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, October 09, 2008

Canary in the Mine: The ethics of indifference towards community

As predicted, there was much discussion over the latest episode involving the barely there Police Review Commission from city residents who have had little to say that was positive about a commission that's seen an even greater free fall than the New York Stock Exchange which will probably drop another 750 points on what is already being called, "Black Friday".

One of the top topics were the letters sent out by Councilman Frank Schiavone to Commissioners Chani Beeman and John Brandriff admonishing them about comments they had made to the Press Enterprise.

But some questions also arose about how Schiavone's interpretation of the process involving the ethics code and complaint process meshes with what's actually written as part of its policies and procedures that were passed by the city council. As it turns out, there's quite a difference between the two and here you will find the two interpretations together side by side as well as their citations.

If you recall, Schiavone's letter stated that he personally didn't believe that CPRC Commissioner Sheri Corral's letter rose to the level of a ethics complaint but that unspecified "others might". It's actually clever for Schiavone to try to get any heat that he might receive for his letter off of himself by referring to unspecified "others" who "might". What's ironic about this whole situation was that Corral found her own position on the commission challenged at one point several years ago by the Riverside Police Officers' Association at just about the same nano-second as Schiavone came up with this off-the-cuff proposal to ban active police officers (which Corral is) from serving on the CPRC. Community pressure at a city council meeting led to the proposal being buried at the Governmental Affairs Committee without seeing the light of day.

Corral's dilemma is that she has to work alongside and be dependent on her safety from officers in her own agency who may disapprove of her commissioner duties (and unfortunately for her, most of them do) as well as those from the Riverside Police Department might be the best reason why there should be reconsideration of whether or not active law enforcement officers should serve on the CPRC, an issue that perhaps should be revisited after she terms out. And after witnessing the sudden resignation of another RCC employee, Bonavita Quinto from the CPRC only weeks after she announced goals she hoped to achieve in the much longer-termed future as a commissioner, it's not surprising to see a completely different Corral than that which was appointed to the commission four years ago.

But what exactly is "others" who might believe that there's an ethics violation involved? And if these people are this concerned, why didn't they file complaints instead?

In this case, "others" may refer to other elected officials besides himself but here, Schiavone has to be careful because there's a finite number of these "others" that by state law, he's allowed to converse with on this issue without taking it to a public forum that's timely announced (which appears to be the last thing the city government wants regarding the CPRC). If he's referring to the city council as a whole, he's only allowed to converse on this issue with at most two other members and only if, neither one of them conversed previously on this issue with any other city council member.

If "others" refers to other members on the Governmental Affairs Committee which Schiavone chairs, then he's not allowed to talk to anyone else on the three-member committee at all without violating the serial provision of the Brown Act.

But here's an opportunity to compare the two different standards.

The text taken from Schiavone's letters to both Beeman and Brandriff is the following.

"While in my judgment, the letter might not rise to the level of a former complaint to be reviewed by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for any ethics violation, others might vary."

The language of the ordinance governing the ethics code and complaint process consists of the following.

"Complaints from members of the public involving members of boards, commissions or committees shall be made in writing and first presented to the Chair of the respective board, commission or committee for review and resolution through the City Clerk. If not resolved, the complaint shall be forwarded to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee."

---Resolution 21560, pg. 6

What's wrong with this picture? The problem is that Schiavone's interpretation of the ethics complaint process involving members of boards, commissions and committees is much different than that stated in the resolution which established the policies and procedures that were to be used to carry out this process. In fact, Schiavone skipped a vital step and that's allowing the board or commission to seek resolution for the complaint through the city clerk. What is Schiavone's reason for doing this?

Is it because he doesn't know the correct process? That shouldn't be, because all city council members and certainly the members of both the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee should understand the procedure before implementing it. All elected officials were required to receive training in the ethics code and complaint process from the city attorney's office in a timely fashion. And it's not like the council hasn't already stumbled through this process already by sending complaints against city officials which were supposed to go to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee instead to City Attorney Gregory Priamos for disposition. That practice violated the policy set in the resolution governing the process approved by the city council.

If that hasn't been properly done at City Hall, then that situation should be remedied as quickly as possible. The city council should be retrained as soon as possible so that unfortunate gaffes don't appear in print regarding the process in the future.

But there always could be other reasons.

Perhaps Schiavone is simply skipping the first step because he believes that a complaint against a board or commission member shouldn't be handled by the same body. Okay that's a valid point and if that's indeed the case, then the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee should cease hearing and deciding on complaints involving elected officials because it consists of those elected officials. Then, the city council should utilize the suggestion of Group Chair Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely and have an independent panel of city residents (or retired judges) hear these cases involving elected officials. If the ethics complaints against boards and commission members go directly to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee then the complaints against elected officials could be changed to go to an independent panel.

This whole situation involving allegations of hating the city and anti-police bias is just ridiculous. Beeman's son is a Riverside Police Department officer and if she hated the police department so much, would she be happy and proud as she is that he works for that department because she clearly is just that.

Brandriff is also a strong supporter of the police department and attends its forums in support of it. What these individuals did is express opinions about specific situations that concerned or frustrated them and whether or not other commissioners agree with them is not the point. The point is that these commissioners deserve the same freedom to express themselves as the ones who complain about them already enjoy. To disagree with what each other say is not a problem as Schiavone himself stated but not respecting each other's right to say it on the panel without running off to an elected official to solve your problems isn't going to further promote a climate of respect.

Not that the behind-the-scenes game playing by commissioners as they engage in what looks like their own version of Survivor Island isn't just another reminder to community members that the CPRC has very little to do with or for them and it's just a battleground between City Hall, the police department and the commissioners themselves.

You see, community members have a perspective too when they attend CPRC meetings especially if it's their first meeting. They don't know what is going to happen or what to expect. But too often what they experience is commissioner after commissioner walking past them or where they are sitting as if they don't exist. Only three commissioners, Beeman, Brandriff and Jim Ward even glance their way, even give them a welcoming smile, a few words and a shake of the hand. The only other communication that many community members get when they attend commission meetings is being told by Chair Brian Pearcy or Corral (when she chairs meetings) that their five minutes to speak is up. That's it.

Commissioners Peter Hubbard, Linda Soubirous, Ken Rotkers, Pearcy (again, the chair) have really never even talked to a community member, ever greeted one and shook their hands during the past two years or however long their tenure has been. Corral used to do this on a regular basis but hasn't during the past year.

On the other hand, when police officers attend the meetings, the commissioners treat them as if they are there, greet them, shake their hands, smile at them and even hug them. The commissioners and the police officers chat, laugh at humorous comments and walk together, often right past where community members are sitting. There's nothing wrong with this at all and it's good that they have bonded with police officers attending the meeting, except when placed in context with how they treat community members. And the laughter and gaiety that takes place while talking about shooting deaths including right in front of the family members is a really unfortunate but fairly recent addition to this dynamic. But again, those who engage in this behavior during these discussions were not among those who walked up to these family members, introduced themselves, shook their hands and said welcome to our meeting, we're glad to see you. And maybe if they had, they wouldn't behave like this.

Every person who's attended a CPRC meeting from the community has to some degree experienced and noticed this dynamic, this double standard as to how community members are treated in comparison to law enforcement members. But even if they thought to comment or complain about it to an elected official, not a single elected official on that dais would complain to a commissioner and certainly not Schiavone on their behalf even if that individual were a constituent in their respective wards. That's an assertion that I'm fairly sure you can take to the bank.

But here, involving the case of the warning letters it's not much of an issue because it's highly probable that the "others" that Schiavone was vaguely referring to are not city officials at all. Only one city council member so far has sent these letters out under the auspice of being the Governmental Affairs Committee chair perhaps because the mayor pro tem belongs to someone else. Even the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee chair, Ron Loveridge has wisely not done like through either his authority as mayor or as chair of this committee. He's clearly playing it smart because if he disagrees with Schiavone's actions, he's not engaging in the behavior and if by chance, he agrees, he's letting Schiavone do the saber rattling and perhaps enjoying it. But there's not many people on the dais, who are skilled at politics like Loveridge is and he's certainly smart enough to not want to engage in this behavior.

Speaking of Loveridge, he as mayor and Councilman as Rusty Bailey did write a letter to the CPRC members on behalf of the city council as upholding City Manager Brad Hudson's directive. This is of course in response to the CPRC request for clarification by the government on the issue and in lieu of any public forum to discuss it. Which of course is the last thing the city council and mayor want to do.

The United States Attorney's office has not reached a decision on whether to file charges against former San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputy, Ivory Webb.

The candidates for city council in Grand Terrace share their concerns about the issues before the upcoming election.

The Hemet City Council needs to be totally changed. So states the Press Enterprise Editorial Board.

Was the Southern Tucson Police Department out of control? Several former police officers who worked there said yes.

(excerpt, Tucson Citizen)

The sergeants and others said the FBI probe and accusations by the city that Garcia embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars show a dysfunctional police department that lacks proper oversight. Employee statements in the consultant's report back up that conclusion.

In May, agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service seized numerous financial and other records related to Garcia. That prompted a city investigation, the results of which claim Garcia stole about $260,000 from the sale of city-impounded vehicles and that he took at least $13,000 in cash from the police department's evidence room. None of the money has been recovered, city officials said.

Garcia, 47, was fired June 12 for "misappropriation of government funds." He has not been charged with a crime, and the FBI said it could not comment on an open investigation.

The Albany Citizen Police Review Board is seeking two new members.

(excerpt, Times Union)

Jason Allen, the board's current chairman, said appointees can expect to spend two to five hours a month working on the board's business.

"It's a position with a lot of responsibility," he said. "We deal with very important cases that citizens file against members of the police department."

It is important that the board's makeup is representative of the city, he said.

"Albany is a very diverse city, and we're looking for a board to reflect that diversity," he said. "We're looking for people who want to make a difference with how citizens interact with the police department."

In Charlottesville, a new panel for civilian oversight has been chosen.

(excerpt, WCAV)

The group is intended to build a bridge between the police department and the people they serve. Charlottesville's Police Chief says it should help strengthen the vision of community policing.

"There are several components to make community policing effective, public trust and open lines of communication are two," according to Chief Tim Longo.

Chief Longo says this new police advisory panel, will help achieve that goal.

"This would be a liaison, a group that would serve as a means to communicate the departments message back out to the neighborhoods that we serve," he says.

Charlottesville City Council selected nine members from a pool of applicants. Councilor Julian Taliaferro will also serve on the panel.

"I think that most of us on council felt that it would really add credibility to the police department because it would be outside citizens that would be taking a look at things if something happens," Taliaferro says.

Five police officers in Minneapolis have become the target of a federal corruption probe.

In Los Angeles, a police officer fell asleep while driving onduty and crashed into a semi-truck. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Webinar: Law Enforcement and People with Mental Illnesses
Free: Space is Limited!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008, 2:00 PM Eastern Time
Duration: Approximately One Hour with Q and A

Brought to you by
National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
Council of State Governments Justice Center, with support from the
Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice


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About the Webinar

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