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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Election 2009: Who's staffing the police department?

If you've wanted to check out Siberia, this is the time to go. It's in the path of a total solar eclipse that will be the first of its kind in two years. Remember if you do go, do not directly look at the solar eclipse so you don't injury your retinas.

The words spoken by Riverside City Attorney Gregory Priamos to the Community Police Review Commission continue to be the topic of discussion with people that I encountered since the July 23 CPRC meeting. As has been stated in this article, the CPRC was told by Priamos that if it initiated an investigation into the July 11 death of Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, then it could face criminal charges for allegedly violating the city charter's section 810 (d). Priamos' position on this incident contrasted sharply with his relative silence on the CPRC's initiation of its investigation into the incustody death of Terry Rabb in 2005. As a direct employee of the city council, perhaps his marching orders have changed since 2005. The direction of the CPRC as operated by the city manager's office clearly has.

Several commissioners disagreed strongly with Priamos' interpretation, including John Brandriff and Chani Beeman. Brandriff brought up the issue of whether the CPRC should consider retaining its own legal counsel to provide it with advice. Priamos countered by saying that if the CPRC hired its own attorney, it would be in violation of the city charter which carried with it the implication that this could carry criminal penalties as well. Only four years ago, Priamos refused to participate in a workshop sponsored by the CPRC to discuss issues with him because he felt it would violate confidentiality. However, that hasn't stopped him from personally attending or sending a subordinate employee to attend CPRC meetings on a regular basis beginning in 2006 to provide legal counsel. So what changed? His marching orders, because otherwise his regular appearance at CPRC meetings now would be in contradiction to his earlier response that he could not discuss anything with them in a public meeting.

The city attorney like the city manager and city clerk is a direct employee of the city council. He or she is hired by them and he or she can be fired by them as well as former City Manager George Carvalho found out several years ago. All the direct employees including the city attorney undergo periodic evaluations by the city council both on their performance during a frame of time and to decide whether or not they should remain employed as "at will" employees.

In an environment where even asking questions about the actions of officers is akin to indicting them for misconduct in some circles (including some where people complain about slow response time to their calls for service), that's not an easy task to address issues which arise that are of concern. The problem with that attitude is that it was very prevalent during the 1990s and as history would state now, that's when the city was led down the path to its consent decree with the state not to mention other outside investigations of the department conducted by the county grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department.

Some of the unfortunate trends including leadership styles by the city government which existed then are reemerging now and many people saw that take place in a city council meeting in June, when the city council was being presented with a quarterly audit of the department's performance in implementing the Strategic Plan by its hired consultant on police practices. Some people shake their heads at all this and ask themselves what is Riverside doing except traveling down the road towards another consent decree? Hasn't this city learned from its mistakes?

A couple of people this past week asked me about the nine minute response time to the Pablo incident. If it were a burglary in process, why so long? What happened between 2:17 p.m. when the 911 call was made and 2:26 p.m. when officers reported arriving at the scene? Where were they?

That question might be more complicated to answer than some might think and is dependent on different factors, the least of which is that they're at the donut shop which is a response I hear from time to time when people complain about response times especially in some areas of the city.

It's not known publicly who actually made the 911 call. Was it an occupant in the house where Pablo was hitting the back door? Was it a neighbor who was watching him pounding on a door of house nearby? If that's the case, did the neighbor believe the house was occupied or not? How exactly was the call dispatched to officers? These are questions which weren't answered by the department's press release nor were they answered by the brief Press Enterprise article which was largely based on that release. Whether or not the department's current staffing issues played a role in that response time isn't clear but the discussions brought to mind quickly events which had played out regarding these critical issues and potential problems in recent months. What's been playing out at city council and City Hall the past few months especially should be considered when examining this situation.

The reality is too that the incident happened in Canyon Crest which is in the eastern neighborhood policing center, which is quite a large area covering Canyoncrest, Sycamore Canyon, Canyon Springs, Mission Grove, Orangecrest as well as the Eastside and University neighborhood areas. Its main transit arteries are Alessandro Blvd, Chicago and Central, all streets which are popular routes not just for traveling within the city but between Riverside and other cities as well.

The department also has three main patrol shifts, A, B and C watches. If you've read the criminal case book for the Douglas Steven Cloud officer-involved shooting case, you will notice the inclusion of two patrol logs from both B and C watches the day the shooting happened. If you read those logs, you will notice that for the entire ENPC (as is the case with the other three as well) that there is usually a half dozen squad vehicles or less and the majority of those squad vehicles will be one-officer cars. There may be some two-officer vehicles and most of these will be field training officer teams. So you might have seven patrol officers covering the entire ENPC during portions of each watch. And some of these officers were working voluntary over time to fill in for those who were absent for various reasons, information that is also recorded on patrol log sheets.

Portions of shifts is mentioned here because during parts of the day and night, patrol shifts overlap and there are more patrol officers and vehicles out in the field during what's usually the busiest period of the day. But at 2:17 p.m. on July 11, there was only the B shift or the day shift, because the officers on the C shift or swing-shift (which in the Cloud case was listed as 3 p.m.- 1 a.m.) would not have even congregated at roll call yet.

There's been no further information as to why officers took nine minutes to respond to the burglary call but it's more likely than not that the factors which have plagued the department in the area of its patrol staffing played a significant role. One of the long-time complaints from residents who live in areas of the city like Orangecrest, Mission Grove and Sycamore Canyon has been response times which only several years ago averaged 10-11 minutes on some shifts. It's not clear whether actions such as widening the often gridlocked Alessandro Blvd which is the main thoroughfare to these areas from other neighborhoods in the ENPC which are towards the north. Having watched squad cars literally burn rubber navigating at high speeds around the traffic on Alessandro, it's not looking promising in terms of whether it will be easier or harder to navigate through Riverside's streets especially when considering future population (and vehicle) growth including through annexations.

The person who would be in the best position to address this issue is City Manager Brad Hudson or his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis. After all at the same audit, DeSantis assured the city council after it had received some daunting news from consultant Joe Brann on the staffing issue that the department was fully staffed and trained. He even cited an officer to supervisor in the range of about 4.3 to 1 which was much different than the figures cited by Brann, which were closer to about 6 to 1. Brann had warned the city council in pretty clear terms that problems were brewing that needed immediate attention. DeSantis who was filling in the big chair for his boss was caught off guard and had fired back his own statistics which were different.

When faced with these rather disparate figures, I submitted a public records request to ask for backup material for both of these assertions. I received very little in the way of substance from my request to the city manager's office except a letter from the city attorney's office giving me the city's Web site address and telling me to look up the most recent budget.

As for the figures cited for the department, I received a copy of Brann's power point presentation which didn't even include any information about the officer to supervisor ratio at all. Though that was somewhat more illuminating than the letter I received from Priamos' office on my request for the annual budget for the CPRC. His letter stated to check out the city's Web site and look the information up in the 2008-09 budget report. The only problem is that the information on the CPRC (out of full-time personnel staffing information) isn't actually there. Whereas the city manager's office used to provide separate budget breakdowns for all its divisions, now it only produces one for the entire department. Which means that if you want to know what the CPRC's annual operating budget is, you won't find it here and apparently, the city manager can't answer its own records request and the city attorney's office doesn't know where the accurate information is recorded.

Everybody in this city has a right to that information and everybody in this city should be given the correct copy of the document which truly serves as its source. This is an agency which the city residents pay for and thus the information that pertains to its capabilities to do its job should be made available to the public. But the only conclusion which can be drawn to receiving documents that don't include the information you requested is that these individuals either don't want people to know what's going on or even worse, they have no clue what's going on.

For example, the department clearly documents how many shifts include lieutenant watch commanders and which ones do not. Every patrol log for every shift includes information on the officer to supervisor ratio. This information is used to calculate the mean averages for both officer to supervisor ratios and the percentage of shifts which utilize lieutenant vs sergeant watch commanders. This work is performed and these reports are disseminated through the department's audit and compliance panel.

I know, because when I made a similar request during the period of the stipulated judgment imposed by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office, I received copies of these documents with this statistical information. They were very helpful in tracking the trends of the department's implementation of these two very important reforms in the stipulated judgment. The department's transparency on its implementation of these two reforms was a very positive thing and a sign of being committed to accountability to the city's residents. But contrast what was then with what is now and the fact appears to be that the department's not nearly as open with this still-very-important statistical information during a time when it needs to be. And if the department is citing officer to supervisor ratios, where are these figures coming from? Why is there so much discrepancy in the accounts of officer to supervisor ratios? Are they increasing or decreasing at this point in time? Does anyone know for sure?

What's interesting is that the department also said there were no documents responsive to the number of frozen civilian positions and sworn positions from officer to lieutenant. This, in the midst of an announced city-wide hiring and promotional freeze due to the budget crisis. Wouldn't any city department track the positions that aren't to be filled when vacated?

But here's some words from the document that the department did release.

"These are some of the critical factors that contributed to the problems the organization experienced prior to the advent of the stipulated judgment. Those factors must be addressed and can only be prevented and corrected through ongoing attention to the reforms previously implemented and the objectives addressed in the Strategic Plan."

Which is all rather unfortunate because the city's proven that it doesn't appear to have really learned anything from the mistakes of its predecessors in the 1990s if it's letting the staffing ratios slide as some have said. But that's okay if only in the sense that there will provide plenty of opportunity to hammer out and debate these issues during next year's city council election and each candidate for elected office will have a chance to share their views on them during the long campaign process.

Speaking of the Cloud case book, it's currently offline while it's being redacted by the Community Police Review Commission office to remove autopsy photographs and personal contact information for civilian witnesses. There will be explanations for the redacted portions when it's back online.

One Riverside resident believes that when it comes to the Fox Plaza project, the downtown can have it all.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

I believe we can have it all, a real historic district, a vital, thriving downtown, a growing fine arts community and a Fox Plaza that is satisfactory to nearly everyone involved.

The solution is in redesigning the Fox Plaza in terraces, with each of the first three stories getting smaller, while adding a seventh or eighth story in a tower design toward the corner of Market and Sixth streets.

Ideally, the resultant mixed-use facility would feature two prime dining areas.

The first one would use all or most of the fa├žade of the Stalder Building across from the Fox Theatre, in a "Roaring '20s" motif.

The other, with indoor and outdoor dining, would look over the roof of the Loring Building toward the Mission Inn, and could be a destination-type of restaurant, such as BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse or Outback Steakhouse.

This would maintain the crucial sightline between the Mission Inn and the Fox Theatre, preserve the key element of the Stalder Building, and provide additional areas of interest for people coming to the Festival of Lights, Dickens Festival and other downtown events.

How are people identified as gang members to be served under an injunction? That question yields different answers from people when asked about the impact of the gang injunctions filed in Riverside and Cathedral City by the Riverside County District Attorney's office.

Capt. Edward Harvey of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department will head the Cabazon Station. There's been quite a bit of infrastructure reorganization at the department now headed by Sheriff Stan Sniff and this is the latest move.

Is Ontario International Airport passenger friendly?

Running for elected office in the small city of Cudahy, which is near Los Angeles, can earn you threats, vandalism and molotov cocktails thrown your way.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The incident marked the sixth time since the 2007 election that he had been the target of vandalism, Garcia said. His truck has been hit with paint four times in the last 20 months, according to police reports. Two weeks ago, someone threw a brick through his living room window.

Although he has no way to prove it, Garcia said he is convinced the incidents are related to his council candidacy. He is a 34-year Cudahy resident who was never a victim of vandalism until he ran for the council, Garcia said.

"I feel, obviously, I'm under serious attack," said Garcia, 39, who is an inspector with the Long Beach Engineering Department. "Somebody wants to not have me be part of the next election.

"I've lived in this city for 34 years," Garcia said. "But since I ran for City Council, all of a sudden I'm under mysterious attack."

A Los Angeles County arson investigator confirmed that the fire bombing had occurred but declined to comment further.

Their campaign Web site is here. It adds that if you have any information of the crimes against the two candidates, you're to contact Maywood Police Department, which is the agency from which Cudahy contracts its police services.

Maywood and its department at the moment is under federal, state and local investigation for corruption and serious misconduct involving at least a third of its sworn division. Many of these officers who were hired by Maywood were fired, failed to pass probation or were even arrest and/or prosecuted for crimes on and off duty. Not surprisingly, many of these officers quickly got into trouble in their new positions. Amazingly enough, the first two replacement chiefs appointed by the city council to lead the department had criminal records. They were Richard Lyons and Al Hutchings. Hutchings had actually been fired from Maywood Police Department for sexual misconduct caught on a surveillance camera.

Hutchings was ousted from his position after the State Attorney General's office through Louis Verdugo threatened to sue Maywood for violations of state laws which require background checks for police chiefs. Hutchings was replaced by another police chief who apparently is doing much better than his predecessors.

Like others, I took the city's much publicized MetroFi free service out for a test drive. Most of the trial times the signal was fairly strong and the network connected but you have to keep trying a few times for the free service. There's also another MetroFi service that you have to pay either by the day or the week to use.

However, a problem emerged with logging in to AT&T's free service. Setting up an account wasn't a problem but logging back into it produced multiple invalid information error messages that the account doesn't exist. And after three failed attempts to log in (using the proper login information), the free account gets locked, whether it's temporarily or permanently it doesn't state. It does refer you to a "help" desk link but if you click there, it simply states that this service isn't available. So you're kind of left locked out of this free service.

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