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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What would Lockyer think: The case of the missing officers

What would Bill Lockyer think is a thought that ran through my mind on Tuesday night after the report was given to the city council about the progress with the police department. According to the stat log, his office (which is the state's department of the treasurer) does visit this site occasionally including this morning. But I think that was a question that other people were wondering when watching the city council receive the news that the freezing of employment positions in the department would certainly impact its foreword movement and growth in a negative way.

In the aftermath of the most recent audit of the Riverside Police Department's implementation of the strategic plan, there are different versions of what exactly is the status of the case of the missing police officers provided by different individuals.

On Tuesday night, an audit of the department was given by consultant Joe Brann about the progress made by the agency in implementing the strategic plan which provides a list of goals and objectives in different subject areas that the department hopes to accomplish by the end of 2009. The creation and implementation of this plan was one of the mandated reforms included in the stipulated judgment that the city entered into with former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer in March 2001 for five years.

In many ways, significant improvement was noted particularly in areas where the department had stumbled in past audits. But when it came down to issues to address, the one that Brann had urged the city to examine immediately was the fairly large number of vacancies in both the civilian and sworn divisions of the police department and its impact on the agency's current and future development. The combined number of vacancies combined with positions left temporarily vacant by employees on various leaves, was a significant number that could create problems and provide serious obstacles to the department's continued improvement.

Civilian positions were frozen. So were "on call" detective positions including in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit. That means that if there's a rape or a child abuse incident at night, there's no paid detective from that division that will come out. If they do, they might not be paid.

The impact was also centered at the supervisory levels, particularly with field sergeants and lieutenant watch commanders and this is where it's probably most alarming. Maintaining the 7 to 1 ratio of officers to sergeants that had been mandated in the consent decree was and continues to be critical due to the patrol force being very young with an average of 2-3 years work experience. The city council apparently thought so only two years ago and voted 7-0 to ensure that along with the other things they promised to follow through on.

This isn't a department filled with seasoned veteran officers and it won't be for many years yet. About a quarter of the patrol force consists of probational officers which are those with less than 18 months work experience. Many of the rest of them have between two to three years experience in the field.

Because of this, closer supervision and more training for these officers is necessary as the future days of a more seasoned workforce being representative were still far head. That was stated in the report and it seems obvious on its face anyway that this would be the case because newer employees in any field need more supervision and care taken that they receive the appropriate training and evaluation of their response to it.

Closer supervision and stronger oversight by management were two necessary components listed. But those are two important factors which might not be there if the city and its elected government continues in its current direction. But two areas of supervision getting hit are the officer to sergeant ratios and the 24/7 lieutenant watch commanders. And for the latter, the percentage of shifts which were at least partially covered by a sergeant watch commander began to creep up towards 20% earlier this year. They've declined slightly since but that's before going into the summer months were it's likely that under the current circumstances, that figure will increase again.

Apparently, while the Group was hosting the Community Police Review Commission at the Coffee Depot in downtown Riverside, the issue of the staffing cuts in the police department was brought up by Riverside Police Officers' Association President Chris Lanzillo and Paul Sundeen, the city manager of finance responded. That was the first inkling that many people had of the issues in the police department in light of the budget and Lanzillo had picked a good forum to express those concerns. People left the meeting talking about the situation.

One of the issues that's been raised and one of the questions I've been asked repeatedly is how to reconcile the 5% increase in the police department's operational budget with the frozen personnel positions in both the civilian and sworn divisions in the department. The two don't necessarily have anything really to do with one another. And I told people that when they contacted me after the Group meeting. It's entirely possible and in this situation, reality that you can have budget increments and staffing cuts or freezes, especially since the incremental percentage itself is not that large.

Executive ManagerKevin Rogan told the Community Police Review Commission at its general meeting this week when the issue of the latest audit in the police department was brought up, that the explanation that had been given at that meeting was that the increases in the department's budget were based partly on contractual increases in relation to the memorandums of understanding with the unions based on the current labor contracts. This would include the final 3% increase in the salaries of the members of the RPOA that are implemented this summer, with contract negotiations possibly opening up again early next year.

And that reality that the budget increase was merely to maintain a status quo in one area, left the door open to the fact that even with an increase in the budget, it was possible to see a decrease in filled positions on the personnel side. Yet, the budget increase was being sold as a commitment by the city council and city manager's office to the police department while it moves through a critical phase of its evolution.

However, if you listened carefully to what Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis said on Tuesday night, there's apparently a bit of a contradiction taking place here. One of the unfortunate characteristics of dealing with the city manager's office is that you need a group of people to ask City Manager Brad Hudson the same question, then you can tally up his responses and the one that's heard by most people must be the right one. Perhaps, or perhaps not.

That was the case when different individuals asked Hudson his feelings during 2007 about whether or not the Community Police Review Commission should have its own independent counsel. Some community leaders who met with him in the winter of 2007, said that he was all for it (and then suggested Best, Best and Krieger) but when I asked him about it after a public safety committee in spring of the same year, Hudson said no, the CPRC didn't need an independent attorney because the Planning Commission didn't have one. And so it goes. Maybe that office doesn't believe that people get together and compare notes on what was said but people do.

But Hudson wasn't on the dais in his customary seat when the audit was presented. DeSantis was subbing in for his boss in the big chair and looked a bit off guard with the audit report, hence his response to inquiries about the budget picture in the police department including the status of the missing officers. He was under pressure for his response and didn't come out sounding very good even for a former public information officer with Riverside County. Maybe he was dealing with facts. Maybe he was responding off the top of his head but his words created a lot of problems and some serious disagreement with them from some corners.

DeSantis also referred to the budget increase which the department (along with the fire department which received a 3% increase) would enjoy while other city departments faced major cuts in their operational and personnel budgets. However, he didn't explain the budget increase by attributing it to the MOUs the city signed with the department's labor unions. DeSantis also mentioned that there was adequate funding to better the department's officer to supervisor ratio (from the standard of 7 to 1 to about 4.3 to 1) .

DeSantis also said told the city council this, which was that the city has a "fully-staffed and well-trained police department".

So this is what we have.

Positions frozen.

Fully staffed.

Postions frozen.

Fully staffed.

Positions frozen.

Fully staffed.

Positions frozen.

And omigosh, I just ran out of daisy petals.

But then again, it's challenging at times to know who at City Hall is telling the truth because council members bragged about how healthy Riverside's reserve was in comparison to those of other cities yet over 90% of the city's departments took even larger cuts than were initially anticipated (which were to be in the 5-10% range). In reality, quite a few city departments took cuts between 10-20% with the city council's office being one notable exception. That's not very healthy at all as it turns out even if it's comparatively less unhealthy than other cities even though some cities in the region do appear to be riding out the budget crisis better than this one. If you're going to put information about the healthy reserve on campaign literature during next year's election, few voters are going to buy it at this point. The current situation is something to keep in mind in case sitting elected officials including two who were noticeably absent on Tuesday night throw their hats in the ring again.

Some city leaders have taken these stats and reassurances cited by a representative of the city manager's office and have planned to take a wait-and-see attitude just like they did when Hudson and company fumbled with the city council's directive on how to implement the strategic plan in 2006. So congratulate the city government for locking into one of its most common and problematic patterns of shuffling their feet as they did back in the 1990s, so they do now. And that just proves that you can change the faces on the dais periodically through the election process but that cultural dynamic remains the same from one decade to the next.

The problem with that politically safer position once again is that it might work if there's no problems yet and it might help these folks maintain their positions, but if there are indeed problems already because of this situation, then the "wait and see attitude" will worsen them as it usually has. It's too bad that there aren't leaders who are willing to say, okay you gave us these stats and your assurances. Where did they come from? What do they translate to in reality for now? For next month? In three months? It's too bad that not a single leader at City Hall has responded to the audit which was presented on Tuesday night with answers to any of these questions let alone a plan to address this problem. It's too bad that no one on the dais can take the initiative to have further discussion on this issue in a public forum. It's too bad that staffing problems at the police department just isn't as damn glamorous, ego stroking and well, as sexy as Riverside Renaissance and its assorted development projects including condo and loft housing projects that might fill up with people by 2012 or so after the housing market rebounds.

You can't tackle staffing issues in the police department and get a huge sign marquee sign erected on some city street or in front of some hole in the ground with your name in bold letters. You can't solve it and then host a ribbon cutting ceremony. You can't solve it and get a reception in your honor for doing so.

So what would a city government with at least one real leader within it do to prove that this isn't the 1990s all over again? They would take the initiative to look into the situation and bring all of Locker's stake holders or co-producers in public safety into the dialogue to figure out how to address the problem. They could prove the system isn't as broken now as it was back then.

Several of the current elected officials ran for office because of those past failures or so they said and they pointed fingers at past city councils as the primary reason why the police department needed fixing. And that's fair enough for them to do so, but the minute they were sworn into office that's when the fingers should have been turned away from pointing at past elected officials and turned inward towards themselves. Because this is their watch now and if there are problems going on, they are the ones whose are responsible on the dais for addressing them.

Yes, they might have inherited the police department but they knew or should have known that going in.

One venue where that could take place is the city council's public safety committee chaired by Councilman Andrew Melendrez and membered by Nancy Hart and Mike Gardner. The police chief's office and the personnel and training division could bring its statistics. Hudson and DeSantis and Sundeen could pool their statistics and bring them. The three labor unions who represent employees in the department could bring their research.

Another venue where all city council members could be involved is a city council workshop, which was done in March 2006 to grapple with the implementation of the department's strategic plan after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment.

These are just two of the options which have been used in the past to address similar issues impacting the police department. One or both of them might serve a useful function now. But it's hard to know what options are being considered if any for further discussion if what comes from the dais in the face of bad news, is silence.

If a developer of a housing project was set to walk away, you'd hear more noise from both the city council and its direct employee, the city manager. But not here, you just get silence.

What would Lockyer think about such silence?

That question is easy to answer. Just listen to the various speeches he gave to the city government and city residents in 2001 before the stipulated judgment where he outlined the history of non-committed response by the city government to problems faced by the police department.

At an appearance in San Diego several years ago, he said the following according to Indymedia:

Lockyer found that the Riverside City Council balked at signing on to the deal. They did some things of their own which they'd done three times before, and each time there had been slight improvements and then things had got worse again, he recalled. Finally I went to one of the Council meetings and said, "The choice is, you adopt the reforms or I will sue you and we'll see what the federal courts have to say.

They said, "Our constituents don't like outsiders coming in," and I said,
"I've got news for you. All your constituents are my constituents as well." They voted 7-2 for the reforms, and two years later the Riverside police chief, a new one they'd brought in from outside said, "Had it not been for Lockyer's intervention, nothing would have changed."

But what has happened instead of any discussion is silence, a "let's wait and see" and one again, the city council as it proved in 2006 is unable to press its own direct employee for a response. Just as the city council waffled through the summer and most of the autumn of 2006 while Hudson dragged his feet on following the directive issued by that body on implementation of the strategic plan.

Apparently, the police department's budget is a flexible one, which allows appropriations to supplement it, but there was no comments from City Hall of what path would be followed. This is reminiscent of the 1990s when positions were cut due to budget woes and never returned. I'm sure back then promises were made to restore cuts but by the time the city was sued by the state over its police department in 2001, the staffing in the department was viewed as being too inadequate to do just about anything. The judgment with its recognition of collective bargaining rights included provided leverage for bringing in staffing, training and equipment to the department in ways that even the consent decree's harshest critics should recognize. But as soon as it was gone, there was already concerns that the city would reverse all that during lean budget years.

What is past may be prologue after all.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein imagines a conversation between Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco and Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach about who enforces the injunction they jointly filed against Eastside Riva.


Item de News: In the five months since RivCo DA Rod Pacheco obtained his anti-gang injunction, not one of the 114 alleged East Side Riva members has been arrested. How is this injunction being enforced?

Pacheco: Ask Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach.

Leach: Ask Rod Pacheco.

Which makes it kind of hard for ordinary folks who pay the DA's and chief's salaries and bankroll their vast fiefdoms to know what these crack lawmen are doing about gangs.

Could it be that Pacheco and Leach, who stood side-by-photo-op-side when this injunction was unveiled, never thought about what they'd do if a judge actually approved it?

Fortunately, someone slipped me a taped conversation. It really clears things up -- even though Rod 'n' Russ sound an awful lot like Abbott 'n' Costello discussing that question for the ages: "Who's On First?"

Moreno Valley's city manager is reorganizing the city's services that it provides to the public, while the county's newest city, Menifee, appoints a city attorney.

The strike team of judges who were dispatched by the chief justice of the state supreme court to fix the mess of the Riverside County Superior Court system have left the building.

But all the parties in the judicial system fear that the state's budget crisis will undo most of the progress made by the visiting judges.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The judges cleared 125 of the long-pending cases during their 10-month tour of duty and also volunteered to hear other matters, bringing to 205 the trials they heard. They also sat on preliminary hearings, 289 of them by June 20.

The county has one of the highest case-to-judge ratios in California as well as one of the worst backlogs of pending criminal trials.

Many of the cases handled by strike force judges had been pending for several years. At least one had waited seven years to be tried, and several others for five.

Associate Justice Richard Huffman was appointed by California Chief Justice Ronald George to help local officials reach agreement on long-term changes for court procedures.

Some of the strike force's judges are retired, but others are still active, meaning their home counties lost their services while they were in Riverside County. A few will remain behind to finish up cases that go beyond today.

"A number of them sacrificed a lot of their family life. It's a tough living," Huffman said. "But we did not receive a single complaint."

The judges "felt they were able to contribute something to the statewide system. There was an outpouring of camaraderie," he said.

Will "Green Path North" lead to eminent domain against 3,500 homes?

California State Sen. Gloria Romero's sunshine bill died in committee.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Three Democrats on the seven-member Public Safety Committee refused to cast a vote. Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) voted for the measure, and Assemblymen Greg Aghazarian (R-Stockton), Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) and Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) opposed it.

The bill's author, state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), lashed out against the members who abstained. They were Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), the committee's chairman, and Assemblymen Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) and Anthony Portantino (D-La CaƱada Flintridge).

"I was really taken aback by the [bill's] death by silence," Romero said. "The fear, you could feel it -- the fear of what will happen if you look out for the public's interests when they may differ from the interests of the law enforcement lobby."

Tim Sands, president of the Police Protective League, which represents 9,300 LAPD rank-and-file officers, said he was pleased that "this bad piece of legislation was stopped." He reiterated the union's stance that the department's discipline system allows sufficient civilian oversight. The league launched a radio campaign that was highly critical of the proposed law, and Sands, in a recent interview, accused Romero of throwing a "legislative temper tantrum."

Villaraigosa, who encouraged Romero to sponsor the bill and made calls to Solorio and several other members, echoed the senator's frustration.

"It's an outrage," he said. "This was the status quo for 20 years, and the people of Los Angeles want this type of transparency."

The police need more oversight. This message is being sent out by Latino groups in response to a report done on the police department's complaint systems in Monmouth County.

(excerpt, Asbury Park Press)

The report's cover lists the authors as the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, Monmouth Chapter, the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey, and the New Jersey chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association. However, late Monday afternoon, the Peace Officers group released a statement saying the report was neither generated nor sanctioned by that organization.

During a news conference at the Monmouth County Courthouse, Frank Argote-Freyre, the director of the Alliance's Monmouth County chapter, said the report was not an effort to give police a black eye, but to make internal affairs procedures more transparent.

"We need a pair of outside eyes," he said. "The system, to us, appears to be too closed."

The Portland Police Bureau finally released the name of civilians who volunteer to serve on use of force and other review boards within the department.

(excerpt, The Oregonian)

The Performance Review Board examines the results of internal affairs investigations, decides if policies were violated, and makes recommendations to the chief concerning potential disciplined.

At a recent Citizen Review Committee meeting, committee members questioned who the citizen volunteers are, and when their names would be made public.

"I've got to be honest with you, I thought we had done that," Assistant Chief Brian Martinek said, at the meeting. Martinek pledged to get the names out.

The investigation of a complaint by Portland's Citizen Review Committee might have been impacted by the failure of an officer from another investigation being able to be interviewed.

(excerpt, Portland Mercury)

Officers from Milwaukie, Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Washington County work in Portland on MAX with Portland's TriMet cops under intergovernmental agreements. But because of the way those agreements are written, those officers are subject to a lower standard of oversight than regular Portland cops. If a fellow Portland cop had witnessed the fight, for example, they would have been compelled to testify to Portland Police Bureau's internal affairs detectives.

"My concern is that if these officers are working in my jurisdiction, they should be responsible for the same rules as Portland cops," says CRC member Hank Miggins.

Galvanston, Texas needs civilian review now.

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