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, June 27, 2008

From Acorns to Oaks: The CPRC and Outreach

I ran into several individuals in the past week who wanted to know what Riverside's Community Police Review Commission had been up to lately.

Its members have been fighting more lately which isn't nearly as interesting to watch as it sounds and outside the presence of the oft-absent chair and vice-chair, the majority of its members voted to pass regulations making it more difficult for members of the public to respond substantively and in any real meaningful way to discussion items on their agenda. That was a pretty strong sign of how the commission views public participation and one of the relatives of Douglas Steven Cloud (who was killed by police officers in 2006) was asked to comment on the related agenda item before it had even been outlined by the commission and responded she couldn't because she didn't know what was going to be discussed. At that point, despite the vote that had just been taken, Brandriff allowed her to reserve her comment until after the discussion which was the appropriate action to take but which also makes it clear that the previous vote was a bad one and it didn't take long at all for some rejection of it to take place.

That said, there will probably be another vote taken next time out to change the guidelines of public participation again. Especially since no discussion item is spared from comments by the public and after watching some commissioners on the dais, it's like deja vu going back to how city council members looked on the dais while being subjected to such horrendous circumstances like city residents pulling items from the consent calendar. Ironically, one of the current commissioners had spoken on behalf of a particular action to restrict public comment including the pulling of consent calendar items which was passed by the city council on July 12, 2005.

But back to the CPRC's meeting last week after the commissioners had voted to change the rules in the middle of the meeting.

Family members of a relative of Joseph Darnell Hill which is under investigation were told that they could speak during public comment on non-agendized items and also public comment under the appropriate agenda item, then they were skipped over by acting chair, John Brandriff who was eager to move on to the next agenda item. Then they were told the same thing, that they would have to comment at the beginning of the item before it was introduced by the commission instead of at the end. At the next meeting, the rules will be changed again. And so forth depending on which commissioner is exercising a power play against another one which shouldn't be a surprising dynamic considering the wealth of political appointments on the CPRC. It has little to nothing to do with the communities. If it did, these commissioners would just use nerf sticks to decide who's in charge and not make decisions at the expense of community members.

I've heard from activists in other cities in terms of the role played by their mechanisms of civilian oversight and they seem amazed at what has happened in Riverside during the past several years. Many of them are stunned to hear of the high composition on the commission of both White individuals (with seven out of nine commissioners being White) and individuals with law enforcement backgrounds or connections but then at least one finalist for the executive manager position had found that unusual.

I'm beginning to learn how unusual it must be to see these factors to the degree that they're seen in Riverside. But even as they struggle with issues pertaining to their own forms of civilian oversight, they are still moving in a forward direction even with fits and starts while Riverside's stands still in its tracks.

I was also working on a report on the CPRC which was broken down into different sections. One of those was public outreach, which is one of its responsibilities listed under the city's charter. Providing input on the commission if you're a community member is kind of like spitting in the wind,because community is a four-letter word to certain factions at City Hall but it provides a learning experience.

This will be part of an ongoing series on the CPRC.

The Community Police Review Commission and public outreach

Outreach is very important, but its definition is fairly narrow in the charter in terms of being solely to educate the public on the purpose of the commission. This is ironic in a sense because one of the “purposes” of the commission includes advising the Mayor and the City Council on all police/community relations. Outreach could be a valuable tool at assisting with the implementation of this other charter responsibility.

Outreach to the community and the police department has greatly declined particularly in communities like Arlanza, the Eastside and Casa Blanca in the past year or so. Part of the difficulty is determining who does outreach for the commission, because with different oversight mechanisms in different cities, it differs who is given the responsibility. Ideally, it would be good if both the executive manager and the commissioners themselves participated in outreach as defined by the charter. It helps community members trust a complaint process more if they can see the faces of those who play the different roles with that process. This is true for both the CPRC and the police department as well. Seriously after some of the comments I’ve heard from several commissioners this past year, I think they would greatly benefit from doing outreach in communities they don’t spend much time in like the Eastside and those that generate larger number of complaints.

The problem with executive managers and commissioners doing a lot of outreach is time constraints on both positions. Most commissioners work and already put in between 30-40 hours per month with meetings and reviewing cases so where do they find the time? I’m not sure what the solution is, whether it’s to better organize outreach within the time constraints, seek assistance from another commission like the HRC or the Commission on Disabilities (or the Model Deaf Task Force which arose in part from a police incident) for assistance in outreach or for ideas of areas of outreach, or to have support staff for outreach purposes (which isn’t likely during a fiscally difficult budget period). Whatever the city decides to do, something needs to be done to greatly increase outreach because the lack of it has already had a profoundly negative impact on the commission, the communities and probably the police department as well whether it's aware of that or not.

Having a strong and active Outreach Committee that can find opportunities for outreach is very important. For example, there are many city events where they could have booths but they rarely have done this except for several events and their presence at these events has declined further as part of the decline in overall outreach. There are outreach opportunities in neighborhood watch groups, organizations, youth groups and the school districts. For example, do students in schools where campus safety officers are assigned know that there’s a complaint process if they wish to file one against one of those officers?

There has been a history of some outreach to the police department through roll call question and answer sessions done by several commissioners which seemed to be successful as well as meet-and-greets that former Executive Manager Pedro Payne held with newly hired police officers. Those were suspended after his resignation. It’s important to do outreach with officers so that they can understand the purpose and procedures of Riverside's civilian review system and have questions answered by those who are actually working on that body.

I’ve gone to several outreach committee meetings and in past years, they were good at coordinating outreach opportunities with both the community and the police department though more so several years ago. The last one I attended consisted of some outreach discussions intermixed with some pretty harsh complaining about community leaders coming to the CPRC meetings to complain about how the CPRC was functioning. This wasn’t long after several community leaders came to address concerns they had about the handling of the Lee Deante Brown shooting case. After they had complained for several minutes about those community leaders' comments, one of the commissioners serving on the committee noticed that I was sitting in the room and said, “oh we don’t mean you, we’re talking about other people”.

While I realize that several commissioners might be frustrated with the community especially the “vocal critics” which no doubt includes people like me, I don’t believe the public outreach committee meetings are the best place to vent about city residents under the guise of having discussions about outreach. It's ironic that such complaining would even take place during meetings to discuss doing outreach to city residents but then the CPRC clearly hasn't thrived during the past several years.

The commissioners changed the outreach discussion process but they take place after the general meetings now, including some lengthy ones. Before this, there hadn’t been that many public outreach committee meetings in the past several years because of lack of quorum. One reason why, is because several of the recent resignations involved members of this committee who were very active in outreach efforts. However, the committee has been restaffed with four members including one alternate so hopefully it will become a more effective mechanism for coordinating outreach.

The outreach that’s done should be documented and included in public reports including the monthly reports (when the commission released them) so that the city government, police department and community can be informed of where outreach by the CPRC has been done. This might help address perceptions that outreach is being focused in one area to the detriment of the other and if there are deficiencies then it helps make them readily apparent to the commission.

The executive manager is assigned a role in outreach in his job description and also because it helps to build trust and better understanding of his role if he does some outreach. In the past, the city manager’s office has barred an executive manager from attending community meetings. That sent a message that it was okay to attend law enforcement appreciation dinners on behalf of the commission (and that’s definitely outreach to do so) but not attend community meetings. If there was truly an imbalance in outreach rather than addressing it this “correction” just alienated community members and presented an image of the commission as being favorable to police officers.

Part of the problem was difficulties in implementing better outreach opportunities with the police department. Rather than restricting community outreach, any directive and energies should have been focused on strengthening outreach with the police department rather than restricting community outreach and creating a situation that caused a lot of turmoil and proved to be an embarrassment to the city. If the city manager’s office doesn’t want to be viewed as “micromanaging” the commission by community members, it would be greatly assisted in promoting a more positive image of its role if it didn’t engage in these types of actions. Then you might not have city council members like Mike Gardner asking if instead the CPRC should report to the city council at public safety committee meetings.

A particular area of concern in outreach has been in the Eastside communities. If you read the 2006 annual report, you will see that zero complaints were filed from the Eastside during that year. This issue was addressed by community members at the CPRC outreach committee and general meetings, the HRC’s general meeting and community/police ad hoc committee meetings and the public safety committee meetings. At some point, the police department representative disagreed with the CPRC’s statistics but offered nothing on paper to refute them as of this date.

In the Eastside, there seems to be different reasons why no complaints were filed. It could be because there were no complaints to be filed. It’s difficult to believe that this is the case because I heard about at least a dozen complaints. Some of the problems include a lack of knowledge that there’s a complaint system let alone a civilian oversight mechanism such as the CPRC. This might be from the problems with outreach in recent years or because new people moving in the neighborhood or cultural or language barriers. If you have undocumented immigrants, then that might provide a barrier as well especially considering how in the Riverside County Board of Supervisor race that just took place several personnel from the department were speaking about "illegal aliens" and public safety. The unfortunate aspect of this is that it sends the message that if undocumented immigrants do experience crime whether as victims or witnesses, they should not go to the police.

Other reasons mentioned for not filing a complaint is fear of retaliation. Even if it’s just perceptional, it’s pretty strong in many community members in the Eastside and in other neighborhoods. There’s also some sentiment that the process isn’t effective or useful or that it will back the police because in part of the high number of people on it with police backgrounds. And after watching how the commissioners interact with community members compared to how they interact with police representatives including relatives of individuals whose cases they are investigating or reviewing, that's a valid point.

In part because of the ongoing permanent injunction against a Latino gang in the Eastside and surrounding areas, there should be greater education and outreach efforts made to increase the awareness of the CPRC. One of the fears of Eastside with the injunction is that there are no outside accountability mechanisms in place for actions done by the officers in enforcement of the injunction. A mechanism of filing complaints (while it shouldn’t be used for the sake of just filing complaints) that people can use with confidence and trust can be useful in monitoring whether or not there is any misconduct (i.e. multiple complaints against a particular officer) taking place that needs to be examined and/or investigated further and it can build trust in the police department if such a mechanism is not only made available to them but is included in discussions of the enforcement of the injunction by the police department. This would further show the department's commitment to accountability and transparency in its operations.

Accountability alongside with enforcement. The department if it’s truly ready to partner with the CPRC in outreach would have invited the CPRC commissioners to attend any forums held addressing its enforcement of the injunction. If the public can see that the department is comfortable enough to allow information to be provided on the CPRC at meetings for residents to utilize to file complaints, then it might help the public become more confident in the department’s actions in their neighborhoods.

Another explanation which has been provided is that there’s apparently already an informal process for handling complaints in the Eastside between one of the community organizations and the police department. Not much is known about this process outside the parties and perhaps the Eastside residents which utilize it whoever they are. While it’s important for community organizations and police agencies to partner to build better relationships in communities, the lack of information particularly about the process is a bit of a concern and perhaps the individuals and organizations using this informal process could provide that outreach to the general public. The department’s official complaint process serves multiple functions, only one of which is to handle and investigate complaints against police officers.

It also ties into other mechanisms of accountability such as the Early Warning System, Use of Force Reviews and evaluations. There’s other methods to receive information for these mechanisms with an informal process particularly if supervisors of the officers and the management of the department is involved, but it’s not clear to the community at large if this is in place and this is what is going on. That reassurance is needed for the city's residents by the department if it's utilizing a less formal system.

Commissioners have expressed discouragement and one resigned upon hearing of this informal system which they read as a lack of faith, support and trust in the CPRC since they believed that this informal mechanism was bypassing the CPRC. It’s difficult to blame them for that. If neighborhoods were utilizing these systems, better communication about them might have helped in this situation.

It’s not clear what the process is, what kind of complaints are handled and how they are handled. Does this pertain to minor allegations like discourtesy or include category 1 complaints like allegations of criminal conduct and/or excessive force? Is this an informal mediation process? Is this informal complaint process audited and are its statistics included along with those in the more formalized complaint process? And how does this informal process impact the CPRC? Are complainants informed of all their options with equal emphasis for each one? Is this process optional or is it replacing the more formalized complaint process used by the department which is represented in departmental policy #4.12?

I had experience this past autumn with a reported incident that took place involving a gentleman where the allegation was Category 1 Excessive Force, Level 5. There were initial issues including whether or not photographs were taken of his injuries as well as whether or not a supervisor was called out and confusion surrounding both issues. Issues that might be examined as part of an administrative investigation and/or a process of examining use of force incidents involving officers. Both the complainant and the department could greatly benefit from this examination of an incident.

The man didn’t file a complaint because his family feared retaliation. Another party inquired about it with the department and an investigation most likely internalized was initiated and assigned to a field sergeant which is good to know that in this case there might have been that system in place to address it. However, there’s some confusion and concern as to whether an inquiry about whether or not an incident is being investigated in a similar situation would be initiated or handled given that there are apparently different complaint systems in the Eastside. It would be a good thing to have an accounting of this informal process than have it be discovered based on rumor and hearsay. It might help with formulating outreach strategies regarding the CPRC in the Eastside neighborhood.

This might appear to be a separate issue and maybe so, but it does create some concerns that are related to the CPRC’s operations and how it serves residents in the Eastside, a community that actually played an instrumental role in the creation of a civilian review mechanism in Riverside. It also creates concerns about the direction of outreach in this neighborhood. Not to be critical of the informal process because it's difficult to know for sure what it does or does not do since information about it is not advertised.

The police department could be a very valuable tool for helping the CPRC to do outreach to various communities in Riverside. But they have to stop fearing it first. I think they’ve made strides at the management level but their unwillingness to answer questions fielded by a commissioner in the Brown investigation indicates that there’s still some defensiveness and reticence from that corner. The CPRC cited this lack of meaningful response to its inquiries in its public report issued on the Brown shooting. There have also been great opportunities for the police department to do this outreach at different meetings and it hasn’t done so. But then again, neither has the commission.

What’s interesting is that the perception that the commission is micromanaged by the city manager’s office is running about dead even with the perception in the police department that it is being micromanaged by the same office.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board states that development of March Air Force Field needs to continue onward with its May decision to expand civilian use.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Myopia is not a strategy for the region's future, however. March air field has been around since 1918, far longer than the homes under its flight path. And anyone who moves in next to an airport has little justification for objecting to airplane noise.

Nor is it realistic to expect economic advances to cease because of the region's traffic and air quality woes. Southern California needs to address those issues, certainly, but the region cannot fix them by committing fiscal suicide.

A functioning airport is a valuable commodity that the region cannot afford to waste. Building a new airport in Southern California is nearly impossible, so a large, existing air field offers enormous transportation and commercial advantages. The region should build on those strengths, not blindly discard them.

Riverside's most endangered buildings are the topic of an opinion piece in the Press Enterprise. Included on the list that local historians fear will go to the bulldozer is the downtown library.

Over picnic tables, Eastvale discusses cityhood while that den of political intrigue, Colton, is fighting over development issues mere weeks after its mayoral recall election and contemplating the public's response to its railroad crossing project.

Yet another Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy has been busted for rape under the color of authority. About a half dozen other sworn and correctional deputies are currently at some point in the Riverside County Superior Court criminal system facing similar charges.

A Memphis Police Department officer was fired for beating a transgendered woman. The incident was caught on surveillance video which is included in the linked article.

Another officer has already been fired in relation to the incident.

(excerpt, Memphis Commercial Appeal )

Murray Wells, one of Johnson's attorneys, said Wednesday that McRae's firing was inevitable and long overdue.

Accused of using a racial slur is a Monroe Police Department officer.

(excerpt, WSB-TV)

Chris Wilburn filed an open records request for the dashboard camera video after he was arrested on charges of driving alone with a license that required an adult in the car. He was also charged with disorderly conduct for telling the officer he thought the arrest was wrong and for saying,"Jesus, have mercy on all your kids. Have mercy, have mercy"

Once Wilburn got the tape, he said he was shocked when he heard Monroe police Officer Eric Harrison apparently say,"Bagged me a smart *** (n-word) a while ago running his mouth"

The comment has Harrison on paid administrative leave and in jeopardy of losing his job.

"I think he should lose his badge" said Wilburn.

Harrison was allegedly referring to Wilburn when he made the slur. "I hear him say the n-word. That really burned me up" said Wilburn.

"It's highly coincidental that within a week of this becoming public that the officer is terminated," said Wells.

But Police Director Larry Godwin said that the hearing had been scheduled a month ago, before the incident became public. McRae had been on desk duty since the incident.

Wells wants to negotiate a settlement with the city rather than file a lawsuit.

"If we file a lawsuit, then the only thing we can get is money," Wells said. "We want officers to have sensitivity training and for the city to create a hate-crime law."

The Atlanta Police Department officer who's been accused of obstructing a porn investigation involving another officer has been fired.

Good news for the residents of Columbia, Missouri who have been fighting for civilian review. A special panel researching the issue has recommended that a civilian review board be created.

(excerpt, Columbia Missourian)

Co-committee chair Rex Campbell said he anticipated the outcome, though the unanimous vote was unexpected.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I thought there might be one or two dissenters. I am pleased.”

Yet Thursday’s decision is just the beginning of the process to establish a review board. The oversight committee has designated models for a subcommittee to investigate. These models are based on examples of other police review boards nationwide, and the subcommittee will evaluate them to gauge which components should be implemented.

Co-chairman Jefferey Williams said the committee is still concerned about how to improve transparency, communication and trust.

“I’m encouraged with the unanimous vote and that everyone felt that there were reasons to take the next step,” Williams said. “We want to build a public trust and work to build a relationship between the police and the community.”

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