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, December 02, 2008

Ten years later: Different faces, same behavior at City Hall?

"He's the Godfather with connections and a type writer."

---- Dennis Holt, — Chairman and CEO Western International Media Corporation about the founder of Sitrick, a public relations firm.

"Martin Luther King was a great man. But naming this school for him would be a mistake. Everybody will think we have a Black school out there."

---Dale Dunn, to the New York Times, 1998

"This is my son, Kyle. He's only 8 months old, but I brought him here tonight because it's important for him to learn, even at this age, that racism is not dead."

---Victor Patton, at a Riverside Unified School Board meeting in January 1998


"They never saw her face,"

Black Voice News editorial, 1999

An individual spoke about the planned extravaganza being published by the Press Enterprise commemorating the 10th anniversary of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller which takes place on Dec. 28.

I'm not sure whether I'll read the coverage or not as I lived through it and like most people who did, don't need a mainstream publication to tell me what happened or what to think about it all. It was pretty apparent early on that the newspaper is being very selective in its depiction of what to commemorate which shows that how the newspaper examined that event probably hasn't changed much in the past 10 years except now it's owned by a huge corporation in Texas and is blood letting many of its long-time employees, including nearly all of the reporters who wrote most of the coverage on Tyisha Miller for that publication.

I noticed that most African-Americans who participated heavily in the movement that arose from Miller didn't even know an article was being written whereas most Whites and to a lesser extent, members of other racial groups I know who were active to varying degrees had actually been called for an interview by the reporters. Have any police officers been interviewed who lived through it as well besides those in management? Have any other city employees?

Hopefully the coverage proves to be much more broad and community-expansive than it appears. It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised.

At any rate, someone made a comment that the newspaper had tried to interview current members of the city council to gain their perspective on Tyisha Miller and the past 10 years. Apparently, the city council has decided not to be interviewed by the reporters. Their collective reason appears to be that this incident (of course it can only be viewed as one discrete incident) took place before their time and they have nothing to say about anything. Hopefully, the city government has had second thoughts and decided to participate after all, realizing that yes, they do have things to say and it's their role as governmental leaders to say them.

Given the leadership that's come off the dais in the past year (actually a bit longer than that), this nonresponse is not surprising even as it's very disappointing. In fact, it's what is to be expected. Why? Because it's symptomatic of a disconnect stemming from city government involving the police department that continues even after $22 million and a five-year consent decree were spent reforming it. It's a problem they should already know about given that former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer warned the city about it as his office initiated legal action against the city because of problems within its police department back in 2001.

It's not like they would ever turn down an opportunity to comment on Riverside Renaissance or the construction of a new office building or the development taking place downtown including the Fox Theater project. Is a life so much cheaper than buildings? While the $22 million spent reforming the police department might look like chump change next to the $2 billion and climbing Riverside Renaissance, it's still worth commenting on in terms of whether the investment in the police department's future was worthwhile or not and exactly what it means.

If it's indeed true they won't participate, then they really should all be embarrassed. They should remember three things, who they are, why they ran for office and that in fact, they are elected leaders and representatives entrusted with representing their constituents even in difficult situations. Hopefully, at least Mayor Ron Loveridge, the only elected official from that era still on the dais did have something to say about it but every person who was elected to office should have something to say about it because they make the decisions that will determine whether or not the Miller tragedy remains in the past or is revisited again in the future. They should have something to say about it because they don't just represent themselves or their own interests but the people of this city.

And not just the White people with money and powerful ties either who can get elected officials places. It's not a temporal disconnect that is stopping these elected officials from commenting. Perhaps some of them simply identify most closely to those demographics which the Tyisha Miller incident and its rather lengthy aftermath had the least impact on. But then if you've watched how many small businesses downtown were threatened with Eminent Domain to hand their properties off to private developers including many owned by Asian-American and Latino business owners (as several Black-owned businesses were already ousted in early land "purchases" except for Gram's Barbecue which nearly was but was relocated after much public protest) to fuel the Riverside Renaissance, that's not hard to understand.

For years, the city was more than happy to let them keep their businesses downtown when it didn't want to invest the time and money into a vision of downtown. Besides, their business taxes were needed to help fill the coffers of the Riverside Downtown Partnership to finance the (first, not the latest) rehaul of the Main Street pedestrian mall. These businesses gave tax dollars for years that never were spent on improvements on their own blocks, a factor used against them to justify the Eminent Domain on these "blighted" areas, a move supported publicly by the Partnership, whose leadership incidentally is largely White.

Once it did want to remake downtown, these businesses were faced with Eminent Domain and their land is handed off to development firms owned by Whites. Some of those projects haven't been started or are half-finished because to the shock of a few people, the housing market (especially the construction industry) bit the dust in late 2007. Mention the recession which became official just yesterday, right now and it's serious business but city residents who told the city government to be cautious in its development spending and warned of the collapse of the housing market and the economic downturn during the Riverside Renaissance bonanza held at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium and were treated like skunks who invaded a garden party.

Witness the fate of the historic business in the Wood Streets, Kawa Market which was written about by blogger, Inland Emperor. A Chinese-American owned business that attracted a large crowd of poorer African-Americans living in apartment complexes several blocks away who had to walk through a predominantly White, middle-class neighborhood to get to Kawa Market. Clearly, the market had to go. And go it did, literally being demolished to the ground so the city could transport houses there which it believed were more fitting in the neighborhood.

Witness the fate of Chinatown, the historical landmark site sold off to a developer who contributes to political campaigns of elected officials past and present, while those interested in preserving it and the artifacts tried to negotiate with the Riverside County Office of Education which owned the land and broke a promise that it had made.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The group believes the board is ignoring its own 1990 minute order that states that in considering future uses of the site, the "cultural, historical and archaeological, values of the site will be preserved."

But then promises even treaties historically made to people of color have often been broken, or made in words only.

Then there's the history of protests after naming a local high school after Martin Luther King, jr. Not to mention schools being set on fire and burned during the 1960s after Riverside's school district tried to be the first in the nation to voluntarily desegregate its schools.

Being interviewed were leaders in the police department, monitor and consultant Joe Brann and even then State Attorney General (and current State Treasurer) Bill Lockyer. They all provide their perspectives on the situation which is important but if they can find time and words to comment on the situation, then why can't this city's elected officials? Lockyer, a state politician has enough time to comment on what happened in Riverside but this city's politicians do not?

But it's not like the city council hasn't gone down this road before, looking back at its history. This is exactly what they did beginning when dawn settled over Riverside on Dec. 28, 1998 only hours after four Riverside Police Department officers had surrounded Miller's disabled car and shot her at least 24 times, hitting her body 12 times. The city had changed forever but they didn't know it.

That day, the silence from the halls of power began and lasted for at least two months.

Loveridge and the city council with the exception of only Ameal Moore, who was only the second Black councilman in city history, remained silent on the issue even as residents from all different racial groups, economic status and ages took to the streets to march and surrounded City Hall. National civil rights leaders and elected representatives descended on Riverside and still the city government had very little to say about anything. Loveridge did ultimately create the Use of Force panel which proved to be a pivotal player in the future reform process of the department but as for the rest of them, silence.

Even when Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders led hundreds of marchers from the epicenter, the 76 gas station where Miller died, down the tree-lined Magnolia Street to the front of City Hall, there was silence from the seventh floor. Throngs of city employees including police officers watched from the balconies above the demonstration but no one from the city government spoke. Finally City Hall broke that silence in a manner of speaking but who or what did that speaking? Or more accurately, who was pulling the strings on the elected officials instructing them on what to say on a situation spiraling out of their control? It would take a public information request filed from a local newspaper to find out.

When that had been done, it came to light that the city had hired another entity to teach it how to speak to the city's residents. A private out-of-town corporation.

And who did the city council choose to speak for it? Sitrick and Company, a public relations firm that offers services to those including cities with elected politicians whose mouths freeze during a civic crisis. And if you want to find the city of Riverside listed as one of its clients, it's right here. The city paid over $300,000 to this public relations firm to speak for it, money that could have been better spent beginning the job of fixing the police department.

Here is a mention of Riverside as one of Sitrick's clients. The article's focus is on just how costly "crisis management" by Sitrick can be.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Sitrick’s clients have ranged from government officials in Riverside County after the police slaying of black motorist Tyisha Miller to Universal Studios, which was accused of glossing over negative aspects of Nobel laureate John Nash’s life in the film “A Beautiful Mind.”

When the Press Enterprise got wind of it and wrote about the public documents detailing the contract between the city and Sitrick, there was a lot of criticism unleashed. As there should have been.

An important part of being a civic leader elected in your district or citywide is that not only do you represent all of your residents, but that it's the difficult times that often define your leadership abilities and moral character. And unfortunately with the exception of Moore and on occasion Loveridge, that leadership was very much lacking for most of 1999, one of the most tumultuous periods in the city's history. The news about the city's relationship with Sitrick broadcast in front of the nation and the world. Lockyer and his staff of deputy attorney generals who would have a hold on the city for five years watched and weren't impressed with what unfolded. After all the city residents had elected the city council members and Loveridge to their positions in government, not the Sitrick firm.

The city government eventually recovered and even though several elected officials had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the state consent decree to fix the long-neglected police department, it eventually got on some sort of program and stuck with it. Some elected officials even proved in the long run to be effective leaders in terms of the evolution of both the city and its police department. Some of them put their own political futures at risk to make difficult decisions which brought this city the Community Police Review Commission.

And one thing that the city government provided then that doesn't exist now is a venue where people could come week after week and talk about the impact of the Miller shooting on their lives, communities and cities. Back then, city council members weren't snapping their fingers, yelling "point of order" or "out of order" and getting police officers to escort elderly women away from the dais, nor did they order the city attorney to mail letters scolding people for being too boisterous at city council meetings while carbon copying the letter to the police chief. They actually sat and listened to people even if they didn't agree or particularly like what they were saying. And not once did the city council ever order police officers to remove people from meetings. They didn't order police officers to kick out other police officers the day that they came by 300 strong to interrupt a city council meeting.

On some level, they understood that often the most important and the most difficult job an elected leader can ever do is sit back and listen to frustrated residents, sometimes for an hour or longer. They didn't think of the next insulting thing they could say about a particular speaker when they should have been listening. They didn't always believe that they had to editorialize after someone spoke about how wrong that person was. They didn't call speakers liars or roll their eyes, sign, ruffle papers or show any signs of being anything but interested in what they were hearing. They cared enough about their positions in government to believe that it was important for the constituents to know they were interested in what was being said. They respected themselves enough to care about how their constituents viewed them.

Some of them admitted years later just how difficult it had been to do that. But how they were very glad that they did, how it was one of the most important things they ever did while in government.

For all their faults in the beginning, they learned from their mistakes and moved forward. And doing that in a climate much different than today's did make a difference in how history unfolded in Riverside.

If the same chain of events happened today with this current city government, the city attorney's printing machine would probably conk out in sheer exhaustion from printing out letters to mail to hundreds of people's houses. Several city council members would run out of insults to assign to speakers or names to call people by mid-year. After watching some of the antics on the dais the past year or so, it's difficult to believe that this is a city council which could truly step to the plate in a crisis of that magnitude. The ones who held minority opinions would be too reluctant to express them because they equate not having enough votes to not having a voice at all. The ones with more dominant personalities would be looking at their watches and arguing with one speaker after another trying to ensure they wouldn't come back to future meetings.

It's easy to believe that the current city government would do what the first city council did and hire a public relations firm to speak for it. As for direct employees like City Manager Brad Hudson, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis (who as a former public information officer stumbled over Riverside County's handling of the Gloria Ramirez situation) and even Priamos, they would be as lost in a situation like this as their predecessors, John Holmes and Stan Yamamoto appeared to be. And it's not clear that this current government would or even could learn from the mistakes it made and change its course, because it's not clear that it's even learned from its predecessors' mistakes.

And if the city's elected officials can't handle being interviewed over the Miller tragedy and its aftermath, then that doesn't exactly inspire confidence that they could handle a similar situation themselves. The sad thing, is that there isn't anyone on the dais who's incapable of rising to that occasion as everyone has talents to bring to the process. It would be a matter of choice just as the decision to disconnect from the police department's continued development is a choice as well.

Not that there are a shortage of issues that they should care about, any less than there was a shortage back then.

The past year, the police department for example has been impacted by having its staffing positions frozen. Although last year had seen a temporary freeze of some civilian positions, this year saw long-term freezes of positions in both the civilian and sworn divisions of the department. Also impacted were 4-5 sergeant positions and at least one lieutenant position (with several others being impacted through more temporary vacancies from leaves), which caused people to be concerned that the officer to supervisory ratios would be adversely impacted in a department with a very high percentage of officers with only 1-3 years experience. With the budget crisis worsening, this situation likely will worsen particularly in the next year.

It parallels the situation in the late 1990s when there were protests and layoffs and several decades where the police department saw little growth in terms of what was needed to staff its community policing programs. The management and the police union are in disagreement of what the exact numbers are in terms of officers on each work shift and officer/supervisor ratios and there's no written documentation that's been made available to the public from anyone so far. Information that was accessible to the public during the stipulated judgment is no longer accessible since the entire public information process has been handed off to the city's legal department.

Another problem that's been a serious one for quite some time is the extensive time it's taken to process and investigate citizen complaints by the police department. While it's absolutely critical that thorough and impartial investigations are done, if they can't adhere to statutory limits imposed by state laws, then they are of little use if there is determined to be misconduct. Governmental Code 3304 (d) sets the standards for the time limits imposed on administrative investigations and although it includes exceptions which could impact a number of complaints, others could be negatively impacted. If you're a complainant and an officer has received a sustained allegation, he or she can't be disciplined if it's outside the statute of limitations and no exception can be claimed under that governmental code.

The Internal Affairs Division processes complaints and farms the majority of them (including nearly all of the minor ones) to field supervisors. It handles administrative reviews of officer-involved deaths, shootings and other use of force incidents where a possibility of misconduct is raised as well as internally generated investigations. In recent years, complaints have averaged well over 100 or even 200 days between the time they are filed and are received by the CPRC. In July for example, there were five complaints disposed and the average for category one complaints was 290 days and for category two, 158 days according to this report.

Policy #4.12 which governs the handling of citizen complaints states that the guidelines for category one complaints is 60 days and for category two complaints, 30 days.

Not too long ago, the police department apparently assigned another lieutenant to work in the Internal Affairs Division to work on decreasing the backlog of investigations. The Riverside Police Officers' Association President Chris Lanzillo told the Group that litigation might be initiated against the city addressing the timeliness of investigations including citizen complaints.

The decentralization of the community services division during a time period of staffing challenges has people concerned about whether community policing will be enhanced or detrimentally impacted by this decentralization as it's been called. A planned forum in the Neighborhood Policing Center-East for November at the Orangecrest Community Center was canceled after fairly successful events in both the western and central NPCs.

These are some issues that need further examination and frankly, some interest from the city government which so far has been incredibly lacking at least in a public meeting. Especially since some of these problems were older ones or similar to those that existed in the 1990s preceding the Miller shooting.

On an interesting note, the Human Resources Board announced at its most recent meeting on Monday, Dec. 1, that it was interesting on hearing from the police department regarding its retention rates for female police officers. It's planning to invite a representative from the police department to provide them with a presentation as soon as possible. It's also announced its interesting in being notified by the city when grievances or lawsuits are filed by city employees so it can determine whether or not there's any pattern of behavior that they can examine to help prevent it from happening again. They also agreed to be notified if there's any exit interviews by separated employees that indicate problems.

One board member asked if they could compare the percentages and retention rates with those for women in other agencies. But another said, it wouldn't work with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department because his conversations with the Riverside Police Department indicated that more women were hired and remained with the Sheriff's Department because they were attracted to working in the jails and not out in patrol cars. That conversation sounds familiar. They probably spoke with the same representatives that I have.

Statistics for both the Riverside and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Departments do show a higher representation of women in corrections as opposed to sworn positions. However, they also showed a few years ago, a much higher representation of African-American men in corrections as opposed to sworn positions so perhaps more than just a preference associated with gender plays a role in these differential percentages.

Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout and her assistant, Administrative Analyst Jeremy Hammond who attended the meeting seemed a bit taken aback by the discussion but gamely agreed to look into getting some information.

The poor retention rates of female officers has been a concern for a while. The percentages had increased last year due to more aggressive recruitment and hiring of women but then they declined again, to below 9% of all sworn officers. Why? I think that it will take a much more depth investigation than an audit to figure out why but an audit is a beginning.

While every department in Riverside County including the Sheriff's Department is facing hiring freezes, Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco hired 23 new prosecutors.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"They were positions that we had been in the process of hiring," said district attorney spokesman Ryan Hightower. He said Pacheco had promised the recruits jobs months before the county's hiring restrictions. "This was just a funny little loophole we got caught in."

The attorneys, sworn in Nov. 26, will help make residents safer, Pacheco said in a news release.

He also thanked county supervisors for granting him the new hires.

In fact, it was County Executive Officer Bill Luna who agreed to make the exception to the hiring cap.

That decision followed a Nov. 18 meeting in which Luna and supervisors advised Pacheco to clamp down on spending. After Pacheco made a lengthy argument for hiring the recruits and asked for an additional $700,000 to do so, supervisors referred the decision to Luna.

Supervisors also voted that public safety departments, including the district attorney's office, should not be exempt from planned budget cuts.

"There are other departments in similar situations," Luna said Nov. 18 of Pacheco's request to hire. "The key for the future to us is how to bring costs in line with our expectations. We have declining revenues. We have to spread the pain now."

An interesting note is that Pacheco's hiring decision was defended by Assistant County Executive Officer Jay Orr, who may or may not be the same person who once held a high-ranking position in the District Attorney's office under Pacheco's predecessor, Grover Trask.

In other news, a Riverside program that provides mentorship to parolees may have to close its doors.

The presiding judge in the federal corruption trial of Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona has severed the trials of Carona and his mistress.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford ruled outside the presence of the jury that Debra Hoffman should be tried separately and at a later time. Guilford said that, among other things, he was concerned about potentially incriminating statements that Carona made about her during a series of secretly recorded conversations that have been played for jurors throughout the trial.

Last week, Hoffman argued that unless Carona took the stand, she would not be able to question him about statements he made during the conversations that were secretly recorded by Newport Beach millionaire Don Haidl, a former assistant sheriff and now a key government witness.

"At this point, I need to tell you that Ms. Hoffman will no longer be in this particular trial," Guilford told jurors when they returned from the lunch break, reminding them they should not draw any implications or inferences by her absence.

"She's not here. Don't hold that against either side," Guilford said. "You should not worry yourselves about why Ms. Hoffman is no longer here. You could perhaps find that out at the conclusion, after you've reached your verdict."

Hoffman, who left the courtroom shortly after Guilford reached his decision, returned about 15 minutes later and took a seat in the front row of the gallery.

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