and a half of struggle, money that was meant to go for the workers' comp system because so many of these people cannot work anymore, they are on disability, they are forced into retirement, and so many of them, about 40% of them, were screened at Mt. Sinai had no insurance so they can't even get the treatment which they now know they need.

Hopefully, this is one situation that will be remedied soon. It's long overdue.

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