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

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Election 2009: The future of Chinatown

"The corruption just continues at this police department."

---San Bernardino Police Department Sgt. Mike Desrochers about his own agency.

The Riverside City Council held its public hearing involving the fate of the land where once stood Chinatown. Developer and campaign contributor Doug Jacobs wants to build medical office space on top of what's a historical landmark and where a collection of artifacts still rest beneath some dirt which sits within the boundaries of the self-titled "City of the Arts".

Members of the city's Chinese-American community wanted to preserve its heritage through keeping those artifacts safe for future generations and they had a lot of supporters overflowing the city council chambers. But just as the development of Chinatown was both fostered and halted by the racist legislation Congress passed against Chinese nationals trying to immigrate into this country's "melting pot", so in a more symbolic way has that community faced having its history potentially destroyed. Chinatown wasn't the first neighborhood in Riverside to be created as a result of racist housing laws within the city's boundaries but it's the only one to have had its buildings leveled and its artifacts treated more like a nuisance than important reminders of a huge part of Riverside's past when much of the wealth it developed (as one of the country's most prosperous cities) came about on the backs of the Chinese-American and Latino citrus crop laborers who picked the fruit.

What came about the discussion what little of it took place might be a monument, a consolation prize given to communities of color for some other action.

This journey to the city council vote was a long one. During parts of it, there were victories and there were setbacks, the kind that comes when dealing with a city where developers are king and everyone else including the city's basic infrastructure services are scrambling and scrapping over what's left.

The Land Use Committee had overturned a decision by the Planning Commission on appeal which had favored doing more to weave the history of Riverside's Chinese-American community into the architecture of the buildings. Of course, the Planning Commission is a group of city residents who volunteer their time whereas the Land Use Committee consists of three city council members. One of them, Chair Rusty Bailey had been endorsed by Jacobs during his successful 2007 bid for office, according to his own Web site. Next year, being an election year, perhaps some other prospective candidates might go shopping as well for campaign donations from developers including Jacobs even though the construction crisis has begin to dry up even those previously deep pockets.

And as stated here, the "hearing" itself was just a formality. Over 100 people who supported the preservation of artifacts from Chinatown organized brilliantly, forming a coalition of organizations and individuals which spanned the country. They were 100 times the force that the other side could be. In the other corner, you had a handful of representatives and heads of the city's various chambers of commerce including in downtown and what's called the Greater Chamber who weren't organized, weren't prepared but then when you're in the select group of power brokers in Riverside, you don't have to be. People walked into this meeting believing that they had a serious chance to sway the city council to preserve the archaeological site and walked out learning the truth which is they had no chance at all.

The city council spent much of its time chastising the Chinese-American community which was fighting for its heritage the way Whites often chastise people of color about their own histories and what portions of them should be valued. Councilwoman Nancy Hart scolded a North High School freshman and then started talking about a tea-cup not bringing back someone's grandma which confused a lot of people in the audience. But then given that she's up for reelection again and potentially facing some serious competition, maybe she's planning ahead. Councilman Steve Adams who seconded Ward One Councilman Mike Gardner's motion to go with Jacobs' plan said very little, with nary even an insult crossing his lips.

The strangest event of the night was when Mayor Ron Loveridge who runs the meetings admonished people for "uncivil" behavior which consisted of clapping loudly in response to several speakers including a professor from UCR who said that he knew that unless Jacobs and the city respected the artifacts on the site, that UCR's new medical center would have nothing to do with the new office building.

Does this mean that the Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a meeting to discuss the criteria under which clapping can be considered a behavioral violation? Just think how interesting it will be if you receive a letter from City Attorney Gregory Priamos admonishing you for clapping at a meeting.

But what was also very interesting was the scolding done by Councilman Frank Schiavone and a developer about why the Chinese-American community didn't just raise the money to buy the land themselves or to do their own excavation of the artifacts. What neither of these two men mentioned is that the Riverside Board of Education which owned the property made a promise to develop or sell it only for educational purposes according to a 1990 meeting minute order and now is turning around and wanting to sell it to a developer for usage which has little or nothing to do with education. And what if the community tried to buy it from a developer? Would the developer triple the cost of sale for the property?

But one famous French royal (though not Maria Antoinette) said it better. "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"

Interestingly enough, it was only earlier that day during the Redevelopment Agency meeting when the city showed how it buys property and then slices the price to sell to private developers. This time, it was a piece of land purchased for $4.4 million that it turned around and sold to a developer for $2.2 million. What kind of deal has someone buy property with tax payer money and then turn around and flip it for such a loss? Can't developers themselves pay the original asking prices without the city serving as their brokers? Does the city really have money to toss around like that? Apparently it does. But it sounds a lot like the decision making in the financial markets of this country. Will the city residents of Riverside end up bailing their government out?

Here were some of the responses given during the three-hour public hearing which ended with the same 7-0 vote that the city council probably walked into the chambers holding.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Council members Nancy Hart and Frank Schiavone praised Jacobs for going "above and beyond" what most developers would do and for agreeing to "unprecedented" mitigation measures.

City Councilman Rusty Bailey said he believed the project offered an opportunity to celebrate the site's history and open a window into the city's heritage.

"How do we tell the story (of Chinese-American pioneers) if we don't have the ability to experience what is there?" Bailey asked.

A majority of the roughly 40 people who spoke before the City Council and the standing-room only crowd supported preserving the site's "treasure trove" of archaeological resources.

Preserving the site is not just a Chinese-American issue but a community issue, Riverside resident Judy Lee said.

"Will money always trump heritage?" she asked.

Scott Fedick, a UC Riverside anthropology professor, said "excavation is not preservation."

On the eve of an election year, the city council once again went with the developer Doug Jacobs and not with city residents, arguing that medical office space was in desperate need which is pretty similar to what the city officials said several years ago about condos. The reality is, the city has empty office space it can't fill, including medical office space and some medical and dental offices that were already in existence were subjected to threats of eminent domain in the past. And what kind of doctors will fill these offices if they are indeed filled? Probably mostly specialists, including those who will be outside the price (or insurance range) of many city residents. Yes, Riverside will be getting a new medical school for its state university some day in the future, but what provisions have been made so that it will graduate doctors which are sorely needed in fields including ob/gyn, gerontology, internal medicine and family practice?

Still, it was interesting to attend and hear all the information provided on the fields of archaeology which is meant to preserve and respect and the same field being used to excavate in a way that can be destructive and permanent. The organization and coalition building was amazing. Was it wasted? No, of course not. After all, next year is another election year in this city.

No further retirements to announce involving supervisory police officers at the Riverside Police Department at this time. The department is currently filling eight vacancies created through attrition meaning that employees retired, resigned, failed to make probation or were fired from employment. There's still many of the original police positions that were passed and promised by the city council during the past several years that have either disappeared or have been frozen depending on your word choice. This is one of the more serious problems in the city's infrastructure that not much is being heard about except for reassurances from the city manager's office that the department is "fully staffed" and from the police department that there are more officers than ever.

That's like saying the stock market is better than ever when in actuality, it's at the lowest level since 2003. The police department has more personnel than ever when in actuality, it's at its lowest level since way before 2003.

But get this, the police department is what two years out of the stipulated judgment, about three-fourths the way through its Strategic Plan and $22 million and counting paid in reforms and its current patrol staffing levels rival those of about 20 years ago. You know, during the 1980s where big hair and flashy clothes ruled and Riverside had about half the population that it has now. If the officer to sergeant ratios are looking a little bit better than several months ago, is it because the number of sergeants has stopped decreasing or because the number of officers on each assigned shift has been reduced?

The vacant supervisory positions haven't been filled except for one lieutenant and one sergeant position. So as many officers for a city of 300,000 as the city had for a population half of that size and most of them are young and inexperienced and so they have more supervisors right? And community policing is expanding not shrinking due to lack of personnel to staff it, right?

Well, maybe. And the answer depends on who you ask.

What the city government and some of its direct employees should do is find a chalkboard and some chalk and then write this 100 times.

"If you don't learn from your past, you are doomed to repeat it."

It's most unfortunate that such a thing would even have to be suggested mere months before the 10th anniversary of the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller. But there you and we, are.

Not much lately on the barely there Community Police Review Commission except that there's now five elected officials who have signed on with at least one other on a written statement to some audience backing City Manager Brad Hudson's directive. There hasn't been a public forum on the issue through a meeting and if some of them have their way, there won't be. And the reason why goes back to what happened with Chinatown at the City Council meeting. The elected officials are more cognizant of their constituents with check books than those who merely vote (or may not vote).

There's murmerings in City Hall as a substitution for good old fashion directspeak that there's efforts to try to get it to the Public Safety Committee which is chaired by Councilman Andrew Melendrez and Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Councilman Frank Schiavone.

Complaints are officially down but in the communities? Not so. In fact, the ACLU of Southern California has received enough complaints about the police department that one of the organization's national coordinators came to Riverside several months ago on a fact-finding trip. He's expected to possibly return for another visit in several months.

The Riverside City Council for the use of eminent domain on a strip mall that houses many businesses to prepare for the railroad grade separation project. About 11 businesses still have not been relocated including Elliot's Pets. Riverside's lost some key pet supplies stores in recent years and it looks like it might lose yet another one.

Who's raising the most campaign money in the Lake Elsinore City Council races? But no talk about campaign fundraising this year is complete without talking about Corona.

Menifee is addressing the accountability of its elected officials but
still hasn't tackled the credit card issue which has plagued other local governments in recent years.

The San Bernardino City Council approved the police chief's promotion. Albeit, narrowly.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Council members voted 4-3, with Esther Estrada, Rikke Van Johnson and Wendy McCammack dissenting, to approve Chief Mike Billdt's recommendation and promote Lt. Brian Boom to captain.

The decision follows a police union vote of no confidence against the chief. Union officials accuse him of misusing department discipline to harass critics and reward supporters. Billdt announced recently that he will retire when his contract expires in March.

Before the vote, McCammack said she had been troubled by testimony at a closed personnel meeting to discuss the promotion.

"There are a lot of allegations out there related to police management," McCammack said.

But Councilman Dennis Baxter said he didn't hear anything Monday to change his belief that Boom deserves the job.

"I felt like he was being railroaded by the very people he paid his union dues to for many, many years," Baxter said.

Police officers in a city in Massachusetts have taken to the streets to protest a law that prohibits security detail at construction sites.

The Spokane City Council has approved its police ombudsman for police oversight.

(excerpt, Spokesman Review)

The Spokane City Council voted 6-0 to back the proposal. Councilman Al French was absent.

Some City Council members said the agreement isn’t perfect, but that it’s “a good first step,” as Councilman Steve Corker labeled it.

“I’ve come to appreciate the fact that we either have an ombudsman or we don’t have an ombudsman,” said Councilman Richard Rush, who said last week that he was skeptical about the plan.

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said she is confident that the ombudsman system will be impartial and fair.

“This is what the community wanted,” said Kirkpatrick, who praised the guild for negotiating on oversight. “I’m confident we’re going to have what this community thought it was going to get.”

But is she sure about that? Many Spokane residents advocated for investigative power which this new form of oversight won't have.

In New Mexico, the state police department is starting to track its officers and the complaints filed against them.

(excerpt, KOB)

The Chief says the database has instilled a sense of accountability.

"There are certain parameters set in this system that send a flag, letting us know that there may be a potential issue with an employee," said Chief Faron Segotta.

Officers who build up a large amount of hits in the database get flagged. Commanders can then review their cases.

The database also tracks awards and merit increases for individual officers.

Also tracking its officers is the Colorado Springs Police Department.

(excerpt, KKTV)

Out of the 400 complaints, 319 were considered a “level one.” "Level one is less serious. For example, an officer backed into something and caused damage," said Colorado Springs Police Lt. Dave Whitlock.

The other 54 compaints were “level two,” the more serious kind of grievance. "That’s a possible violation of a law or a crime. Occassionally, we have employees who engage in those activities."

Lt. Whitlock said about half of “level two” complaints were valid and disciplinary action was taken against the officer involved.

"That's why this report is important to the public. It takes away the ambiguity and the mystery of how we take care of our problems," Whitlock said.

The Springfield, Massachusetts civilian review board must follow open meeting laws. And in an interesting twist, the city council is actually moving against its own legal counsel which had issued a legal opinion that the board wasn't held to the open meeting laws even though it was created through ordinance.

(excerpt, The Republican)

The council sent to its Public Health and Safety Committee a proposal to re-establish in ordinance form the Community Complaint Review Board. Boards established by ordinance are subject to the state Open Meeting Law.

Councilors were moved to act after opinions by the Hampden District attorney and the city solicitor. Those officials said the review board currently is not bound by the Open Meeting Law because it was established by executive order of the mayor and exists only as an advisory board.

At a minimum, Williams said, the public should know when the review board is meeting, and that would be accomplished by requiring the posting of meeting notices.

Boards can vote to close the meeting room doors and hold an executive session for certain reasons, and the confidential nature of an individual's complaint against a police officer would apply, he said. But, he said, the public at least needs to know there's a meeting.

The police officers in Bryson City hit a mentally ill man over 30 times with their batons and maced him, according to witnesses. However, two weeks later the police department served an arrest warrant on the man.

(excerpt, Smoky Mountain News)

Ten written witness statements obtained by the Smoky Mountain News have a common theme — each say that Jacob Grant gave Allen no reason to use force.

Allen stopped Grant on foot in front of local hangout Anthony’s Restaurante Pizzeria the night of Sept. 15 to try and serve him an involuntary commitment order, which would force Grant into the care of mental health officials. Grant demanded to see the order, then refused to come with Allen when the officer said he didn’t have the paperwork with him.

Witnesses say an argument ensued between the two men as Allen followed Grant onto the porch of Anthony’s. Then, it escalated.

“Officer Allen without being provoked pepper sprayed and repeatedly struck Jacob Grant across the head and face with his night stick,” wrote witness Paul Robinson.

“He got his baton and started hitting Jacob uncontrollably for no reason,” according to Bryson City resident Tiffany Campbell, who was there with friends.

“All the time Jacob was standing there with his hands up asking why the officer was hitting him...this attack by Officer Allen was unprovoked,” recalled Michael Marsden.

Others said Jacob Grant asked the officer to stop, and that Allen continued to beat him even when he didn’t fight back.

The alleged attack stopped when a backup patrol car arrived at the scene.

Now even police chief's blog including the one who heads Lincoln, Nebraska's police department on this site.

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