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


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Friday, January 12, 2007

Not making the grade: Public records access in the Inland Empire

(part of an occasional series)

I received a good laugh today after reading an article printed in the Press Enterprise. It appears that there was a state-wide audit of law enforcement agencies in terms of whether or not they provided public records and criminal statistical information to the public and many of those agencies didn't make the grade which isn't exactly news. Let's just say it was less of a surprise than the snow showers that appeared this morning.

How Inland law enforcement agencies fared

It seems that the majority of law enforcement agencies in the Inland Empire didn't do so well. Most of them received failing grades, and the Riverside Police Department received a D+.

These grades should be disturbing because one way to tell the overall health of a police department is by how accessible information regarding its operations is for the public and how transparent its processes are. The fact that so many Inland Empire law enforcement agencies received such low grades is very disappointing, although not all that surprising.


Emily Francke, executive director of Californians Aware, said the findings highlight the hurdles that everyday citizens encounter when trying to obtain information from law-enforcement agencies.

Francke said the results reflect a "combination of culture and environment" and a lack of training on the California Public Records Act. The law was enacted by the state Legislature in 1968 to ensure public access to vital information about how state and local governments conduct business.

Francke may be right about the lack of training that is given on the CPRA act in law enforcement agencies especially at the level involving the employees who actually intake the requests on behalf of their law enforcement agencies but often there's an attitude involved as well about not wanting the public to know what it is that the law enforcement agency is doing. That comes from much higher up.

The Riverside Police Department either did not respond to the audit or if it did, it wasn't included in the news article. Hopefully, it will issue a formal response to the audit soon and explain its rather poor performance in this area as stated, because a D+ is just not an acceptable grade for a post-stipulated judgement, nationally reknowned law enforcement agency. I'm fairly sure that whoever trademarked the "best of the best" slogan had envisioned a grade that was somewhat higher than a D+.

A D+ does not put a student on the honor roll. It's the kind of grade that can get you grounded for a while.


HOW local law enforcement fared
Coordinated by Californians Aware, news organizations audited 216 police agencies to test their openness to public scrutiny. Here's how Inland agencies scored:

Redlands Police B

San Bernardino Police B

Murrieta Police B-

Beaumont Police B-

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Dept. C+

Riverside Police D+

Cathedral City Police F+

California Highway Patrol F

Colton Police F

Palm Springs Police F

Banning Police F-

Corona Police F-

Desert Hot Springs Police F-

Fontana Police F-

Hemet Police F-

Indio Police F-

Rialto Police F-

Riverside County
Sheriff's Department F-

Having spent a year watching in amazement and some bemusement as a former commander stonewalled my request for statistical information about the Riverside Police Department's Internal Affairs Division regarding its citizen complaints and internal investigations, each time saying that yes it was public information but the department just hadn't decided how to put it in document format, this news doesn't surprise me at all. He moved onto a better job at another law enforcement agency without having provided the information.

This information had been freely released by the department in the form of quarterly reports from 1999-2001, until the department suspended that operation claiming first that it wanted to rethink the number of times it released the report each year and then claiming later on that there was not much interest by the public in this information. I had originally been told by the department's management that it wasn't that it didn't want to release this statistical information which was clearly public and released by other agencies in the state, it was that City Attorney Gregory Priamos wouldn't allow it to do so, painting him as the villain in this piece.

Having listened to residents in several neighborhoods recently complain that their efforts to receive current crime statistics for their own neighborhood were thwarted by statements made by Riverside Police Department officers that this information was confidential. The department did not explain why this information was suddenly private, according to these individuals.

Hopefully, this audit will help rectify these situations and others, although that's not likely in the current environment in Riverside where the most public oversight of the police department has itself come under attack.

The audit was conducted by Californians Aware and its head, Richard P. McKee had an opinion piece published in the Press Enterprise.

Pugnacious Police


So how did the more than 200 police agencies perform? For the most, miserably.
Despite the fact that the law bars agencies from placing any conditions on providing access, the majority demanded to know the identity of our auditors or told them to go elsewhere to get the information.

Some agencies demanded to see and copied the auditor's driver's license. One even wanted a Social Security number, supposedly to see whether the auditor should be arrested on any outstanding warrants. Many said the crime and arrest information -- required by law to be available to the public -- was confidential; a few said it would not be released without a subpoena.

In Los Angeles, a land where elephants now fly, Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are now leading the charge to institute reforms in terms of opening up the process for information to be made public involving the department's disciplinary board. You can read about it at the Los Angeles Times here.

(Warning: Make sure you have swallowed anything in your mouth before reading the following comments.)


A day after community activists and city officials expressed outrage because the LAPD held a secret board of rights hearing to clear the officer who fatally shot 13-year-old Devin Brown, Bratton likened the closure of the process to a "star chamber."

"I am in support of change. I am very frustrated by [the current process]," Bratton said early Thursday. "The public has no access to it. The media has no access to it. That's crazy, absolutely crazy. We have nothing to hide in the Los Angeles Police Department."

Hours later, Villaraigosa issued a concurring statement ."The mayor would enthusiastically support legislation or other measures to open the board of rights process to the public," the statement said. "Transparency … would benefit both the public and the officers facing disciplinary action."

Although it's somewhat difficult to buy Bratton's new pledge towards opening up disciplinary hearings, he does raise a critical point and that is this:

"We have nothing to hide in the Los Angeles Police Department."

It remains to be seen if this statement Bratton made about his law enforcement agency is true, but you can take it and apply it to any other law enforcement agency including those in the Inland Empire which received less than passing grades during the audit. When departments deny information to the public that is clearly public, they send the message out in neon that they do have something they want to hide from the public, the same public whose money spent in their cities and counties pay for the operations of these agencies and the salaries of everyone working in these agencies, whether that is the truth or not.

Not surprisingly, the LAPD's police union had a few problems with Bratton's change of heart.


Indeed, the head of the Los Angeles Police Protective League defended the closed board of rights hearings."Although these are confidential meetings that are closed to reporters, the public is absolutely represented, both by civilian board of rights members, and by the inspector general," union President Bob Baker said.

"We respectfully disagree with the chief that dragging these cases through the media will be helpful to the officers involved."

Actually the public is "absolutely" represented by one civilian representative on a panel with two other officers, which means that person's voice means little and who can be easily disregarded by the majority of that panel which represents only the LAPD. The public interest used to be represented by the individuals who were at these meetings witnessing them during the time period when they were an open and transparent process.

It's noteworthy that the lone civilian on the board of rights panel had this to say:


Ann Reiss Lane, a former police commissioner who was the lone civilian on the Garcia board of rights panel, said Thursday that she also supported reopening disciplinary proceedings.

"There was nothing that took place in this hearing that should not have been absolutely public," Lane said.

The clock is ticking in terms of how much time it will take for Lane to be accused of being "biased" against the police department. That's a familiar theme in Riverside lately regarding its Community Police Review Commission.

This battle will move up to Sacramento courtesy of State Senator Gloria Romero, who will be reprenting a lot of "Davids" against the "Goliaths" no doubt. This is one of those battles that the longer it lasts, the more it will be decided in favor of a more transparent process when the dust settles.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older