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 15, 2007

Baby, it's cold outside and inside too

The Los Angeles Times calls it the "blue fog" in a recent editorial, condemning the closure of the Los Angeles Police Department's board of rights hearings from the public.

Others simply call it a dark cloud over an agency that has grown accustomed to being beneath them.

Secrecy clouds the LAPD once again

This latest article by the Los Angeles Times relates the ongoing erosion of public trust in a beleagured police department which has tested the public's ability for forgiveness countless times. Even a federal consent decree imposed by the Department of Justice hasn't changed that.

The concern among community members, their leaders as well as elected officials in Los Angeles continues to be expressed in the wake of the news that the newly secretative board of rights overturned a recent decision by the city's police commission that found the shooting of Devin Brown by Officer Steve Garcia in violation of departmental policy. Although the processes in Los Angeles differ greatly from those in Riverside, this development in the Brown shooting case was reminiscent of the outcome of the shooting of Summer Lane in Riverside.

In that case, Riverside's Community Police Review Commission decided that Riverside Police Department officer, Ryan Wilson violated the department's use of force policy when he walked up to the window of her car and shot inside it three times, killing her. The police department exonerated Wilson in its own criminal investigation and administrative review, and the conflicting findings went to City Manager Brad Hudson for final disposition. Instead of doing this, Hudson instead handed off the final decision to Chief Russ Leach, who not surprisingly backed his own agency's investigation.

Unlike in the city of Riverside, elected officials in Los Angeles responded almost immediately.

In Riverside, several of them simply grumbled in private. Their reasoning appeared to be that since only the minority of the city council supported the CPRC, there apparently was no point in speaking out in public about it. Oh what would life be like in Los Angeles if councilwoman Jan Perry believed like that! She may not be in the majority but she's representing her constituents and speaking out loudly on this issue.

In Los Angeles, reaction like the following galvanized the political leaders of Los Angeles into action and words and placed enough pressure on even LAPD Chief William Bratton to respond.


"This," Merrick Bobb, a longtime police accountability expert, said of the secrecy that now surrounds LAPD disciplinary hearings, "is an intolerable result." Bobb blamed the courts; others targeted Bratton. But few were happy.

"We have another whitewash," South Los Angeles activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson declared on Patt Morrison's show on KPCC-FM (89.3).

"It really undermines the accountability of the Police Department," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University law professor who helped write the Los Angeles City Charter and who has supported Bratton. "There is no way for the public to have confidence in this decision."

And soon enough, Bratton led the charge for reexamination of the laws governing his department's disciplinary hearings due to public pressure. The city's mayor soon followed.

Back in 1991, when the Christopher Commission had conducted its investigation of the LAPD, one of its recommendations was a more independent and transparent process involving the disciplinary hearings. The commission found that there were serious problems at every stage of this process.


"Minor tinkering or adjustment will not solve these problems," the commission added. "A major system overhaul is required."

That rehaul was attempted in Los Angeles during the 1990s, but problems still remain in the process itself including its transparency. The recent closure of the board of rights hearings in the wake of the Copley decision by the state supreme court didn't help matters.

The city of Riverside appears to be ready to tinker with the Community Police Review Commission's process of investigating officer-involved deaths, in the wake of three fatal officer-involved shootings in 2006.

Over 300 braved the chill of the Santa Anas this morning to participate in a walkathon honoring the memory of Martin Luther King, jr. including a long stretch down a street named in his honor that had been blocked off because it was covered in ice. The recent chain of events involving both the CPRC and the sudden resignation of its executive director, Pedro Payne inspired a lot of discussion.

Different theories were offered up as to what contingent of the city was after the CPRC this time, and why. Reasons named included concerns by the city that one or more of the fatal shootings by Riverside Police Department officers may expose the city to risk of civil liability if the CPRC decided that any of them violated departmental policy as it did in the Lane case. At present, five law suits or claims for damages have been filed against the city of Riverside in connection with four incustody deaths in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Several other people believed that the actions against the CPRC were merely the latest expression of Hudson's and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis' dislike of public participation in governmental processes. Others were sure it was the Riverside Police Officers' Association pushing several city council members to act against the commission. Most individuals believed it was simply a case of the CPRC never having received the support from city officials that it deserved. Whether one or more of these possible explantions is the case will probably be apparent fairly soon in upcoming weeks.

In Portland, Oregon, the police department there just underwent an audit involving the operations of its use of force review board. You can read the Oregonian article here.

The report by city auditor David Blackmer said that there were positive changes in the maintenance of records associated with the board's investigations and it praised the city for placing two civilians on the 11-member board.

However, it criticized the length of time it took for the department to conduct investigations and also, problems with participating officers on the board feeling intimidated by their superiors if they did not vote in a way that they felt supported their agency. In one case reported, an officer who had criticized the actions of another officer had been "harshly attacked" by his supervisor.


The center also advised the bureau to allow the board to evaluate whether tactics used in a shooting were appropriate instead of just deciding whether an officer acted within policy. It suggests Portland model its policy after the Metropolitan Police Department's in the nation's capital, which gives its board four options: finding a shooting justified, within policy; justified, policy violated; justified, tactical improvement opportunity; or not justified, not within policy.

"Whether an incident is in policy is certainly an important question," the report says. "Of equal importance, however, is learning whether a death or serious injury could safely be avoided in similar circumstances in the future."

One would think.

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