City Hall Blues: Should the CPRC become LEPAC?
---Jeanne White-Gilder, who's son Ryan contracted HIV, died from AIDs but was never a victim.
"Mary, wake up. cprc has no authority or power! I think they learned that themselves when their attempt to ILLEGALLY force an officer to give a statement failed. (And no I did not accidentally type cprc in small letters)."
--- Not one of the CPRC's fans, November 2005
As you can see from the quote here that was posted on this site in November 2005 by an unknown (at least to me) individual, there are some people who clearly don't like the fact that civilian oversight came to Riverside in April 2000. This commenter was referring to the time in late 2004 when the Community Police Review Commission issued its first subpoena of a police officer in its history. This took place in the shooting case of Volne Lamont Stokes who was shot and killed by two (now former) police officers in May 2003.
During the investigation by the CPRC of this shooting, it became clear through written records (not to mention a lawsuit filed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association against the city) that one of the officers, Tina Banfill Gould did not give a voluntary statement to detectives from the Officer-Involved Shooting Team but only gave a statement to Internal Affairs investigators when compelled to do so to avoid being terminated from her job. She was suspended for refusing to give a voluntary statement by Chief Russ Leach.
Months after all that, she was at first asked to voluntarily give a statement and answer questions to the CPRC. She didn't agree to do so the commission voted 8-0 with Commissioner Jack Brewer abstaining to subpoena her. At her first appearance with her attorney, Michael Lackie, she refused to be sworn in and left.
Leach responded through the Press Enterprise that he would discipline her if she didn't give a statement. The police union at one point threatened to sue to challenge the commission's right to subpoena police officers under state law. The city council voted to sue and charge Banfill Gould with contempt of court, asserting its right under the city's charter to assign subpoena power to the city's boards and commissions.
The situation in a sense resolved itself when Banfill Gould returned with her attorney and the CPRC was provided with its own attorney during the proceeding. Banfill Gould was sworn in but exercised her Fifth Amendment rights for each question asked, except her name.
So her appearance before the CPRC was not "illegal". It was never litigated in the courts by any party though Banfill Gould was the focal point of the RPOA's lawsuit filed in 2003 which challenged other portions of the police department's policy for parallel investigating officer-involved shootings. The argument in the litigation filed appeared to question whether or not the investigations were truly independent and parallel or whether the administrative and "criminal" investigations collided during the interrogation process for involved police officers. The city and the police union settled that lawsuit around the time Banfill Gould left the police department. But the settlement while it appeared to favor the police union actually kept the status quo firmly in place by assigning discretionary power over voluntary interrogations up to the same supervisors who were creating some of the difficulties. '
That was one of many chapters from the history of the CPRC since its formation by city ordinance in 2000. There are more to be written including the latest episode, most of which appears to be taking place behind closed doors at City Hall.
There's not nearly as much record online regarding the CPRC's predecessor, the Law Enforcement Policy Advisory Committee or LEPAC which isn't surprising given that the subcommittee of the Human Relations Commission was dissolved at the same time the CPRC was enacted.
Here's one mention of LEPAC in a statement released by then Police Chief Jerry Carroll in 1999.
(excerpt, RPD press release)
"We want to assure the community that the investigation of this incident will be complete and thorough. Our ongoing investigation is three-fold: criminal, administrative and a tactical review."
"The Riverside County District Attorney is conducting an independent investigation of this incident. The City of Riverside Human Relations Commission's Law Enforcement Policy Advisory Committee (LEPAC) has reviewed and approved the Riverside Police Department's Use of Force Policy. At the completion of our departmental investigation, we welcome any review by an outside agency."
As for "review by an outside agency", the police department received that and then some, as federal and state agencies took Carroll up on his offer as did the Riverside County Grand Jury. According to its final report issued in April 1999 (and available for purchase at City Hall), the panel recognized LEPAC as a "form of civilian review". The report raised the argument that because Riverside had already instituted a form of civilian review (albeit one set up to fail as one critic stated), it must create a system that actually works.
Why did LEPAC fail, the panel asked and then answered that it failed because the city's administration had too much power over its implementation and in fact, exercised that power.
One of those reviews which was done by individuals was done through the Mayor's Use of Force Panel which mentioned LEPAC in its examination of civilian review in Riverside which led to its recommendation that City Hall research and review different models of civilian review to see which best fit the city.
Why does LEPAC matter now, years later in 2008? It matters for two reasons.
The first, is that it showed how miserably a weaker form of civilian oversight over the police department failed in its mission to promote better relations and trust between the Riverside Police Department and the city's residents. Its origins are somewhat similar to those of the CPRC. It was created in 1984, in response to civil unrest surrounding a controversial incident involving a canine officer whose dog was sent into a residence and attacked a woman with
Parkinsons disease. LEPAC might have quelled the tension created by that incident somewhat but it proved to be an ineffective mechanism.
In the 1990s, the problems with LEPAC continued even as city residents inquired in 1992 about creating a civilian review board with more teeth to it. There was a series of meetings which addressed many of the same concerns and issues which would arise later on, including citizen complaints and the need for more community-based policing.
In 1993, the Public Safety Committee sent a notice that stated that "LEPAC is viewed as ineffective and primarily reactive in its scope and authority." The report stated that the issue of civilian review was "outside the scope of LEPAC's role and responsibilities" and offered the following recommendation:
"Therefore, we recommend that any initiation toward implementation of a Citzen's Review Board consist of a collaboration of community-based organizations, police and the greater community, at the direction of the Mayor, City Council and City Manager."
What did the city council do in response? It "received and filed" the report. Do these words sound familiar? They should if you paid attention when Mayor Pro Tem Rusty Bailey on behalf of the city government repeated those same words after receiving a six-page letter from CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy asking for direction from the city council on a directive issued by the city manager's office.
The city council never actually responded to its own subcommittee's recommendations, the Use of Force Panel discovered after reviewing over 800 documents from LEPAC. What this massive work product showed was that these recommendations on civilian review were never followed up on nor were they responded to by the city.
The Use of Panel in its report stated that it was concerned about comments made by an unidentified police department representative in 1996 that the department viewed the community as a threat not an ally to the extent that it refused to explain any of its policies including its use of force policy.
LEPAC had also submitted many policy recommendations which were called "outstanding" but then ignored including changes to the department's complaint policy and process. Of course as history showed, it would be less than five years until allegations would be raised by then State Attorney General Bill Lockyer that the department's complaint policy violated state law and thus would have to be amended under his office's settlement with the city approved in March 2001.
The second reason which is the more important one is that there are elected officials who seem to be very nostalgic about the days of LEPAC as seen in this op-ed article signed by three city council members and published on Sept. 19, 2008 in the Press Enterprise. And it seems that these elected officials view the CPRC as being something a lot more similar to what LEPAC was than how the city's charter actually defines it. How is this made clear? Through the choice of words used in that op-ed article signed on to by Council Members Frank Schiavone, Steve Adams and Nancy Hart.
This section makes that clear.
(excerpt, Schiavone, Adams and Hart)
The commission reviews officers' actions to ensure consistency with departmental policy and to suggest policy revisions.
The trio of authors (or more likely, its ghost writer) chose its language very carefully when they state what they believe to be the commission's purpose, which clearly is to be a policy reviewing and recommendation machine. That's not how either the city charter and the city ordinance outline its powers and roles. These elected officials are essentially rewriting the commission's roles and responsibilities which means that they're essentially rewriting the city charter's section 810. What they likely hope is that very few city residents including those in their respective wards are aware of what language is included in both the charter provision and the municipal ordinance section. If you read both of these sections which are linked above, you'll find that in reality, the CPRC's scope of powers are much broader than what is mentioned in the op-ed article.
The following sentence below is not a false statement but again, it's an incomplete definition of the scope of the CPRC's powers while posing as its definition. The commission does indeed review officers' actions but offers recommendations on findings regarding whether the officers' actions comply or violate department policy. The definition provided of the commission reviewing actions to ensure consistency is more applicable to a civilian oversight mechanism that provides an appeal process to the complainant. In addition, the three elected officials neglect to mention that the CPRC can also investigate complaints if it chooses to exercise that option. In fact, these elected officials seem to conveniently forget that the commission has any investigative powers at all. But when you're re-imaging LEPAC (which though in language and theory given investigatory powers was never able to utilize them), that's not that difficult to do.
Here's another similar section which besides being the most ridiculous example of a straw man arguments out there, includes language redefining the CPRC as an entity that is a "policy reviewer" rather than a civilian review board.
It is utterly inconceivable that anyone would suggest that criminal investigations be jeopardized by allowing civilian policy reviewers to tromp through crime scenes or contaminate witness statements.
The statement above would be hilarious in how ridiculous it is if it weren't three elected officials entrusted with governmental power who signed their names to it. To even state that anyone suggested that these "civilian policy reviewers" (meaning commissioners) tromp through crime scenes is not only false, it's an insult to any city resident who's given up their time and energy and made sacrifices to serve on this commission. It's throwing out accusations of obstructing investigations against innocent parties who never even sent an investigator to a crime scene. The police department, nor the city employees nor the elected officials themselves including the three who signed on to this diatribe has ever been able to cite one single case where any such behavior happened. These same individuals also fail to cite, through choice or ignorance, that the CPRC's own investigator uncovered witnesses that the police department had not located or interviewed and provided that information to department investigators.
But putting all this embarrassing nonsense aside, the council members' choice of reducing the roles of CPRC commissioners to "civilian policy reviewers" is again, ignorant of the CPRC, what it does and the language pertaining to it in the city's charter while at the same time, these individuals have assigned themselves the task of speaking for the city council (yet not consulting with other council members beforehand for obvious reasons) on the city's interpretation of the charter language governing the CPRC.
These are intelligent and diligent individuals which shows that ignorance and false information likely provided by parties who didn't sign on to this op-ed article inspired them on what to write.
The three elected officials invoke that strategy of confining the CPRC's role to that held by LEPAC by using this term "Riverside's policy review process" to parallel the commission's objectives in its investigations of officer-involved deaths with that of the police department. But the charter doesn't state that the sole reason why the CPRC does these investigations is for policy review. It places equal weight on both the "review" process which is the CPRC's receipt and examination of the police department's often scant preliminary information and then its investigation.
The charter also recognizes that the "reviewing" and "investigating" are not sequential and not in that order of events because then the language would be more along the lines, of "reviewing then investigating". Instead, they are parallel. It clearly recognizes the practices of the CPRC by launching parallel inquiries into both reviewing policy and issuing a public report as well as making recommendations on findings directly in relation to the officers' actions. The police department launches its own parallel investigative (officer-involved death investigation) and reviewing (in the form of an administrative review by the Internal Affairs Division) process
And finally, so does this statement which formulates the article's conclusion.
And we urge the commission to refocus on reviewing the policy issues before it and get back to professionally carrying out the public's business.
It looks like there are some elected officials who need to educate themselves on the CPRC and its role before they make any policy decisions regarding its operations. To narrowly define the commission as "professionally carrying out the public's business" in the scope of "reviewing the policy issues before it" shows how imperative it is that the city council as a body educate itself on this commission. Eight years into its operations and there are still statements like the ones above being made about it by elected representatives.
The commission's always been professional when it carries out its policy review and recommending powers. It's professional and has been very much so when initiating the independent investigations into 12 officer-involved deaths without receiving any complaints from City Hall, certainly not in a public arena. It's been professional trying to carry out its charter-mandated responsibilities amid the rewriting of both the commission's history and the charter which is clearly going on at City Hall. And City Hall must be embarrassed about what it's doing because so little of it, except for a misinformed op-ed piece here and there, is being done in private. Very little of what's transpired has been done in a public forum where the city's residents can actually bear witness to the city's decisions and participate in the discussion.
This is reminiscent of a large part of LEPAC's own history as stated in the records diligently analyzed by the Mayor's Use of Force Panel in its report and the only difference is the following. Back in the 1990s, the city government at least wanted to appear that it viewed public involvement and participation in the process by its constituents was very important to that process. Nearly a decade into a new century, it's clear that the city government no longer even values transparency over this process, even if only in words.
So why does it seem like LEPAC's making a revisit?
To be continued...
Jeanne White-Gilder, mother of Ryan appeared at the Kansas Avenue Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Riverside to speak about HIV and AIDS and how they impacted the life of her late son and others.
Kansas Avenue has taken a lead in addressing AIDS/HIV awareness. This event is part of a two-day World AIDS Summit. It will continue on Monday Dec. 1 from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. and is jointly sponsored between this church and The Grove Church.
(excerpt, Press Enterprise)
A Riverside center offers AIDS Support, provides showers for the homeless and more.
What: Kansas Avenue Resource Center
Where: 4491 Kansas Ave., Riverside
When: 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, and the first Monday and second Friday of each month.
Information: 951-823-1209 or www.kansasarc.com
San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos outlines his goals for the future.
(excerpt, San Bernardino Sun)
Like other San Bernardino County departments, Ramos has had to find ways to address a growing list of needs with manpower he already has in a tough economic environment. Adding more people just isn't an option.
Ramos announced a hiring freeze three weeks ago but has avoided layoffs, he said in a telephone interview last week. Nevertheless, the county's top prosecutor believes he already has the people to tackle new goals in the new year.
For example, Ramos wants to expand the number of attorneys in his Cold Case Unit, from just one today, and use either a centralized or regional approach. Local police departments are putting more focus on unsolved cases, and Ramos anticipates an increased caseload.
"It's never a cold case to a family who has lost a loved one," Ramos said, recalling his last trial as a prosecutor, in 2002. In that case, 44-year-old Phillip Perry of Upland was found shot to death in the backseat of his car in Tijuana in 1992.
The city of Columbia, Missouri moved another step closer to forming its civilian review board. The article talks about what the city wants which is an appeals board for their department's own investigation system and it talks about what the police officers want.
But the city's residents? Maybe next time.
(excerpt, Columbia Tribune)
Staff is concerned with the need to "honor and respect the rights of the complainant … as well as those of the police officers," Hertwig Hopkins said. "Then we have to look at the existing city structure and how we make this fit."
The legal and human resources departments will provide input, said Hertwig Hopkins, who has scheduled a meeting with the Citizen Oversight Committee that studied the issue and made a recommendation to the Columbia City Council. The committee’s final report in October recommended formation of a citizen oversight board to review complaints against police.
At a council work session this week, members of the police department and the oversight committee met with council members to discuss the way forward.
"I have to recommend that the Professional Standards Unit will play a vital role as it never has beforein terms of reducing the likelihood that these cases will go before a citizen oversight board," said Jeffrey Williams, co-chairman of the oversight committee. "These two entities have to complement one another in a sense, … work hand in hand to improve better relations with the public."
Latinos in Long Island protested that this city's police department doesn't adequately investigate assaults against them by White perpetrators.