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

Friday, October 03, 2008

Will there be rain in the forecast?

“They tell you counseling is available, so that way the department can say, ‘we told them to go,’ but usually nobody goes. They don’t want to be seen as if they have mental problems. Management may not treat you the same.”

---NYPD officer of nine years to the New York Times

"Officers will be encouraged to use a term other than 'use of force' in their reports. They can refer to it as 'an incident' or another innocuous phrase."

--- The minutes from the July 2 Patrol Command Staff meeting for the San Bernardino Police Department.

It looks cloudy today and there's rain in the forecast, but you never know in the Inland Empire whether or not it will actually happen or whether the clouds will wither and dry up bringing the ever present sunshine out. Hopefully, the sun will shine over the people participating in the annual walk to fight AIDS taking place in Riverside today.

Riverside's public library director Barbara Custen has resigned to take hopefully what will be a better job in Los Angeles County.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"It was easy for me to hit the ground running because she left the library system whole," Custen said.

The Arlington branch re-opened in June after a major renovation and expansion nearly tripled its space.

The library at Orange Terrace Community Park is set to open later this month.

The city is moving the Marcy branch into a larger building and is preparing to build a "cybrary" -- a library branch with numerous computers -- in Arlanza.

Councilman Mike Gardner said Custen oversaw the system expansion and managed to find staff for it without hiring new workers.

"I appreciate her dedication," he said.

Ah, but did everybody? Custen worked very hard but the most contentious issue of her tenure wasn't the issue of the library expansion downtown or citywide, it was this one. The one when Custen circulated a memo that forbade other library employees from discussing the policies and procedures with members of the media and even members of the public using the library. She took some heat on it when the news broke but was it even her decision? Does any department heads in this city actually make their own decisions on what goes on in their own departments?

People's views on the independence of the city's department heads differ greatly. Some people view them as strong, independent leaders directing the operations of their respective divisions. Others see them as figureheads being manipulated by the city manager's office. And there's not much middle ground in between the two perspectives. After all, one particular tenacious rumor a while back had Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis running around and telling librarians where to shelve books. Then when asked about the temporary vanishing act involving the Inland Empire Weekly in the summer of 2007, the directive was traced back to a little man in a blue shirt. After complaints, the publication was restored.

Then earlier this week, someone set a book on fire inside the library, causing damage to the book and the facility. This took place purposely or not during National Banned Books Week, an event the library usually commemorates with a rather impressive display of banned books inside a cage placed in the first floor lobby. The display was minimized last year to one small table tucked away on the second floor. This was of course, after the city manager's office claimed the exhibit was going to be "bigger than ever" and in fact would be the centerpiece of the theme surrounding the city's annual United Way Chili Cookoff. Of course, it was missing in action there as well.

And this year? The entire exhibit was missing in action! Meaning no display at all on banned books. Why was that? One would think that most people in a democratic society would want to speak out against book banning and would be proud to have such a display.

All this and more sounds silly until you've been in Riverside longer than a few hours.

Then there was all this confusion by city officials regarding the downtown library's future and how it would make them all look. The city manager's office refused to comment even for clarification purposes of its own policies and procedures and that left several city councilmen wondering out loud about it sounding more confused about the library than usual.

Quite a few management level employees in Riverside are either retiring or taking better jobs at this juncture. Custen probably won't be the last one to do so.

The city has released eight police officer positions to be filled. These do not include any positions which were frozen earlier this year but are those vacated by firings, failure to make probation, resignations and retirements. It's possible that as many as 10 more might be opened up this year.

The Ben Clark Training Academy has increased the number of future law enforcement officers going through its classes but most of those are headed off to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

No word on whether or not former police officer, Jose Nazario will be among those hired. Nazario is trying to get his job back after being acquitted of manslaughter charges in federal court stemming from the killings of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah. Since he's been back in the United States, he was taped making comments about his brief tenure in the police department about regularly "beating the shit" out of people and then coming up with a reason to take them to jail later. Police Chief Russ Leach's only comment is that he fired Nazario while he was a probational officer and wasn't able to comment further on Nazario's past or future employment with the police department.

No word on whether a member of a prominent local political family who is employed by another law enforcement agency has been hired either.

The city council will be reconvening next Tuesday for another one of its meetings. Some times it seems that they're mainly for show because it's pretty clear that the decision making doesn't take place in a public venue. At any rate, they're kind of interesting to watch and this week's agenda boasts a public hearing on whether or not developer and campaign contributor Doug Jacobs will be able to build his medical office buildings on what was once Chinatown.

Given the outcome of the vote by the Land Use Committee, the answer's clearly yes but supporters of Chinatown plan to crowd the chambers anyway to let their voices be heard as they have during this entire process.

Here is the city council report and it's over 750 pages long.

Also on the agenda in the closed session is Steve Sdringola v the City of Riverside which is a workman's compensation case. Sdringola is one of the city's police officers.

The Press Enterprise has endorsed two candidates in the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees election.

The management at the San Bernardino Police Department apparently decided they didn't like the words, "use of force" so they're planning to substitute other more pleasant words in their police reports instead. More intrigue from the agency that just expelled its latest police chief.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Department policy requires officers to report every contact with the public in which they use force, from striking a blow to firing a weapon. Supervisors must document what happened in writing.

The minutes of the July 2 meeting attribute the directive to avoid the term "use of force" to Lt. Richard Taack, acting patrol captain at the time.

In an interview Wednesday, Assistant Police Chief Walt Goggin said Taack never meant to obscure the reporting process. He said support staff prepared the minutes.

Taack would not be available for comment, Goggin said.

"Lt. Taack's sole purpose in that entry was to pass on to the subordinate officers that when they do crime reports (and) a use of force is part of that report, that they should describe in detail what happened and not refer to it only as a use of force," Goggin said.

Meanwhile, the police union has spent its time advising its members to take their time responding to calls for service, a measure which some have labeled what is otherwise known in the industry as a work slowdown. The union says that's not so.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"We're not doing any kind of job action," union President Rich Lawhead said. "It's not slowing (officers) down. It's just telling them, 'Hey, you have to watch out for your family and yourself, because nobody else is.' "

Mayor Pat Morris, who appointed the chief and has publicly defended him against union criticism, said late Friday afternoon that he hadn't seen the letter.

It was distributed late Thursday evening.

Morris said he expects officers to do their duty.

"The members of our Police Department have always met high standards of accountability and professionalism, and I'm sure they will continue to do so," he said.

Billdt could not be reached for comment.

The union contract forbids strikes and slowdowns, said attorney Dieter Dammeier, who signed the letter.

But it advises union members to make sure they work in pairs, stay together until assignments are complete, and never respond to calls without backup.

Burglary investigations should be "very thorough," and detectives need to ensure the public receives "the thorough and complete and necessary follow-up attention that they deserve," the letter notes.

"We are not asking you to not do your job or curtail or restrict your activities," the letter states. "We are concerned that given current management's recent actions toward our members that you limit your exposure."

And just when you think things in that police department can't get any more exciting, yet another sergeant has filed a retaliation claim against outgoing Chief Mike Billdt.

The decision of Corona's government to lay off over 100 of its employees is not that unusual and similar trends have been noted in other cities as a result of the huge budget crisis in Sacramento.

Jury selection began in the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

More than 300 prospective jurors -- some in the courtroom and some watching a live video feed -- were introduced to Carona and attorneys for the defense and prosecution in the Santa Ana courtroom of U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford. Then, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel spent 50 minutes reading the indictment to the potential jurors.

Despite speculation in Orange County law enforcement circles that the case would end in a plea bargain before trial, all indications this week are that the trial will begin Oct. 28 as scheduled.

Before the potential jurors were dismissed, they were asked to fill out a 14-page questionnaire that asked, among other things, whether they had followed the case in the media or had any opinions about the charges.

Attorneys will use the questionnaires to narrow the field before Guilford questions potential jurors in person Oct. 22.

An investigation of a Boston Police Department officer's involvement in an onduty crash determined that he was at fault.

(excerpt, Boston Globe)

Officer Jesse Stots, a 13-year veteran, violated department rules of emergency response when he drove through an intersection at 51 miles per hour nearly a year ago as he rushed to help an officer who was being attacked by a man with a knife, police said yesterday.

Stots struck the side of Ann-Marie McNally's Saab at the intersection of D Street and West Broadway. She was three blocks from home, according to her family.

"I truly believe that if the officer followed policy this wouldn't have happened," Commissioner Edward F. Davis said yesterday. But he also said the department has to improve training at the Police Academy so officers understand what can go wrong when they are driving during emergencies.

"We have to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again," Davis said.

McNally's family has agreed to help the department develop more training and might participate in a video that would be shown to officers, he said.

In the wake of the suicide of one of its lieutenants, discussion in New York City's police department has turned towards the issue of whether or not counseling services are available to police officers and whether or not they are being used.

(excerpt, New York Times)

Lt. Michael W. Pigott, who killed himself on Thursday morning after having ordered the fatal Taser shooting of a man on a ledge Sept. 24, was required to receive counseling within the Police Department, said Philip E. Karasyk, a lawyer for the Lieutenants Benevolent Association. He did so, and took some time off work last week, returning to one single shift at Fleet Services, where the department’s vehicles are serviced, he said.

“He had been transferred out of his unit. That’s always very disconcerting to these guys,” Mr. Karasyk said, especially in a case compounded by heavy media coverage. “No one takes into consideration the human being behind the cop.”

Other officers who were deemed to have made mistakes in the past dealt with their pain — be it anger or humiliation or fear of repercussions — in different ways.

Lt. Gary Napoli, 50, was the commanding officer of the team of officers who shot and killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets in Queens in 2006. While he was not among the three officers charged, and later acquitted, in the shooting, he was removed from his regular duty and suspended. In an interview on Thursday, he said he did not visit police counselors, although he credited the department for offering their services.

“I’ve developed many friendships on the job in 25 years. I received hundreds of phone calls in support,” he said. “The department was there for myself and my family and my kids. My superiors, my peers and my subordinates, they all were supportive of me.”

The New Haven Police Department is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by some residents of that city.

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