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

Friday, February 02, 2007

From acorns to oaks

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow"

The news about civilian review's future in Riverside hasn't been good lately but fortunately better news is coming from different places as a testament to the spread of civilian oversight mechanisms over law enforcement agencies across the country.

Springfield, Massachusetts may be getting a civilian review board, according to this article published by The Republican.

The city will be spending $24,000 on a study to be performed by Northeastern University's Institute of Race and Justice and will present its recommendation in March.

The city's residents especially those who are Black or Latino are hopeful that civilian review has finally come to their city. The police officers, well they are at least open to the idea unlike their counterparts in other places. Hopefully, that's a sign that things are changing at least at the national level.


"A report like this isn't going to make racism go away," Farrell said. "It isn't going to make the perceptions of racism go away."

What the report and the appointment of a review board can do, she said, is provide instructions on what the necessary first steps can be.

Farrell and McDevitt met yesterday with police, residents and the press in blocks of time at City Hall to discuss the civilian review board. The meetings continue today between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Room 200.

McDevitt said the four or five police officers he has met have been open to a civilian review board. And while residents have discussed police problems with him and Farrell, he said, their coming forward is positive.

"They're not so alienated. They're hopeful," McDevitt said.

It doesn't seem as if residents could be less hopeful and police officers more alienated about civilian oversight than in the city of Riverside right now. Some of those emotions at least from the community were vented at and especially after a community forum held on Jan. 29 addressing the issue of civilian review and especially its role in investigating officer-involved deaths. These emotions and conversations had spilled over into the forum and at a recent meeting of Riverside's Community Police Review Commission in recent weeks since the abrupt resignation of its executive director, Pedro Payne. Even Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis' powerpoint presentation which he has given at least twice including before the CPRC created some confusion and dismay. Perhaps it would have been better to have stuck to discussing Commissioner Jim Ward's proposed(but nixed) agenda item which addressed the flurry of activity at City Hall which surrounded the CPRC during this past holiday season. You can't put the cart before the horse.

But new interim executive manager Mario Lara backed by DeSantis and City Attorney Gregory Priamos rejected Ward's agenda item, instead going with the powerpoint position that most people there weren't in any mood to see. If you see Lara, most likely he'll be standing or sitting closely with his boss, DeSantis as he did at the public forum. And the reality is that most of the city council doesn't support the CPRC and the most recent actions against it have been firmly laid at their doors by some community leaders, who have said that they had saved their worst attacks against the commission for the time period after its placement in the city's charter by the city's voters. In fact, it's been said that the reason why the majority of the current city council members have turned on their colleague Art Gage is because they hold him responsible for the issue being taken to voters in the autumn of 2004 because earlier that year, he had tried to reduce its funding by 95% during the city's annual budget reconcilation hearings.

That is likely false or at the very least, misplaced blame.

If any council members are responsible for placing the measure on the ballot to protect the CPRC from political tactics, it was both councilmen Ed Adkison and Frank Schiavone who did a good deed when they pushed a motion to place all of the charter committee's recommendations on the ballot to allow the voters to decide which ones should pass and which ones should fail. The two men and those who voted to support the motion put their own interests aside and did the right thing. Gage, in fact tried to stop this action by first arguing against it and then voting against it so he's in fact not responsible for the CPRC being in the charter. In fact, even though Adkison and Schiavone hold greater responsibility than Gage for placing the CPRC in the charter, even their role was very limited in that process.

For those who haven't figured it out, the people who are responsible for the CPRC being in the city's charter are the majority of the city's voters who passed a measure allowing them to do so. If anyone is to be blamed, it is them or us. The RPOA and its advertising representative do share some of that credit due to that divisive advertising campaign its then-leadership ran, and Press Enterprise columnist Dan Bernstein made that clear in several columns he wrote on the subject.

And if these actions could be laid at the door of the GASS quartet and its backers, the RPOA then there would be more of a response from the three city council members who do support the CPRC and in fact, ran on campaigns pledging that support. Two of these council members Dom Betro and Nancy Hart formally endorsed placing the CPRC in the city's charter. Both of these council members have been silent on the issue lately leaving Councilman Andrew Melendrez as the sole elected official willing to keep this issue in the spotlight. He may be a bit behind the learning curve on what the CPRC is and its functions, but he's made the effort that is lacking in the others.

Perhaps Betro is silent because he is up for reelection for city council and if there's anything to be garnered from the recent Inland Empire magazine article on Riverside politics, he may be using his reelection as a stepping stone to run for mayor. Perhaps Betro believes that if he makes noise on the issue at this point in time, there will be a response from the RPOA in the form of a political candidate that will run against him for his seat. After all, Betro narrowly defeated the RPOA's candidate Paul Fick during the runoff elections in 2004.

An even bigger problem for Betro is his temper which was put on display the other night at the city council meeting, according to several individuals who attended. It's not difficult to believe as a person who was on the receiving end of that temper for supporting the RPOA's right to a fair and just process during its contract negotiations last year.

It was at a community meeting the first week in October where Betro had made statements saying that the city's implementation of the Strategic Plan was back on track, that the city was "finalizing" a contract with consultant Joe Brann hopefully in time for Brann to offer feedback on a progress report on the police department that was given in early October. I had doubts that this information was true and in fact, it wasn't true at all at the time because the city had not been conducting itself in a good faith way since March on any of the promises it had made. Because of that, I didn't believe it was appropriate for Betro to make these kinds of statements to community members who were sincerely interested in the city and department to honor its promises to continue both instituted reforms and the implementation of the Strategic Plan, a process that had stalled last summer. For saying that and asking for an offer of proof in good faith, I was subjected to him venting his wrath before the community members attending that meeting and also a conversation that I had with him afterwards.

The problem is that former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer had envisioned a process where all three parties would be partners during a time period when both the city government and by extention police department were moving towards becoming models which would be less accessible to the public and would have fewer opportunities for public participation. And as was shown at Tuesday night's city council meeting, this situation may be coming to a head with some community leaders calling it a "crisis". If so, then like all crises, it first began with a problem or problems that went unaddressed over a period of time. That is usually how it is.

The only way to ascertain what is going on in this situation is to keep a close eye on who decides to file for election by the deadline in March and who or what is financing whose campaign, through accessing the campaign financial disclosure statements that all candidates have to file regularly. The only way to ascertain who sitting at the dais is concerned about the ongoing reform process is to ask them questions regularly, to listen to their answers and then see whether or not these spoken words translate to actions and if so, what those actions are and whether or not the community will be privy to them, let alone allowed to participate as an equal partner to that process.

And the elected officials, if there are indeed any as some people suspect, who are trying to weaken the CPRC should instead punish the city's voters if they are upset about the inclusion of the CPRC in the city's charter and need someone to blame for it. Then again, that's esentially what they've been doing.

What is past is prologue.

Meanwhile, in Boston there is a push among local civil rights organizations to add more power to its civilian review board, according to the Boston-Bay State Banner. A coalition of organizations will be taking its recommendations for stronger oversight to the city in a letter it wrote in January.

Boston wants a more powerful review board


"We continue to believe that for truly meaningful oversight, Boston needs a separate and independent board with the authority to accept both complaints and appeals of IAD decisions," the letter states. "In order to do so, an independent board would need the authority, funds and staffing to conduct its own investigations, subpoena witnesses(including police officers) and recommend discipline."

The lack of any independent investigative abilities, subpoena power and jurisdiction to make disciplinary decisions has led the civil rights coalition to question how much authority the mayor's board will actually have, a question emphasized repeatedly in their recommendations.

Like in Boston and other places, Riverside has grappled with the issue of civilian review, though here it's more of a battle to keep the city and the police department from weakening civilian oversight whether it was LEPAC in the 1980s and 1990s or the CPRC since its inception in 2000.

In Spokane, Washington, the city's holding those public forums to discuss bringing civilian oversight to that city, according to the Spokesman Review.

Spokane public reforms on review board

Police chief Anne Kirkpatrick discussed the issue with city residents and said that after being hired by the city, she soon realized that civilian oversight and accountability issues involving Spokane's police department were important due largely to several recent high-profile incidents.


"I am in perfect agreement and supportive of citizen oversight in some form," the chief said.

But re-emphasizing what she said last summer when she was a candidate for the job, Kirkpatrick repeated that the police chief still must retain the exclusive power to fire or discipline an officer for misconduct, and the department must be ableto investigate complaints.

Kirkpatrick said that since becoming chief, she has fired one officer for misconduct, suspended three others and written letters of reprimand against two more.

One panelist at a forum had stronger words to say on the issue.


Journalist Tim Connor, also a member of the panel, said the Spokane Police Department historically has "stonewalled citizens' complaints" and is "part of a culture of cover-up and denial rooted in Spokane's City Hall."

Connor said Zehm's death last year, before Kirkpatrick' s arrival, demonstrated a "perfect collapse of the Police Department's credibility. "

What Connor is saying is what a lot of people have said and are still saying and that is that they have doubts about whether or not law enforcement agencies have the capability to investigate misconduct allegations or officer-involved shootings involving their own employeees. If these doubts didn't exist on a large scale across the country, then civilian review boards and commissions would have never came into being, let alone be spreading across the country. Like acorns grow into mighty oaks, so does the idea of civilian review spark a movement to bring it to reality from sea to shining sea.

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