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, August 22, 2008

Community Policing, coming to a forum near you?

The good news is that a representative from the Riverside Police Department will finally explain why the Community Services division which handles the department's community policing programs has apparently been disbanded or diluted of the personnel which staffed it.

The bad news is that apparently you'll have to wait until a meeting being held in the Eastside on Sept. 4 to get the scoop about it. That meeting will be conducted by Ward Two Councilman Andrew Melendrez who's been asking questions about these latest staffing cuts and it will be held at the Caesar Chavez Community Center at Bobby Bonds Park. A police representative is expected to attend and provide a presentation.

What the police department should be doing to promote what it's calling the expansion of its community policing (which is so far not communicated publicly but through other individuals in a trickle down approach) is to make a presentation at the city council meeting or failing that, at least to its public safety committee chaired by Melendrez. This presentation should be done by Police Chief Russ Leach, who in the past has addressed community organizations, city residents and governmental bodies on major changes in the police department.

Then Leach and the police department should attend meetings at least in the four major neighborhood policing centers in the city along with the commanders in those precincts and members of the former Community Policing Unit/Division of Community Services and do a presentation on the proposed changes to the division, the proposed expansion of the community policing philosophy and how it ties in with further implementation of the department's Strategic Plan and what the future holds. The department representatives should also allow plenty of opportunities for questions and public input on the process, remembering of course that the city's residents are what former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer called "co-partners in public safety".

Other options included working with the Human Relations Commission to create study circles or other similar forums to address the future of community policing. Revitalizing the currently defunct Cops 'n Clergy which could be very beneficial in the expansion of community policing. Unfortunately, one opportunity for more city residents to learn more about community policing was the citizens' academy and that program has been suspended until further notice due to budget cuts in the police department's allotment of over-time payments.

These are some of the measures the department could take to communicate its plans for expanding community policing but is this what these latest changes are really all about?

The police department is very good at promoting itself when it comes to measures that it's taking to improve its practices and there's nothing wrong with that as doing so gets the information out to the public in an effective manner. Yet when it makes a major move like this one, it's just silence and that provides an interesting contrast in how it handles different challenges and issues that it has faced. The silence apparently was broken after Melendrez probed the issue further with the city manager's office. It's still not clear when or if the department itself was every planning to notify the public of these changes.

It had plenty of opportunities to do so if these changes were planned out ahead of time as any major changes to the infrastructure of policing strategy would be. But what's happened instead is that the department freezes positions in both the civilian and sworn divisions, then it's warned in a quarterly audit to address its staffing challenges. Then not long after that, the officers from the Community Services division are apparently assigned back to patrol presumably to address staffing shortages in what Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis called the "fully staffed" department. Then more silence, until after the fact (meaning after staffing changes have been made) which adds support to the contention that it's the staffing issues that were raised in the earlier audit that are being addressed not the issue of community policing.

Not to mention that the last time the department issued its assignments at the upper level of the department, it still had the community services division included under the Special Operations dvisions to be presided over by Lt. Ken Raya. If that's the case, then that assignment for Community Services only lasted at most two months. It would seem that any actual expansion of community policing that would involve staffing changes (which this one clearly has) then it would be reflected in the department's organizational structure which was released this summer which is not to be confused with this outdated one. It seems that the department would have provided this information in a public forum to inform the city residents about what the future holds in community policing.

It's better for city residents to be told of these things rather than finding out through trying to enroll in the citizens' academy only to be told it's closed or being told that a helpful officer from Community Policing Services who offered assistance in program is not there anymore but is back in patrol. That's not an effective means of communicating information about important changes in the police department which impact city residents.

This is most certainly a developing situation and it will be interesting to see what else unfolds.

It's old news to these two men but both Marine sergeants, Jermaine Nelson and Ryan Weemer have been found in contempt of court again for refusing to testify in the ongoing trial of former Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. But this time, they're not going to jail as U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson did not take that action.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Weemer and Nelson on Friday were dressed in their military uniforms. Outside the courtroom, each embraced Nazario, who wore civilian clothes, and when they entered the courtroom they called one another "brother."

Before Larson decided whether to jail the two Marines, Joseph Low, who represents Nelson, asked the judge to consider "the unique sacrifices Sgt. Nelson has made for all of us -- that we all live under the blanket of freedom he provides with the blood that flows through his veins."

Weemer's attorney, Chris Johnson, asked Larson to "look at the Purple Heart on this decorated Marine's chest."

Weemer and Nelson initially said they would not testify because the immunity from prosecution that they received did not extend to the military courtroom. The letter of immunity came from a top lawyer at Camp Pendleton but not the top general.

But when Larson asked about it, they said they would not testify even if they had a signed letter of immunity from the general.

"Well, this has been a charade then, hasn't it?" Larson said.

Earlier, Larson had told the Marines that "nothing that is said in this courtroom can be used down at Camp Pendleton."

Needless to say, the federal prosecutor wasn't very happy about the behavior of his witnesses.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke asked the judge to immediately sentence the Marines to six months in jail in an effort to force them to testify.

He said Nelson previously told investigators that he shot one detainee in the head with an M-16, and Weemer had said he shot one in the chest with his pistol.

"There was no self-defense. There was no hostile act or hostile intent. This was an execution," Behnke said.

Larson said he does not think more jail time would affect the sergeants.

"Given what these men have been through, there's probably not a lot these guys do fear," he said.

Larson had earlier jailed both men when they had refused to testify in a federal grand jury proceeding involving Nazario. More members of Nazario's Marine division will be up on the witness stand next week. It remains to be seen whether they will take a vow of silence as well and how this trial will proceed. Nelson and Weemer have been charged with murder in military court and are facing court-martial proceedings while Nazario's case is the first to be tried under a Congressional law in federal court.

The three men are facing charges based on an alleged incident that took place in Fallujah in 2004 when Nazario directed both of the other men to execute two Iraqi detainees while he killed the other two, allegedly after being ordered to do so by a lieutenant through the radio. The Navy Criminal Investigation unit began investigating after Weemer talked about the incident during a polygraph exam given while undergoing the application process for a job with the Secret Service.

Then Nelson was apparently instructed by an agent on the investigative team to get Nazario to implicate himself over a taped phone call. Nazario did discuss an incident in Fallujah and also allegedly made comments about regularly beating the shit out of criminals and then coming up with a reason to take him to jail while working at the police department during 2007.

The police department didn't comment much on that when asked about it by the Wall Street Journal except to say that state law essentially prohibited it from commenting.

The long odyssey to open a bed and breakfast hotel in Riverside.

Another odyssey is taking place and that's to locate the operating budget for the Community Police Review Commission for this fiscal budget year. Attempts to obtain that information through the city manager's office failed, because it was the city attorney's office responded to the request and stated to look at the 2008-09 preliminary budget online for that information. Well, apparently even though City Attorney Gregory Priamos is now in charge of responding to all requests for public information from the city, he hasn't read a copy of the annual budget and realized that the city manager's office no longer produces a line item budget for the various divisions in its office including the CPRC. That's bad news for anyone requesting information about the CPRC's budget in writing because everything that's requested does now have to be stamped by his office and Priamos clearly didn't know where the information about the CPRC's operational budget is stashed at City Hall.

The CPRC was unable to provide that information without checking out the process to do so first which it did and then it responded by saying that Administrative Analyst Mario Lara is still working on making the budget for the CPRC available for the public but that it should be available online by mid-September. The reason being that the city manager's office didn't line item its divisions in its own budget. Well, no it didn't and now two months later, it's getting around to doing so?

So is there a budget planned or is the city manager's office still either working on the original preliminary budget for the CPRC or simply tinkering with what it had originally laid out? Lara deserves a golden star for actually noticing that his office did neglect to produce line item budgets for divisions underneath its umbrella. Hopefully, someone informed Priamos about that.

Former Riverside Police Department officer and current CPRC critic and commissioner applicant, Granville "Bud" Kelley wrote this letter asking again for the CPRC budget to be cut. I suspect that this action has already been taken both in response to the budget crisis and also evidenced by the city manager's sudden reluctance to put the budget online or in a location where the public can actually access it under state law. Maybe that office didn't want individuals to know how much it had been cut.

What's fascinating about this situation is that Kelley's applied several times to serve on the same commission he wants either gone or to have its budget cut. It's good to see him back in print on this issue even if it's as "Granville" rather than "Bud" but "Bud" wrote a rather interesting letter several weeks ago on another topic so he was unable to do another one. Fortunately, "Granville" did write a very interesting letter in "Bud's" stead.

And no, apparently the legal opinion provided by the City Attorney's office wasn't good enough. The City Attorney's office is representing not only the CPRC (and certainly not the CPRC first) but also the city, the city council, the city manager's office, the police department (in various legal actions filed against it) and the city's risk management division (whether the city enjoys civil liability insurance or is what's called being "self-insured"). That's a lot of hats to wear on one's head or better yet, a lot of spinning plates to keep balanced in the air on those narrow sticks. Occasionally, those plates collide. The ACLU attorney recognized the commission as a separate agency apart from the city and he wasn't the only one.

Officer Ryan Wilson's own attorney in his legal action apparently did so as well, because he sued the CPRC separately in Ryan Wilson v the State of California. That action elicited some response by Riverside in the courts.

It's very interesting that two disparate legal resources could both share a common view about the CPRC being a separate administrative agency.

This situation is also ongoing and there will likely be further developments including a response by Priamos to the ACLU's legal opinion presented at the Aug. 13 CPRC meeting.

Blast from the Past

Remember the bargain basement deal at Riverside City Hall? The Riverside County Grand Jury was going to probe this business arrangement which involved employees from the city manager's office and the city's finance division among others but it was never heard about again.

Riverside County wants change how people view the homeless and it's spending $200,000 on a new advertising campaign.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

A common stereotype of homeless people is that they are mostly male vagrants, alcoholics and drug addicts, but about half of the county's homeless are women and children, said Ronald A. Stewart, a manager of homelessness programs in the county's Department of Public Social Services.

"We are trying to reposition what homelessness is in the mind of the average resident of this county," Stewart said. "We are trying to dispel myths . . . and portray what homelessness really is in Riverside County."

Billboards went up last week at roadsides and bus shelters in Riverside, Corona, Perris, Moreno Valley, Temecula, Palm Springs and other communities, according to county documents.

The campaign forms part of the county's 10-year plan to end homelessness, endorsed by the Board of Supervisors in fall 2007. Publicity funding comes from the county's general fund, Stewart said.

Nan Roman is president of the National Alliance to End Homeless, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., that has been tracking 10-year plans to end homelessness in communities around the country.

Hemet's trying to get its recreation back on track while there's fighting in Rialto between the union and the school district there.

The San Bernardino Police Department is still investigating its officers who stormed a memorial vigil after a shooting. The investigation of the incident began about a year ago.

This of course means that Governmental Code 3304 (d) may rear its head and even if there's misconduct found on the part of officers involved in the melee, the department may not able to discipline them because the statutory period of a year has expired. There's exceptions to the rule but the department's not sure or hasn't said whether or not they apply. Actually, given the fact that 20 officers were involved in the incident, the exception applying to investigations involving multiple officers probably would allow for extra time.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"We just want to know what conclusion they come to, because we haven't heard any justification as to why they did what they did," Dorjils apartment complex resident Linda Heart said.

"If they have a legitimate reason why, then that's an explanation. But if they don't have that legitimate reason, there needs to be some consequences and some new procedures in place," she said.

On Aug. 20, 2007, some 20 Dorjils residents attended a City Council meeting to describe what they called an unprovoked attack by police officers.

Witnesses said about 20 officers attacked Dorjils residents who had gathered for a candlelight vigil after the shooting death of a neighbor. The officers struck people without provocation, used pepper spray indiscriminately and verbally abused neighborhood children, witnesses said. Police Chief Mike Billdt said at the meeting that authorities were investigating.

On Friday, Assistant Police Chief Walt Goggin said the review is not finished.

A lot going on in DeKalb County, Georgia since the arrest of former sheriff deputy, Derrick Yancey in the connection of the shooting deaths of his wife, Linda and Cax Puluc, a Guatemalan day laborer.

The county's prosecutor tried to get Judge Anne Workman or any other county judge to step down for conflict of interest but the judge refused to step down.

Yancey who resigned from the Sheriff's Department made his first court appearance.

Drew Peterson who was once a Bolingbrook Police Department sergeant came out swinging again in the midst of being the main suspect under investigation in the homicide of one of his former wives and the disappearance of his current wife.

Peterson's attorney is now claiming that the police investigators knew his wife planned to split town.

In Riverside, there's going to be a meeting of the National Association for Equal Justice in America at Bobby Bonds Park in the Caesar Chavez Center in the Eastside. It will be Saturday, Aug. 30 between 3-5 p.m. Topics to be addressed include school violence, police misconduct, hate crimes and other civil rights issues.

Also keep in mind, the annual review process of the city's ethics code and complaint process is coming up for review by the Governmental Affairs Committee. If only for entertainment value, THIS IS NOT TO BE MISSED!

The tentative date for this scintillating discussion will be Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room at City Hall. If approved, this report will go back to the city council several weeks later for a full review.

Of course, it's well known that the ethics code and complaint process has been so watered down that it's practically meaningless and the lesson learned from its failure so far and the last round of municipal elections in 2007 is that the tool of accountability for ethics in this city are the city elections. After all, how many incumbents were voted back in last time out? How many made it back in by only a handful of votes?

Next year, is yet another election year and despite the mechanisms of the Governmental Affairs Committee, it will remain on the same schedule. There's a lot of issues in this city that will be up for discussion during the next election cycle. Get your list of issues together in the next several months so you'll be prepared. It wouldn't hurt to put together your wish list as well because if this next year's election is anything like Election 2007, it will be a good time to get things done that normally won't get much attention.

But do check out the upcoming banter on the city's ethical code and complaint experiment.

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