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, June 30, 2008

Going into the holiday

****Breaking News: A lieutenant's position in the Riverside Police Department was filled today****

Eddie Dee Smith, 99, one of the true icons of both Riverside and Rubidoux has passed on. I received a phone call today from a good friend about her death at Riverside Community Hospital. She's been a fixture in community grass-roots activism almost forever.

She will be greatly missed by many but her legacy lives on. Rest in Peace, Eddie.

Welcome to the visitors from Open Records a blog about the sunshine laws which promote accountability and transparency of government and its agencies. The blogger liked the quote from Lewis Carroll which is located at the top of the page under the header. It speaks to the importance of keeping a written record of events as they transpire particularly at the local level. That is most certainly true.

Today is July 1, the first day of the new fiscal budget year for this city, Riverside. There's been a lot of discussion and a lot of concern about the status of the budget for all the city departments and the hiring and promotion freeze mandated by the city manager's office to offset the budget deficit at both the local and state levels (with the trickle down from the state being less this upcoming year).

At first the recommendation from the city manager's office was to provide budgets anticipating budget cuts between 5 to 10% but as you can see from the link to the city's budget that there was great differences between the budget pictures among the city's departments when all was said and done. But the financial aspect of the city's budget is only part of the picture, the other huge factor stemming from the city's budget problems are the personnel hiring and promotion freezes that are city-wide.

So what's the job picture in the city? Not bad if you're into public utilities but not great for anyone else. In the police department, the only positions that appear to still be open really aren't. They're merely the announcement to employees already working in that agency about whether or not they want to be included on a promotional list (i.e. for police captain). For positions that even if vacancies open up, they might just be frozen anyway.

In the midst of this is the Riverside Police Department, which was the beneficiary of the highest budget increase of any city department at 5% (from the 2007-08 starting budget). It was one of only two city departments with the other being the fire department to see a budget increase, in a year where every other city department took cuts. Yet, last Tuesday the department received an audit that warned that if the current staffing vacancies remained unfilled that there might be problems down the road with its forward movement. Of particular concern were whether or not sergeant and lieutenant positions in the field operations divisions were being frozen after being vacated through retirements. Meaning that if they were frozen, they wouldn't be filled after these retirements took place. And when they're frozen, it's not always clear where the money that would have been spent filling and paying a salary on those positions will be going. Will it be remaining in the department or will it be in the city's coffer to be spent or stashed some place else?

One time, you'll hear that they're frozen. Then it's no they're not. Then it's well, maybe they are or this one is and maybe they're not except for this one. And then you scratch your head and wonder where all the leadership is. That question is one that's been asked before.

So why does this matter?

The stipulated judgment included two requirements that the department was to adhere to between 2001-2006 which involved maintaining a 7 to 1 ratio of field officers to supervisors and lieutenant watch commanders on all shifts. In March 2006, the city council voted to among other things stick to implementing these two requirements as recommended by then monitor, Joe Brann in his final report before the dissolution of the stipulated judgment. One of the reasons being that the Riverside Police Department had a very young work force, with the average officer being between 23-24 years of age and having about 2 1/2 years experience in the field. This reality has been in place for several years and is a byproduct of the massive employment turnover that took place in the sworn division after the shooting of Tyisha Miller by four police officers in 1999 and the imposition of the stipulated judgment in 2001. The majority of police officers hired since have been new ones, graduates from local police academies.

In 2008, the patrol officers are still young, relatively inexperienced and about 23% of them are probational officers. Because of this, it's been recommended that they be closely supervised and consequently that the officer to sergeant ratios adhere closely to the 7 to 1 standard that had been set by the judgment and one that's actually used by other law enforcement agencies. That's difficult to argue against and funding these supervisors should have been a major priority. For whatever reason either because of the city or the department or both, it was not. Hopefully, that attitude will change before the next audit but it's difficult to be really impressed with what played out last week.

So does this young police department have adequate supervision by its sergeants and lieutenants? That's one question that probably most needs a definitive answer, but it's also the question that it seems no one can answer. Rather, instead there are different answers provided by different people whether they planned to provide them or they were hit on the spot with an unexpected question.

Some people Like Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis have said yes and then some, arguing that the staffing ratios are better than ever. Some people said of course not and that the staffing ratios are near the point where they'll surpass the 7 to 1 ratio especially with summer vacations coming up. Somewhere in there, lies the truth. It's beyond annoying when the city puts the city residents which put tax money into its coffers creates this situation over and over again because the bosses of the city council, who are the constituents deserve to know the truth.

So here's some breakdown of some statistics pertaining to the police department's operational budget for this fiscal year which began today, July 1.

The police department’s budget

(source: the city's 2008-09 annual budget approved on June 12.)


Personnel Services: $77,491,725 (from $75,548,968 in 2007)

Non-Personnel Services: $6,857,985 (from $8,375,473)

Special Projects: $328,842 (from $523,765)

Equipment: $14,181 ( from $7,372,764)

Budget requirements: $93,957,937 (from $102,708,744. as amended with the original budget at $88,622,361)

If you notice, the only part of the police budget that increased was personnel service costs, which include salaries and related costs paid to the civilian and sworn employees in the department during the fiscal year. Every other category is down, from last year's initially passed budget.

The equipment budget took the sharpest decrease perhaps in part because monies were spent last year to purchase several dozen marked police cars. In addition, the department was purchasing a new helicopter.

Last year, the department had a supplemental appropriation made to its budget which was about 20% of its initially approved budget. The police department's incremental budget increase from that initially approved budget was 5%. Depending on how much money it was spending in the last six months, minus any one-time uses, it's not clear how much of this is really an increase or if in fact, it's a budget cut especially when the salary increases (including 3% to members of the Riverside Police Officers' Association) from any existing MOUs are factored into it.

That's one question that needed to be asked and answered.

Breakdown by divisions:

Office of the Chief:

Lieutenants: 2

Sergeants: 7 (five in Internal Affairs and two on the Audit and Compliance Panel)

Personnel and Training

Lieutenants: 2

Sergeants: 3

Field Operations (Patrol)

Officers: 194 (from 201 in 2007)

Sergeants: 29 (from 30) *one sergeant transferred to Special Operations Division

Lieutenants: 11

Special Operations (including K-9, SWAT and PACT)

Officers: 43 ( from 38)

Sergeants: 7 (from 6)

Lieutenants: 4

* The upcoming retirement of Traffic Division lieutenant and consolidation of Community Services/Youth Court and K-9/PACT may or may not have been factored into this. *

Central Investigations (formerly GIB)

Detectives: 24 ( with four/Neighborhood Center)

Sergeants: 4

Lieutenant: 1

Special Investigations (including gang, narcotics and vice units)

Detectives: 23

Sergeants: 4

Lieutenant: 1

In the field division, a sergeant was transferred out of that division into special operations according to this budget. The budget also doesn’t factor into at least one sergeant retirement taking place at this time and at least another retirement which make take place this autumn. If you subtract those positions from the field operations division, the overall officer to sergeant ratio goes from 6.7 officers per sergeant to 7.2 to 1. So as you see, the current ratio sits near the cusp of the 7 to 1 ratio mandated by former Attorney General Bill Lockyer during the stipulated judgment. To accommodate the ratio which remains in place upon a vote of the city council during a workshop that took place in March 2006, the sergeants have to put in overtime to erase the deficit. Another issue arises because overtime was one of the areas where the department was to trim its budget.

In order to staff adequately for the 4.3 to 1 ratio provided by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis at the city council meeting on June 24, the division would require 16 sergeants more than it currently has assigned to field operations to avoid relying on supplementing the shifts with sergeants working overtime. That's also assuming that none of them are off duty on any type of leave or workers' compensation situation and there were high figures cited department-wide for those types of vacancies as well. Hopefully, the city manager's office will elaborate further on the figures it provided at the city council meeting in a public venue. But the city's leadership both in government and in other venues seem content to take a wait and see attitude with this situation and we all know how successful that strategy was in the 1990s. We all had the opportunity to witness how well that worked out.

It's not about handing out money to the police department. It's not about handing it over to the city manager's office (although consolidation of the finance department under its wing gave it the keys), it's about accountability with both the city's budget cuts and the city's frozen personnel positions particularly inside an agency which was once under a court-ordered mandate to hold itself to established staffing ratios. It's about financial and staffing accountability within the department by the department and by the city. It's about providing answers to questions and addressing concerns about why it is that the staffing ratios may be in jeopardy in the future. The information provided has been different and there's been no discussion in public at least among the elected leadership and their direct employees about that. And it's not likely that there's going to be until the situation becomes much more serious.

That's how Riverside often works as history has shown.

But this person stated that a closer look needed to be taken of this whole situation and I definitely agree. But will that happen? Will city leaders continue to be passive when it comes to even questioning the information presented to them by their own employees and will city leaders including those who are "prominent people" continue to stick their fingers in the air to see if it's politically appropriate to say or think anything?

While doing this, they should ask themselves, did this really work for the city during the last century? And is what I want for myself really all that important in the scheme of things? The last question must be asked in a city where watching people move about with their political agendas is like watching bumper cars at an amusement park. Which leaves us in the position of where the police department will be during its next audit? Will it be better off? Will it be worse off? Will past indeed be what's prologue in this century as well. Will all these leaders be quiet then?

These issues need to be discussed, deliberated and then resolved. Because there are other more serious issues in the police department which need the attention and time to be addressed. Instead of that happening, the department is once again marching in place.

To be continued...

San Bernardino's city government has created and passed its fiscal budget but not without laying employees off.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The council vote means that 13 full-time City Hall employees and 38 part-time employees will lose their jobs and that 76 positions will be frozen, Wilson said. That amounts to a 7 percent cut in the city workforce, he said.

Assistant City Manager Lori Sassoon said the layoffs will take effect "within weeks."

The council rejected Wilson's recommendation to eliminate staffing for one of the city's 12 fire engine companies through attrition and his proposal to leave four code enforcement positions vacant.

They also turned down -- for now -- a reorganization of the Police Department that would have eliminated six police positions through attrition. Police Chief Mike Billdt says the new organization would make the department more flexible in responding to shifting crime trends, would increase the number of neighborhood beats and would save the city $653,000 annually.

But council members balked Monday at any reduction in the number of uniformed officers. They agreed Monday to take up Billdt's proposals next week.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein takes on architecture and the downtown buildings. He seems to state, bring out the demolition ball.


Maybe, allowed Lech, the library "... needs to go. But to say it needs to go just because it isn't the Carnegie Library or because it reflects the time in which it was built is just shortsighted."

He's right. It should go because it's ugly.

As the name implies "New Formalism" appears to have been an untested spinoff of formalism. Whether it was the era or the execution, the Main Library proved to be a stupefying clinker.

That said, the question isn't whether, in the finest tradition of Riverside "redevelopment," this box should be demolished. The question is: Does it make financial sense to do so? Some estimates, though unofficial, put the cost of replacing this eyesore at $15 million.

Demolitionists might be able to doctor satellite photos enough to convince the Bush administration that the library is really a North Korea-style nuclear reactor that could be easily blown up in exchange for certain aid considerations, valued at around $15 million.

Another columnist, Cassie MacDuff takes on the whole Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District mess.

Congratulations to Wildomer, this is the first day it's officially a city.

Scandal has rocked the San Bernardino County Assessor's office with one employee there being indicted by a grand jury and the grand jury then turning around and harshly scolding that office.

In Los Angeles, there is big trouble for that police department after a judge dismissed a case against a man after it came to light that police officers had planted drugs on him. How did this happen? It was all caught on surveillance tape.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

During the trial, which began Friday, the officers told jurors that they had chased Alarcon, 29, into his Hollywood apartment building last year and seen him throw away a black object. They testified that one of the officers picked up the object a few feet from where Alarcon was standing and discovered powder and crack cocaine inside.

But footage from the grainy video, which Alarcon's attorney said came from an apartment building surveillance camera, shows that it took the two officers more than 20 minutes to find the drugs. They were also aided by other officers in their search.

The quality of the tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, is poor and it is difficult to clearly hear what is being said. But at one point, an officer seems to make a reference to the arrest report that needed to be filled out.

"Be creative in your writing," the officer appears to tell another after the discovery.

"Oh yeah, don't worry, sin duda [no doubt]," comes the reply.

Creative? Oh, you mean lying on police reports and/or on the witness stand. Is this an isolated event in the LAPD? Probably not, because it hasn't been in some of the officers that agency has run off to other unsuspecting law enforcement agencies in Southern California.

Buyer beware, is the motto which should be considered when hiring police officers particularly lateral officers. And don't skimp on the background check no matter whose kid it is that you're hiring. Because you might not pay in heart ache and through civil litigation today for any potentially bad hiring decision, but then hiring bad laterals is payment on the installment plan.

This should go without saying of course but then you just never know, do you?

In New York City, a lawyer working on a special panel to oversee the New York City Police Department said she was fired for asking too many questions about the tasing of a teenager.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Willa Bernstein, one of the commission's investigating lawyers, said she thought her job was to critique the NYPD's Internal Affairs cases.

"The real job description should have been: 'Just go along. Don't rock the boat,'" she said.

Bernstein said she was fired from her $75,000-a-year spot in October after the chief of NYPD Internal Affairs complained to her boss that she had an "anti-police" bias.

Bernstein said there was a target on her back after she questioned why police officers Tasered a violent teenage suspect after he was shackled and handcuffed in a police stationhouse.

In a September meeting about the incident, Bernstein compared the case to the notorious Abner Louima police brutality case in 1997.

"I said this case needed to be aggressively investigated because no one wanted another Abner Louima case," Bernstein said. "IAB and people in the room were horrified by the comparison."

Which means that none of those horrified people got it. That the Louimas don't happen in a vaccuum. They use these other incidents as stepping stones to get to that place first.

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