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, August 07, 2008

Has the city manager addressed staffing ratios in the police department?

I received several notices from concerned individuals about news that
'my blog has apparently been sabotaged
in some fashion. If you can read it, it's still here. I'm not sure what the problem was because I haven't heard of any problems but I have notified Google about it to be on the safe side. I'm also always aware however that there are people out there who dislike and resent this blog including at City Hall. After all, I did receive a harassing email in a Yahoo account taken out in my name that traced back to the city's ISP. I received a lot of useful tips on this email and the one that was written about a week later from a Riverside-based ISP as an "apology" from individuals including some critics who were concerned about what happened.

I also have had my picture (which appeared to be taken by a cell phone camera), full name and harassing comments about me finally getting "what's coming to me" on Craigslist. Not to mention a year or so of cyberstalking done by unknown individuals. And who could forget the email sent calling me a "bitter cunt"? It's not always lovely to blog.

And so it goes, when you're blogging in Riverside but then there's been a lot of people who are supportive of the blog as well.

Interestingly enough, I was discussing my blog last night while talking with a representative of the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union who was very interested in Riverside and has been holding discussions with individuals who are active in this city particularly in terms of police accountability issues. During the time spent in the ACLU, this individual had been very active after hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Jena, Louisiana. And now Riverside.

Often it seems that your adversaries are louder, but then considering that they might be upset that this isn't a blog to cheer lead about the city, its elected government and the police department it's not surprising. And no, this is not a cheer leading blog, because while there are good things about Riverside and its agencies, there are problems as well and the city wants to pretend they don't exist. And if that's the case, there's no chance to work on these challenges, issues and problems in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, the negative backlash often serves as a useful barometer of how serious some of these problems are at this time.

One person read something on my blog and once berated me and beseeched me to not damage the image of the police department. But the image of the police department isn't my responsibility, doing my part as a concerned city resident to help make it the best it can be for all city residents is all of our responsibilities. If you take care of that, the image tends to take care of itself with relatively little work. You have to build from the ground up and from the inside, outward.

Not that cheer leading doesn't have its place. Because it does, on the football field and on the sidelines of a basketball court and in national competitions. But there's been a lot of cheer leading involving the police department for example including during the 1990s and what happened? The department wound up the focus of three outside investigations and one consent decree. Think about what seriously addressing the crisis that was emerging within that agency could have done to remedy its problems before they grew too large to contain any longer. It's always important to remember what these problems were in case they come back to visit again. If you don't recognize them, they quickly take over.

And given what's happening now involving the police department and its current level of staffing on the civilian and sworn sides, this is especially critical. Has the department accomplished a lot in a relatively short time? Yes, in some areas as the development of the mental health crisis intervention program has shown just in the one year it's existed. But it's these successes which make it harder to be quiet when city employees in high places and the individuals in city government which directs them are making the same mistakes they have derided their predecessors for doing.

It's one thing to look back and point the finger at past city managers, past elected officials and say it's all their fault and that the new city council would never do anything like that let alone follow in the same footsteps. But what happens when the city government and its staff do retrace those steps and don't pay any mind to doing so?

One small example is the issue of properly staffing the patrol shifts with adequate supervision as shown through the officer to supervisor ratio. When the state attorney general's office under Bill Lockyer was investigating the police department, one of the key issues that came up was inadequate staffing including at the supervisory level. But don't take my word for it. Go look up the Riverside County Superior Court case, The People of the State of California v The City of Riverside and read the writ mandamus to see how many times inadequate staffing is mentioned in the original lawsuit.

The required ratio to adhere to under the resultant stipulated judgment was 7 to 1. That's a number that was picked out after examination what the most successful ratio was used by different law enforcement agencies in the country. Examining records in the department that clearly documented these ratios over a period of several years, it was clear that the department was very successful at maintaining these ratios on over 95% of its patrol shifts throughout the years. That showed a serious commitment at least during that period of monitoring that the city and the department took this provision of the stipulated judgment seriously.

Unfortunately, now that the City Attorney's office is apparently handling all the CPRA requests filed involving the police department, similar documentation is no longer available to determine what the officer to supervisor ratio is on average, over a period of time since the dissolution of the judgment including during these critical past few months when the city and state have been in a budget crisis. A CPRA letter sent to the police department yielded only a copy of the power point presentation given by consultant Joe Brann several months ago and what was funny about the whole thing is that there was no actual mention of the officer to supervisor ratio in that entire document! So nothing was provided by the police department to respond to this issue of concern.

And why is it of concern? For one thing, Brann warned the city council in June that the staffing issues needed to be addressed immediately. Not tomorrow, not next year and not, never, but immediately. And he provided reasons why which anyone should be able to understand. But what he received in response was a rebuttal by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who used what can only be described as "fuzzy math" to explain that not only was the department fully staffed but that the ratio was actually something more along the line of 4.2 to 1. That's kind of difficult to believe, considering the department has added quite a few new officer-level positions yet has lost at least two sergeant positions (one through retirement and one created by filling a higher position) with more likely later this year possibly as early as autumn. But then DeSantis wasn't actually in Riverside during the crisis that led us to where we are today.

But attempts to get answers and documentation of DeSantis' numbers through a CPRA to the city manager's office led to getting a response not from this department but from the City Attorney's office. Did they not teach how to process requests for information at city manager training school? At any rate, City Attorney Gregory Priamos stated in the letter that the information was in the city's 2008-09 preliminary budget at the Web site. However, upon reviewing that information (which wasn't even online when I sent my request), it's still difficult to figure out where exactly DeSantis received his figures from but then again, he was substituting in the big chair for an absent Brad Hudson and was likely caught offguard by Brann's audit.

So what's changed in the days and weeks since the city council and city manager were warned by a consultant they hired that the staffing issue was a pressing one? The public whose tax dollars pay for everyone involved hasn't been given straight forward consistent information about the status of the officer to supervisor ratio in the police department. I've heard it's getting better and I've heard it getting worse and the credit for that has been laid at the door of the city manager's office. So what's going on? And does the city really want anyone to know the answer to this question?

This isn't transparent. This isn't being accountable to the city residents about how the money's being spent in the city and on the police department. And knowing what the city's history has led to on this issue, it's also downright irresponsible.

What would be really awesome would be if the cheerleaders would ask these questions too. The people who say that the department's doing great and that they support it. The thing is, that when crises like this one arrive (and the end of this road has proven to be a crisis), the cheerleaders are often very quiet and you would think they'd be the first to line up and make it clear that there needs to be accountability and transparency on this issue impacting public safety. Yet often these same people who cheerlead in public complain to me and others no doubt when the police response times on calls are slow and it takes a long time to do anything including file criminal reports over the nonemergency phone services. Some of these issues go back to staffing as a temporary freeze of civilian positions in the police department led to long delays on several phone services last year.

They should be at City Hall crowding the chambers because as we have all learned, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and no place is that more true than at City Hall with crowds gathering at the city council meetings on the library, museum and a suspect attempt to push yet another "election reform" on the city's voters. If they care as much about police officers and other employees as they claim to, where are they? Where will they be if the officer to supervisor ratio exceeds 7 to 1? Where will they be if the percentage of shifts where sergeants serves as watch commanders exceeds 15% or even 20%? With at least two lieutenants on unspecified temporary leaves as of early summer, that's not an impossibility.

And what was the end result of these types of problematic trends nearly a decade ago? The beginning of a $22 million and still climbing court-mandated reform process which addressed serious problems in the department that should have been addressed much sooner.

The city council seemed to hear Brann's warnings at the audit but were they really listening? There's been some murmurings from a couple of them that they forwarded some "concerns" to the city manager's office but what does that mean exactly?

After all the city council had voted 7-0 in a March 2006 workshop to have quarterly audits done by Brann of the police department and how long did it take for the city council to push Hudson along to implement its mandate? About seven months and during that time, the department hit some rocky times as other departments like it had done when they completed their stipulated agreements or consent decrees.

Still, Riverside's setting a course for the future and what it looks like right now is that it might have learned from its mistakes. As one person said, it's probably because the city government and top-level employees have turned over to the extent that there's little to no collective memory on the dais or at City Hall that there ever were serious problems let alone the hard work and money spent to address those problems. Without that, it's much easier to slip down the slope again. Is that where the city's heading?

Will past become prologue once again?

Save Chinatown, is the directive of two opinion writers including former Museum director Vince Moses (and the story of his departure is another in a list of sad ones) in the Press Enterprise. The piece was in response to the Editorial Board's recommendation to not preserve the historical site.

(excerpt, op-ed)

The California Environmental Quality Act says, "When archaeological resources are involved, avoidance or preservation in an undisturbed state is the preferable course of action." The act is backed by established archaeological best practices. Undisturbed resources should be left undisturbed for future investigators, who can bring more advanced techniques to bear on the work. Once this site is gone, it is gone forever.

Let's make certain the project is right for Chinatown, or let's not do it. The county school board needs to help find a means of moving the medical office building, in the plans, from the undisturbed site before the close of escrow.

If the developer, city planners and the county Board of Education wish to build a project on the old Chinatown site, they must raise mitigation measures to a level matching the significance of the site, in honor of those early Chinese pioneers who lived and worked hard here for nearly a century to help, among their many other contributions, build our city's citrus industry.

The planning commission will be meeting soon to discuss an environmental impact report after getting a 30 day extension. A lively discussion on the issue continues here.

Asian-American Riverside is an excellent site on the history of Asian-Americans in this city including the Chinatowns.

In the wake of the death of a young boy who contracted a parasitic infection while swimming, people are asking questions about the amoeba that killed him.

No criminal charges will be filed against a San Bernardino City Councilman accused of assault.

Will voters in Corona pass the controversial landscaping fee initiative or not? The votes are coming in and are soon to be counted.

Murrieta’s city council gave the order to its staff to research term limits".

In California, the state has issued an order for all the parolees living at Soboba reservation to leave for their own safety.

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