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

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Decentralizing community policing or reshuffling patrol officers?

LAPD Officer Spree Desha (1973-Sept. 12, 2008)

More information on Desha's career with the LAPD.

Another day, a new version of Sitemeter. Did this company jump off a cliff during the weekend or what? They unveiled their new platform and within hours received so many emails threatening to drop their service that they've taken it offline again to roll it back to its old format.

Whatever. At any rate, the original platform is back and the new one is a fading memory at this time.

Did the New Coke by Coca Cola fail as quickly? If memory serves, it was at least a few weeks before the old Coke was reintroduced as Classic Coke and the newer version quietly and mercifully disappeared into the sunset. Pepsi had its own experience with this as it had introduced and exiled Clear Pepsi within the same calendar year. Multitudes breathed a sign of relief.

You don't mess with a classic.

Why did Sitemeter screw up so majestically? Because like Coca Cola, it didn't do any or did very little test marketing among a diverse population of consumers before launching its latest and greatest platform. That's often the problem when you introduce massive changes after you've already made them without even asking the people who buy and use your product or your service whether or not this is what they want.

The same thing applies to police departments when they implement new programs or major structural changes. They should talk to the communities about what they are planning to do preferably before they do it rather than do it and then take questions from city residents. Yes, the department made major changes and then when people started being concerned about them, came out and said they were decentralizing community policing or community services or something similar.

It's all being marketed as the decentralization of community policing which in itself would be a wonderful thing and definitely a worthwhile goal to achieve. But upon hearing descriptions of it, it's not clear that's exactly what it appears to be in reality because one thing there are different descriptions of exactly what's going on here. There are two other possibilities to consider as well. One of which is the decentralization of Community Services (which isn't to be confused with community policing which is a philosophy not a program) and/or the decentralization of the department's overall structural design which has actually been taking place in stages for several years now.

Most of the references to the "changes" taking place involve programs formerly under what began as the Office of Community Policing and then became the Community Services Division. These include the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program, the Citizen Academy, the Youth Court, business and neighborhood watch and others. If you're decentralizing these programs to the four neighborhood policing centers, then each division should receive personnel and resources of the umbrellaed programs in their respective areas. But like everything else in the department, the Department of Community Services had a command structure meaning a lieutenant, sergeant and officers along with civilian personnel. The programs within this division had these elements as well to varying degrees.

However, it's not clear that this is what has taken place. Most of the officers who were assigned to the Community Policing Division appear reassigned to patrol positions including supervisory level positions. Its second lieutenant in only several months, Rick Tedesco was transferred to head the Traffic Division and its third lieutenant in eight months, Lt. Ken Raya headed it (along with other department units including K9) for several months before the division was dissolved.

This seems geared towards accommodating shortages in that division unless they are being evenly distributed. After all, has the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program that was under Community Services been decentralized to accommodate all four policing centers? It doesn't appear to be the case given that the program apparently recently lost its director, after having a long-time director, Officer John Start, replaced after he retired. Has this director position been refilled and is there personnel involved with this program that will be assigned to each of the four neighborhood policing centers?

Has the citizen academy, a very popular program been decentralized? No, actually it's been suspended until further notice due to budget cuts involving the payment of overtime to police officers who work as instructors, even though the police department's Web site is still taking applications.

So has Community Services truly decentralized? That's hard to say given that most of its personnel was transferred to field operations to perform patrol duties and it is still unclear how the responsibilities of the Community Services division involving its multitude of programs will be filled. I was told that some civilian personnel involved with the Neighborhood Watch program would still be working out of that division.

So what about geographic decentralization? That actually makes more sense given that this is a process that's not exactly anything new but has been evolving for a period of several years given that the five area commands set up in strip malls by a previous police chief have been traded in to four neighborhood policing centers based on geography which share two field operations facilities in two of those policing center areas. Not to mention that many of the units in the investigative division have been decentralized as well with the assignment of detectives to work in the different neighborhood policing centers rather than one centralized "bureau". The General Investigations Bureau of the past which was housed in rental space near Spruce and Chicago in northern Riverside is now spread out over the city as the Centralized Investigations Bureau.

The latest news is that the Police Oriented Problem Solving officer unit (POPS) have been decentralized and placed under lieutenants in charge of the four neighborhood policing centers but while the chain of command might have changed, the geographic assignments of POPS officers has been such for a while now. If you ask a POPS officer what she or he is assigned to, he or she will not say "I'm a POPS officer" but "I'm a POPS officer in the East (or other) Neighborhood Policing Center." When they describe which community or area they work in, it tends to be one particular NPC or even one neighborhood. So it's interesting to hear department personnel among the higher ranks call it a decentralization of the POPS team, when if you ask community members to name the officers they know and talk to, most often it's the same POPS officers they've had in their communities or neighborhoods for months or even longer.

There's been some concern about the timing of all this chatter about decentralizing one or more of the three entities mentioned above. But is it about decentralizing community policing? That question can be answered by looking in one place and that's the field training program. Efforts to decentralize community policing, meaning spreading the culture of community policing including problem solving inside a police department, they start at the beginning which is what happens to the new officers who leave the academies to come work as police officers, beginning through an intensive and time-involved training program. You decentralize community policing, you decentralize its impact and influence on training within the training division.

The Reno Police Department did that first and in 2003, that agency's police training model was studied by federal agencies. If you can download the executive summary and the actual manual used at the Reno Police Department site, it's worth your reading. This is what a decentralized community policing training program looks like. It incorporates elements of it through at least four different subject sections in its training schedule. While not perfect and quite brief in duration, it does have some promising elements to increase the production of what it calls the COPS subculture, the attitude among the six different subcultures existing inside most law enforcement agencies (and all six are readily visible in the Riverside Police Department) that is the most dedicated to COPS style policing and building partnerships with communities and neighborhoods.

Many police agencies in California still use the more rigidly structured San Jose Police Department model that's been around since about 1968. Some police chiefs however including in Reno began to think this program was outdated and needed to be amended or even rewritten to change not only the philosophy of the training to fit COPS style policing but also how this training was taught. Does the Riverside Police Department field training program fit the Reno model, the San Jose model or does it include components of both? It was last remodeled in 2004 during the period of the stipulated judgment between the city and the state attorney general's office.

But whatever has been going on, all of this isn't taking place inside a vacuum.

Eight Men Out

In the meantime, the number of vacancies at the supervisory level in the police department has continued to increase since the audit it received in June from a hired consultant warning them that the department's staffing levels particularly at this level needed to be addressed or it would be very difficult for the department to move forward in implementing its Strategic Plan. But has it been addressed? It depends on who you ask.

Currently, there are allegedly eight positions in the department in the supervisory level of its sworn division which have been left vacant or have been frozen. Will this number grow, as it already has since the June audit?

It all started with the departure of former Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez to take his current job in Palm Springs. His position remained unfilled, which is just as well because in the current climate promoting another officer to fill it would have left more vacancies at the levels below that position. But that was only the beginning.

Retirements and temporary leaves soon impacted the department's numbers of sergeants and lieutenants. Not to mention positions left unfilled while trying to promote to fill higher positions and the reassignment of supervisors into newly created positions which seems contrary to the goal of increasing those supervisors in a patrol division to avoid bumping the average ratio of officer to supervisor above the recommended 7 to 1 ratio. This ratio was given extra emphasis through the reality that the police force in the patrol division is very young, with the average age being cited as around 24-years-old and about 2 1/2 years experience.

The city manager's response, well actually since City Manager Brad Hudson was absent, it was left to his assistant, Tom DeSantis to respond and he assured everyone that the officer to supervisor ratios were well within the 7 to 1 ratio range and had even been as low as an average of 4.2 to 1. However, a CPRA request to his office asking for work product which reflected the statistics he had cited, received not a response from his office but one from City Attorney Gregory Priamos.

Priamos' letter simply said to check out the preliminary budget link on the city's Web site but the information wasn't present there in a clearly delineated fashion. There's been no other data or information provided by the city manager in a public forum to explain this further but it's not like his direct employees, the mayor and city council, have even been asking for that information in any public sessions.

A CPRA letter to the police department asking for more specific figures on the officer to supervisor ratio led to a response from Chief Russ Leach and CC-ed to Hudson, DeSantis and Priamos at City Hall which consisted only of a power point presentation given by consultant Joe Brann during an audit he presented to the city council in June. However, that particular document didn't actually contain any statistical information on officer to supervisor ratio. It makes you wonder if Priamos, the city managers and Leach even review the material they send out as public information to make sure it actually includes the requested information. As these two cases not to mention the CPRA request involving the Community Police Review Commission budget which Priamos responded to show, they clearly do not.

Retirements and other situations are part and parcel of any department and they do happen on a regular basis but they are hitting the police department at a particularly sensitive time and no one not the police department nor the city manager's office has informed the city residents how long these "freezes" will last. Now, city officials might bristle at calling these vacancies, freezes but a hiring and promotional freeze is when a position is vacated and left that way for a period of time meaning no one will be hired into that position or no one will be promoted into that position depending on the particular circumstance. So what's happening are indeed freezes both in the area of hiring and promoting and no one knows when either or both will thaw.

These are the current known vacancies in this department at this moment in time but it's subject to change as this has been a situation of great fluctuation during the past few months.

Confirmed vacancies:

Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez, retired

Sgt. Randy Eggleston, retired

Sgt. Leon Philips, promoted to lieutenant to fill vacancy there but left one behind.

Lt. Paul Villanueva, retired

Sgt. Kevin Stanton, retired September 2008

Sgt. Don Tauli, scheduled to retire in December 2008

Sgt. Lisa Williams, transferred to new position in Communications but left vacancy.

There are apparently no detective vacancies in large part because part of the MOU reached between the Riverside Police Officers' Association and the city stated that any vacancies shall be filled. The sergeants, who form the supervisory unit of the RPOA didn't have any such agreement in their MOU which is due to expire next year. Whether or not that will be an issue for negotiation when the RPOA units enter into negotiations for their next contract beginning early next year remains to be seen but it's likely that someone somewhere will probably put it on the table. Especially if any more experienced sergeants retire in the near future.

What will happen at that point is unclear since it's much more likely that in the current climate, any bargaining unit will have to struggle to keep what it has let alone gain anything because City Hall doesn't seem to be particularly in the giving mood unless it's the development coffer. But the current and any future vacancies created at the sergeant level will have to be addressed at some level. Neither the folks at City Hall nor the police department seems to be taking any actions that will really address this ongoing issue either now or in the future.

That's so very familiar because when the level of supervisors sunk to a low level in the 1990s, there appeared to be a similar apathy or attempts to write it as something that not only wasn't a problem in the making but as something grand. Decentralizing community policing does fall in the latter category but one thing that was missing back then that might be now are the numbers. Does the department have the quantity to do justice to decentralizing community policing? That is the question.

Meaning that something that looks grand on paper might in reality, be hard to envision because the numbers don't add up to what is needed. And how much are the retirements and vacancies of these supervisory positions factoring into these "changes" that are being made?

These questions need to be asked, but who's asking them? The silenced at least on the outside surrounding the situation involving the supervisors is troubling to say the least. Let us hope it's not nearly so quiet on the inside of those walls.

Whoo, hoo, party hearty in Menifee as the day of incorporation approaches!

The silence you didn't just hear are police officers in Rialto holding their breath to wait and see if the long anticipated new police station ever becomes reality.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Cirilo said potential recruits used to be interviewed in a basement conference room, but he was embarrassed by its cluttered and noisy conditions.

"The other side of this wall is the shooting range," he said.

A wall shelf stacked with blank police report forms shares a narrow basement hallway with lockers for the department's Explorer Unit.

"If there's a crevice, we're going to find something to put in there," Cirilo said, opening a small door under a stairwell to reveal Plexiglas police riot shields.

The Rialto police station sits on a large piece of land that also houses three portable buildings for offices for additional units.

Scott speculated that the old station contains asbestos.

Scott proposes forming a committee of residents and Police Department representatives to brainstorm about ways to raise money, what features a new station should have and where it should be.

"We're kind of in slow times now economically, so that gives us time to work on stuff," Scott said.

"We want to be ready (to build) it when the time is right."

Why doesn't the San Bernardino Police Officers' Association support Chief Mike Billdt? The reasons differ.

The cities want to keep their eyes on the state budget situation but the cities' residents need to keep an eye on their cities' coffers.

The MetLife Foundation announces its community policing awards for the past year and a research study on the relationship between masculinity and how officers conduct stop and frisk stops.

The Press Enterprise lost some more of its news reporters on Friday which was the last day for over 100 employees who took the latest round of buyouts by Belo Enterprises. More information on that ongoing situation here.

Rumors abound that the newspaper is going to be sold by Belo Enterprises possibly to the Singleton syndicate which has just about destroyed the San Bernardino Sun. The Press Enterprise editor who may or may not still have a job promised more local coverage and investigative reporting. Don't count on either. If a city bureau is understaffed and Corona for example, may have been left with only one reporter that doesn't do much for local coverage especially if all or most of the reporters have little experience dealing with politicians and other officials. As far as investigative reporting, if fewer reporters are scrambling around larger beats for more stories to file, investigative reporting will be at the bottom of their list of priorities.

Purchases by large corporate syndicates kills investigative reporting over the long run.

Inland Empire Weekly gives its perspective on the latest bloodletting at Riverside's daily here.

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