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, September 18, 2008

"We have not walked away from community policing..."

"We want to get to know you and you to get to know us."

---Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach

"I don't know any of you."

----Brother-in-law of Fernando Sanchez, who was shot by a city police officer last week

San Bernardino Police Chief Mike Billdt is out.

He will be retiring next March. Some say that was always the plan. Others say the two no-confidence votes he received from labor organizations were a major factor. Not many police chiefs stay in power long after receiving no-confidence votes. Billdt didn't buck that trend.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

That success prompted the mayor to ask Billdt to stay three more years, but the chief only agreed to two, Morris said. It always was the plan for Billdt to retire, he said.

"He's had incredible success," Morris said. "It's a difficult job to get crime down."

However, union and council representatives said Thursday they had not heard of Billdt's planned exit.

Councilwoman Wendy McCammack also said she had no knowledge that the chief planned to retire. The chief stepping down in March is not going to solve the structural problems the department has, she said.

"If the officers on the street have a concern about leadership in the department, I would be very concerned if that affects their performance on the streets," she said.

Billdt did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In the neighboring county, the much quieter Riverside Police Department held its third community policing forum, this time at Arlington High School for its Central Neighborhood Policing Center. It attracted an audience of over 100 people, many with concerns and questions.

Chief Russ Leach led the meeting where he was joined by the majority of his command staff and division heads as he had been earlier this year at a larger forum held at California Baptist University. It was very informative in some ways, not as much in others but a very interesting event. An attempt at dialogue which is never a bad thing but somewhat limited by time and the nature of the forum. Leach did tell audience members that the forums might soon be quarterly in different regions of the city as part of the commitment to the department's Strategic Plan. Other department representatives said that similar forums in the north and east NPCs would be held probably next year, with one being held in downtown and the other, in Mission Grove.

Representing City Hall at this meeting were Ward Five Councilman Chris MacArthur and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis. Missing was City Attorney Gregory Priamos who didn't attend, perhaps being busy at another meeting that took place at City Hall around the same time, which was the latest meeting of the Community Police Review Commission's ad hoc committee on coming up with protocol for officer-involved deaths. Even though the commission's been pretty much barred from even investigating them in any real meaningful way by City Hall, it's still going through the motions to establish a protocol for that process.

Still given the larger role Priamos has played in policing affairs particularly in the role of oversight, it was surprising not to see him nor his office represented at all to monitor what was being said by everyone.

The area commander of the Central NPC, Bruce Loftus, served as the MC, introducing everyone and Leach spoke on several occasions. Loftus introduced his officers on staff which were three POPs officers, three school resource officers and four detectives, many of whom attended the meeting. He was joined by two of the three area commanders, one field operations captain and various heads of divisions ranging from special investigations to special operations and the audit and compliance panel.

Part of the meeting was spent talking about crimes.

Leach and others there said the number one problem was traffic. In high schools, it was gang, bullies and fighting. Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel both addressed the audience on the administrative and operations functions of the department respectively. The department having essentially been split in half through these divisions as someone pointed out.

They discussed the decentralization of the community services in Riverside including the neighborhood watches, citizen academy and POPs officers but it appeared to be as much a geographic decentralization as anything else especially when Leach discussed a history that went back 25 years and followed the development of the city's two field operations stations. They emphasized the cooperative aspect of decentralizing the department into four policing centers and spreading the resources that the department offers four different ways. That would be very necessary in this kind of structural format and would be an asset to the city.

But of concern to some, is the more competitive aspect of this division especially during a time period of limited resources like the current situation. How is viewing the department as four entities based on geography and not quite equal-sized at that, going to impact the philosophy of community policing (rather than the division of the resources in the past Community Programs Division) inside the department? Will it foster cohesiveness and cooperation or competition and isolation? The jury's out on that one and only time will tell which way it goes.

But Leach said that the rumors that the department has been moving from community policing aren't true. We have not walked away from community policing, Leach said.

"Not so, we've gotten stronger," Leach said, "No program has been canceled."

Except for the Citizen Academy which has been on ice for months now even as the police department's Web site calls for applications to a session scheduled much earlier in the year. It was suspended until further notice because the city's not paying the overtime required for those who teach the classes. Crime-Free Mult-Housing may not currently have a director given that both Officers Clarence Dodson and Chris Carnahan helmed it briefly after the retirement of long-time director, Officer John Start. These are more community service programs than community policing (which is more a philosophy), but they are and have been used as the department's benchmark on its progress in community policing when it's something really much broader.

Decentralizing community policing itself would need to be done through the department's field training program, because that's where academy graduates learn to police and if this department moves closer to embracing community policing as a philosophy then this is where it all begins. But it's not clear that this is what's happening. Teaching officers from the ground up about community policing as opposed to more watchman or paramilitary structure policing, is very important as is training the trainers how to do so. Promoting those who embrace this model is very important as well to build a command structure which fully embraces community policing as a matter of course. Rewarding through community service or public safety awards those who utilizing problem solving and community oriented policing should be more frequent and perhaps the idea of a community policing award that was briefly considered during a joint session of both the CPRC and the Human Relations Commission should be considered again.

Then there was more specific talk about the central NPC and what it was doing and who was doing it.

Loftus in his presentation on his precinct included the officers assigned to his division as part of the manifestation of this decentralization including POPs officers Jeffrey Barney and Kenneth Beebe and School Resource Officer Kevin Feimer as well as Sgt. Brian Kittenger who was next in Loftus' command.

MacArthur who's got to be one of the hardest working elected officials spoke about how regularly these issues came up at meetings that he attended.

"Tonight is your night," MacArthur said, "You are the ears and eyes and you know your community."

No other elected official appeared at this meeting, not even Ward Four Councilman Frank Schiavone. The absence particularly of Schiavone and Mayor Ron Loveridge said more than their attendance would have. A woman behind me in the high school auditorium said to another woman that Ward Three Councilman Rusty Bailey was unable to attend.

The community's participation in these forums is often what is key and many people did attend and participate, not that the question and answer session was long enough, but people did ask questions, sometimes out of turn. That's when forums get more interesting and that's when the information starts to flow. That also is a useful test on how well a department knows its own program when it steps apart from what it's rehearsed.

It was interesting watching Leach and another department representative sift through a pile of cards to pick out the final three questions they would address. The most interesting questions as usual were those made spontaneously from the audience, addressing everything from how to handle a burglary in process in your own home to who should contact the family members of a person shot and killed by the police. But that's how it often is, many times the questions aren't carefully written out on cards and submitted for a decision on which ones will be answered. They come out sometimes fast and furious, at the time they come into people's minds especially when things are going on. That's community policing in a nutshell is being able to face those questions and answer them knowing that it is what helps you grow including in the development of any meaningful "partnership" between the police department and the communities it protects and serves.

I doubt my questions which I had and still have would have survived the sifting process though the one about officer morale was an interesting one. Leach said that officer morale was currently great. Is that really the case? Has anyone asked?

Some other oral (and not written) questions involved whether or not officers were held accountable if they crossed the line. Leach said that the department had an internal affairs division which processed complaints "filed by people in the community" and those initiated by supervisors in the department. However, in reality, the majority of complaints filed by city residents are not investigated by the internal affairs division but by field patrol supervisors with varying levels of experience at that position. He didn't mention the existence of the CPRC and it didn't appear as if any of the commissioners were in attendance though he did reference the CPRC when addressing a question about a recent fatal officer-involved shooting.

A Latina said that she had been handcuffed then hit by an officer and that other family members had been mistreated by officers. Often it takes entire presentations before these questions are asked as most often they are at the very end of forums like this one and other meetings. For all the candor that is promised, this subject is one tread on lightly by the department at nearly every public meeting.

Leach directed the woman to talk with Internal Affairs Lt. Steve Johnson about her complaint which she said was filed some time ago to find out where it was in the process.

But it wasn't an individual complaint, the woman said about profiling and excessive force.

"It happens all the time".

Members of a family who had lost a member to a police shooting last week also spoke up with questions, the kind that don't fit on 3 x 5 index cards.

The family of Fernando Sanchez who was shot and killed by an unidentified police officer last week appeared at the meeting, the evening before they were set to bury their relative. And despite increased dialogue on how family members of those killed by police should be notified and by whom, Sanchez' story was virtually identical to that told by family relatives of Joseph Darnell Hill who was killed by police in 2006.

The brother-in-law spoke about his work with corrections and other services, how he believed that the police should personalize themselves in their contacts with the community. They plan to attend the police department's briefing (which Leach did announce) at the CPRC meeting on Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

This community forum came at a time when many questions are to be asked by not so many people, at least not out loud. It's not like the decentralization of the four NPCs into increasingly separate entities is seen as a bad thing but what it is seen as by many, is a numbers thing. Does the police department have the numbers to pull it off? Why is it attempting to do so during some of the most difficult budget times in the city's recent history? What is really going on here?

The forum offered some answers and some useful and good information but it raised more questions as well.

The city's coming out of its hiring freeze, an event foreshadowed in the situation depicted in a link included in the last posting of the two men who were trying to become Riverside Police Department officers. Hiring more entry level officers could potentially fill gaps in the current staffing levels but could increase the ratio between officers and supervisors especially given the vacancies at the sergeant rank.

Although one of those positions was filled by a promotion, which changes the current status of the department's vacant positions.

Supervisory Vacancy Watch:

Sgt. Randy Eggleston, retired earlier this year

Lt. Pete Villaneuva, retired about a month ago for medical reasons

Sgt. Kevin Stanton, retiring in October

Sgt. Terry Meyers, retired for medical reasons this week

Sgt. Lisa Williams, transferred to a newly created spot in Communications

Sgt. Don Tauli, scheduled to retire in December but might be staying on another year

Sgt. Leon Phillips, promoted to lieutenant on July 1 to fill vacancy


Sgt. Dan Warran, who starts field operations later this week working initially with Sgt. Jay Greenstein who was promoted several years ago.

Warren's spot at the detective ranks will be filled by the promotion of Officer Jayson Wood.

More sergeant retirements are however expected in the next year or so, given how many of them are approaching retirement age. But there are currently eight vacancies that have opened up in the department that it is currently trying to fill.

It's interesting that it was the retirement of Meyer that apparently was the tipping point in opening up the sergeant ranks for one promotion to fill the vacancy created by Meyer who took a medical retirement apparently rather suddenly. To learn that the department broke its freeze on filling sergeant vacancies because of one more unexpected one kind of makes it seem that it's riding a fine line between what's a healthy ratio of officers to supervisors and what's not. How many more retirements and vacancies involving sergeant positions until it really impacts the levels of supervision over what is a very young and inexperienced police force?

There will be further analysis of this public forum and the issues discussed in upcoming postings.

Another building in downtown Riverside is going to be converted and renovated.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The $10 million project goes before the Planning Commission at 9 a.m. today at City Hall, 300 Main St.

The only approval Mruvka needs is to take over portions of three streets -- Santa Fe Avenue, Jack. B. Clarke Way and Ninth Street -- to alter traffic circulation and create safe walkways connecting the packinghouse project to nearby buildings he owns.The proposal by developer Alan Mruvka for the renovation of the packinghouse in the Riverside Marketplace goes before the Planning Commission today.

The proposal would create a campuslike environment connecting five buildings, all north of the downtown Metrolink station and south of Mission Inn Avenue.

The buildings would share a parking structure Mruvka plans between the Vine Street office building and the railroad tracks, said Debra Leight, a city planner.

The project is part of a grander plan to transform part of the land between Mission Inn Avenue and 14th Street immediately east of the freeway.

The most dramatic proposal Mruvka has made is to develop the downtown Metrolink parking lot with 400 apartments, 40,000 square feet of retail space and a 1,000-car parking structure at a cost of about $100 million.

The idea is to create a district where Metrolink commuters could live, shop and dine, Mruvka said Wednesday. They also could use John W. North Park.

The Riverside Planning Commission has voted to annex more land for the city by the Box Springs Mountain.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Ten residents, nine of whom live in the targeted zone, spoke in opposition. They said they were concerned about the effect it would have on their rural lifestyle, on wildlife in the area and on their tax bills.

"I see no benefit from it," resident William Leuer said.

"I want everything to stay as is," Steve Wilcox said.

City officials at the meeting said the annexation would have little discernible effect on residents' rural lifestyle.

Nineteen single-family houses sit in the annexation zone -- many on East Blaine Street -- and only about 350 acres are in private hands.

The Riverside County Park and Open Space District owns 917 acres, the University of California owns 160 acres, the city owns 40 acres and the Riverside County Transportation Commission owns 20 acres.

The matter goes to a public hearing before the City Council in about a month, Planning Director Ken Gutierrez said.

Some retirement perks by Hemet's city employees have people in an uproar.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Former City Manager Steve Temple received $1,580 for a gift card from Cabela's, a popular outdoor clothing and gear store.
Former Public Works Director David Oltman received $2,300 to purchase tools.
Former Police Chief Pete Hewitt received $1,235 to buy a new television.
The three are among the 41 Hemet employees who received going-away presents from the city when they retired under Hemet's "Retirement Recognition Program."
Since the program was adopted by the City Council in 2005, Hemet taxpayers have spent more than $47,000 on retirement presents for employees, including a $1,305 cruise for a departing police officer and a $1,660 telescope for a retiring fire battalion chief.
Some residents have strong opinions about whether the program should continue.
"I don't like it," said Hemet resident Jim Johnson. "I think they should scrap it."

Problems with possible voter registration fraud are attracting attention in San Bernardino County which has already seen its share of corruption issues emerge.

Just say no.

That's what the Seattle Police Department's police union said to having to use both digital audio recorders and video cameras giving a thumbs down to accountability.

(excerpt, Seattle Times)

O'Neill said he sent the department a cease-and-desist letter on Friday. At a meeting with the top brass Monday, O'Neill said he was told the command staff was unaware cameras were being used during the bicycle protest.
O'Neill said the department has promised to put the cameras "back in the box" until the issue is ironed out with the union.
Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb declined to comment Wednesday on why the cameras were used and where the department stands with negotiations with the union. He said the department "is always looking at different technologies to assist us."
"If the officers have the cameras going all the time there could be a chilling effect on citizens and juvenile talking to the police," O'Neill said. "If they think the cops are videotaping all of their conversations they might not want to have their names or faces used."

O'Neill said that many officers are torn about the issue. They say they like video for evidence, but some officers say they aren't thrilled about having a camera recording what they are saying throughout their shifts.

Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess, chairman of the public-safety committee, said he doesn't see any problems with officers carrying small cameras.

"I certainly don't object to it," Burgess said. "Anything that sheds light on what our officers are encountering and their behavior is a good thing."

In Springfield, Illinois, a judge issued the ruling that internal affairs division records aren't always exempt from public disclosure.

Not surprisingly, there were some upset folks.

(excerpt, State Journal Register )

“We respectfully disagree with the judge’s opinion, and we’re considering our appeal options,” Myers said.

The judge had ordered the sheriff’s department to turn over four internal affairs files concerning Deputy John Gillette, but not a file in which IA investigators cleared Gillette of wrongdoing in an incident in which he detained Gekas at gunpoint.

Both sides agreed that the case could set an important precedent in a state where police internal affairs investigations have traditionally been kept secret.
That kind of blanket secrecy, Diehl said, isn’t acceptable.

“Should all internal affairs files be exempt (from disclosure)?” the judge wrote. “The answer is indisputably ‘no.’”

In Florida, the internal affairs chief himself is in hot water.

Sex on the job? That's a recently discovered perk in a police department in Connecticut.

(excerpt, The Register Journal)

The police department launched an investigation into the relationship between Officer Chris Donovan and dispatchers Jennifer Street and Cathy Goodfield after several other officers and dispatchers reported they were flirting while on duty and appeared to be spending an inordinate amount of time with each other, according to documents released after a Freedom of Information request.

The 650-page investigation shows extensive misuse of sophisticated equipment for sexual chats, which has led to a thorough review of police communication systems.

Donovan, who has also been reprimanded for sleeping on duty, bad mouthing other officers and having dispatchers "ditch" his calls while getting a hair cut while on duty, resigned June 9. Street, 23, resigned May 28, and Goodfield, 41, resigned early June.

, 36, said in a statement provided to investigators that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with Street, including in the female locker room of the police department, for about one month. Donovan and Street independently told investigators in statements that they had engaged in sexual intercourse from late April to late May. Goodfield also admitted to having sex with Donovan, according to the investigation.

Donovan, Street and Goodfield could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

What exactly did former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona's Professional Service Representatives do? Not very much, as it turns out.

Los Angeles Police Department Officer Spree DeSha's funeral takes place. She was killed on Sept. 12's Metrolink collision along with 24 other people.

Don't look now but the Ghost walk tours will expand this year. And if you have $100 to spare, you will be given a look at the legendary catacombs beneath the Mission Inn Hotel.

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