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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Canary in the Mine: Majority and minority reports

The City Council meeting has adjourned for the week after hearing this agenda but this item on the destruction of city documents was hidden away on the longer consent calendar. The same part of the agenda which the public has been barred from pulling items from since July 12, 2005.

The documents impacted were the following.

City Manager Administration and Community Police Review divisions

City Council

Community Development Building Safety, Code Enforcement and Planning Divisions

Development Housing and Community Development Division

General Services Administration, Property Division and Publishing Services

Library Accounting and Administration Divisions

Mayor's Administration and Human Relations Commission Divisions

Metropolitan Museum

The report states succinctly that history has shown that the retention schedules for city documents have changed as "particular need arose" and in response, the divisions stated above have decided to alter their retention schedules to do the following, simplify record titles, eliminate redundancies and incorporate changes. Officially, the request for the rescheduling comes from City Clerk Colleen Nichols but it's signed off by City Manager Brad Hudson, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis and City Attorney Gregory Priamos.

The categories provided under the latest retention schedule change aren't very specific. For example, the "C" category states that documents might be retained for between 2-15 years. So which is it? Closer to two years or 15?

It's not like documents haven't been removed from the public record already without any warning that this would happen. In fact in at least one case, a record was removed from the Web site of a city division very quietly.

Some time in the last year or so someone quietly removed recorded findings issued by the PRC for at least one officer-involved shooting case. Naturally of course, it was the sustained finding of a violation of policy in the Summer Marie Lane case. When it was first issued, it was placed online for the public to see in lieu of any oral response from the commission upon advise of Priamos, according to then executive manager Pedro Payne. And there it remained for a period of time until just recently. But this link is no longer active. In fact, it's no longer even listed on the "Findings" page for 2005 and the citation for the date of that finding has disappeared completely. Were the commissioners or public ever notified that these records were being deleted? The answer is most likely doubtful for the commissioners and of course not for the public.

This minute order for the Nov. 9, 2005 meeting shows that the Lane shooting (also known as P3-04-341-246) was deliberated by the commission minus two of its members. But that's the only record on the shooting case that caused so much consternation at the police department and City Hall and was the beginning of the end in terms of the freedom that the RPC had from micromanagement. It's the only record that the meeting to discuss that case actually took place. And it did, but it also resulted in the issuance of a finding on the Lane case which was posted online for several years before vanishing.

Several years ago, a city council subcommittee deliberated over the retention schedules for the police department's audio and video recordings, trying to reduce them from several years to about six months which was argued for because that's the statute of limitations on filing complaints with the PRC. However, there's no recognized statute of limitations for filing complaints through the police department's internal affairs division especially since Priamos' legal analysis and reading of Governmental Code 3304(d) seems to change with the weather. It's not clear whether any recommendation was issued to the city council on these types of records by the subcommittee which discussed altering the retention schedules.

The proposed destruction of those records is troubling because the majority of audio and video recordings haven't ever been reviewed by anyone in the police department after being downloaded from the recording devices and stashed away in storage. They essentially are only reviewed if complaints get filed. These guidelines were provided to the PRC by police department representatives who briefed the commission on the department's use of digital audio recorders and video recording devices several years ago.

But you still never know what the other recordings might contain until you listen to them. Maybe they should think about doing that before purging them.

Speaking of audio recordings, there isn't one for the meeting of the PRC from its meeting on Oct. 8 when the commission voted 7-0 (with two commissioners absent) to exonerate the officers who shot and killed Douglas Steven Cloud in 2006. Technical difficulties from trying to use an unfamiliar setup in the Utilities Board Room was attributed as causing the problem. At any rate, the commissioners were pushed to remember exactly what it was they had said only two weeks earlier.

The PRC met again in another one of its marathon meetings to discuss several shooting investigations and other housekeeping issues. One of the issues that came up was the Mystery of the Missing Case Books for the two fatal shooting cases being discussed now. These case files submitted by the department's officer-involved death investigation team were taken from the vaults of the PRC and removed from online for some redacting which needed to be done and should have been done. However, the time period stretched until three months had passed and there's no definite date when either the case books for the shootings of Douglas Steven Cloud and Joseph Darnell Hill will be released either to the commission or to the public record. While previewing the case books for what needed to be redacted, Roz Vincent, the custodian of records and representatives from the department's internal affairs division determined that more records might have to be removed. Not really a surprising development in the least. In fact, it was kind of expected.

Explanations for the delay including the fact that the Riverside Police Department apparently has only one person fully trained and certified to handle the redaction in these files were provided by both Executive Manager Kevin Rogan and Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa. There was some discussion about producing different records for the commission than those accessed by the public. Until then, the commissioners could make appointments with the Internal Affairs Division to borrow its case book to review it in that office and perhaps an additional copy could be made if negotiations to do so were successful with the department. Perhaps the department would also take the time to train more employees to be able to handle and process these documents if it hasn't done so already. It's certainly something they can take up with the city manager's office.

Ken Rotker, a commissioner who's clearly ready to take his vote on the Hill case, said that he's prepared, having read the case book. Which is definitely commendable, but if other people including John Brandriff (who had expressed concern about the lack of access to it) need to review it or revisit the information inside it then they should be allowed to have that opportunity to be prepared to the same degree of comfort and confidence as that expressed by Rotker. They should be fully prepared in terms of reviewing all the case product on the Hill shooting investigation before engaging in any of the stages of their new process.

Commissioner Chani Beeman who expressed frustration at the lengthy delay said at one point that the delay was another way the commission was being punished for trying to make it accessible and that it was nothing less than obstructive conduct. At one point she tried to get a motion passed to ask the department to expedite the process which was seconded by Commissioner Jim Ward but it was withdrawn after howls of protest from other commissioners who said that the department had explained that there was only one individual who could do the job, even working on weekends to get it done.

But Leslie Braden, sister of Hill, hasn't even seen the case book that contains the investigative material into her brother's death even though she's requested access to it every week. She was told that there's no set date when she or her family members will be able to access that information.

Earlier, Teresa Cloud, mother of Douglas Steven Cloud, delivered a speech to the commission which raised some critical issues and questions involving the process of investigation, fact gathering, deliberations and decision making involving her son's case. She started it off with a simple sentence, "We need a civilian review board".

And she's right. That's what this city needs but that's not what it has, especially in the light of recent events surrounding the micromanagement of this eight-year-old form of civilian oversight primarily by individuals who weren't in positions of power or even in the city at all when the events transpired surrounding its gestation and birth. The city has the board it's always wanted and ironically, it achieved it within four years after the majority of the voters in Riverside passed Measure II which was done in response to political manipulation of the commission by members of the elected government who opposed it.

What the city does have, Cloud said, is a panel filled with people primarily in law enforcement, connected to law enforcement and even one member who manages a company which has an ongoing public safety contract with the city. As usual, they disregarded the statements by the civilian witnesses, latched onto the versions provided by the officers and there wasn't much in the way of physical evidence to factor into the case. But this shooting which was the second of three in 2006 to involve unarmed men, was disturbing and troublesome, so much so that the city paid out the second highest financial settlement in recent history to make it go away. But if it's exposed serious problems in the supervision, staffing and training of officers, then it's not going to go away.

If there are problems, they'll just reemerge through other critical incidents as they have in the past until the city and department are ready and willing to learn from them. And the department's proven it's capable of doing this through the development of mental health crisis intervention training in response to the Brown shooting. But it's also shown its resistance to doing this and in recent years, it seems that City Hall has joined in this chorus including some of the same individuals who chastised prior elected officials for their lack of inability to see what was coming.

At least one commissioner said that the Cloud case disturbed him. But he apparently was alone in deciding not to go with the crowd if indeed he is concerned about the shooting.

Ward had hoped to revisit the discussion on the Cloud case saying that he had been caught by surprise that the commission had reached a finding in his absence. Beeman tried to reopen the case for discussion if only to hear the viewpoints of Ward and Commissioner John Brandriff (much quieter since the Schiavone letter) who were absent at the last meeting where the finding had been reached. But others wanted to just move on to the next stage. Still, a motion was initiated by Beeman and seconded by Ward to receive input from the missing commissioners.

Ward did say that he would be submitting a minority report on the Cloud shooting case and said he would submit it to the commission at the same time it submitted its majority report. Chair Brian Pearcy tried to use that to cast negative comments on Ward's intentions but actually that's how majority and minority reports are done by other administrative agencies. After several years and two minority reports released in connection with officer-involved death investigations, the commission still seems to have difficulty understanding what a minority report actually represents.

That led to more excruciating discussion about how important it is for the majority of commissioners to be able to see Ward's minority report before it's submitted so they can refute his points in the majority report. No, this is not how they are done. If the majority report is well thought out, well drafted and its argument presented clearly, then it will already address and even counter points raised in the minority report. If those who constitute the majority report are so insecure about the arguments they plan to use to back their own finding, then they really do need to reopen the discussion of that finding again.

There was more of the usual infighting between members of the commission including barbs traded by one person who said another person had insulted them and that's what is most noticeable about the dynamics of communication on the CPRC is how more and more it's getting personal rather than professional. It's getting to be so predicable who says what about who that perhaps it's time to develop the PRC drinking game in a future posting.

It's amazing how much discussion the PRC gets from all these entities at City Hall and beyond yet the fact that the police department's staffing levels may be at their lowest since the 1980s doesn't get nearly as much in the way of attention let alone any sort of public dialogue. If the department is staffing its shift with about 18-19 officers for a city of 300,000, then those making these decisions should be included on the list of involved parties cited in the next consent decree that gets imposed on the police department. It's really too bad that those in power in both the department and City Hall apparently haven't learned much about what critically low staffing levels at the officer and/or supervisor level did to the police department in the 1990s.

In 1998 for example, there were four fatal shootings by a department with fewer officers overall than exist today. The final shooting that year was of Tyisha Miller which took place almost 10 years ago.

It's really unfortunate that elected officials including those who've bagged or are hoping to bag huge financial campaign contributions from the department's three labor unions are not doing more to address this situation rather than backing the city manager's office's assertion that the department is "fully staffed".

But it's not, not if the officers assigned to staff each shift were in greater numbers than they are now. With almost 30 positions either permanently or temporarily vacant, it's very doubtful that the police department's as populated as it needs to be. And if staffing levels are falling below what they should be and the supervisory levels of this very young department are not as they should be, does that point to other deficiencies in the department? And if so, what would they be?

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein discusses the episode involving the downtown office tower purchased by Riverside County.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

But was there really a subsidy? City bureaucrats, including City Manager Brad Hudson, hint that Schiavone doesn't know what he's talking about. They say those all-day spaces are only worth $4 million.

At this writing, the city cannot decide whether it is or is not subsidizing a developer with$4 million. (This is not reassuring to Joe the Taxpayer.)

After speaking to City Manager Hudson, who works for Councilman Schiavone, Tavaglione concluded Schiavone "was off on his own." Having laughed off the councilman, the county voted to buy the building. Tavaglione claimed the county was doing the city a favor.

"I can tell you that in this economy, if that building were left to a speculative market you would not see a tenant for at least four years."

Which contradicts real estate experts who have repeatedly said demand for office space in downtown Riverside remains high.

The Moreno Valley city council candidates talked finances and other issues on the campaign trail. The once harmonious city government has experienced a greater degree of infighting in recent months. Still the Press Enterprise Editorial Board endorsed these two.

Beaumont's political candidates address growth.

Rescue Temecula, a community activist group,
has filed a complaint against another elected official.

Eight candidates compete for two trustee positions on the Riverside Community College District Board.

The Inglewood Police Department will be getting new tactical training in the wake of a recent series of officer-involved shootings.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Seabrooks told reporters that the training would help officers better assess situations that could escalate to the use of deadly force.

"At the end of the day, we are talking about a program that is to professionalize and enhance a skill set," Seabrooks said.

The first three-week training session will begin Nov. 5 and eventually will include all of the department's 193 officers.

Seabrooks said the program was in the works before the four deadly shootings that occurred from May to September. In three of those cases, the suspects were unarmed. The incidents generated widespread criticism of the department's use-of-force policies, tactics and leadership.

"One of the consistent themes I've heard from members of this organization . . . is that we need to do more training here," Seabrooks said, adding she had ordered an extensive analysis of "critical incidents" involving Inglewood officers dating back nearly a decade.

Check out Ghost Walk.

A welcome home to Alysheba!

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